CrossFit for the Fire Service

By: Erich Roden

Does firefighting sound like a constantly varied, high-intensity and functional movement¹? I thought so too, so I took up CrossFit – which subscribes to varied intensity with functional movements – in April of this year. I have been hearing about CrossFit, the cultfollowing that ensues after you join its gyms – or ‘boxes’ if you prefer the vernacular – and that people often puke after workouts. I had to give it a shot because I was already in shape: I ran, biked, lifted weights, and ate “well;” and I wanted to up my level of fitness. What I came to realize after one workout, however, was that I was not ‘fit.’ Rather, I was so unfit that I almost didn’t come back for a second workout. Being in shape, or simply well is not being fit, period. As I later learned in a recent CrossFit course: I was “failing at the margins of my experience¹.” What does that mean? Well, if you only bike, run or lift weights at specific distances or reps, you will only do well up to those specific distances or reps. In other words, you’re selling yourself short based upon what you think you can do. Nonetheless, I’m a determined guy and an over-achiever, so I was going to give a CrossFit workout another shot. Thankfully, what I didn’t know at the time was that I was on a rite of passage that every CrossFitter goes through: If you come back, you never leave…and I’m still coming back every chance I get.

What does CrossFit have to do with firefighting? Everything! What does CrossFit have to do with everything you do off-duty? Everything! Ever get gassed while pulling ceiling, performing long stretches, or pulling a victim out? Remember the times when you had to do everything you could to control your breathing after climbing five flights so you could hear what the boss was saying as you were getting ready to go in and get some? Or having less in the tank after running down a long block to get to the fire building because you were third-due? I do. And I hopefully never will again. I can’t because it’s all preventable. And CrossFit is the best preventive measure to keep these scenarios from happening.

What is CrossFit? CrossFit is a collective of functional movements taken from weightlifting, gymnastics and single cardio-respiratory modalities (cardio)¹. These movements are then programmed into short, intense workouts aimed at improving work capacity in everyday life. Whether it’s firefighting, shooting back at insurgents, loading groceries into your car or taking the stairs at work, CrossFit plays an essential role in the capacity to effectively do these things again and again. And your capacity goes up very quickly. Each workout is timed, scored, measured and documented. CrossFit gives its workouts names – usually female names for the benchmark workouts and male names for the Hero workouts named after fallen soldiers – to identify them in programming. The scores are posted on whiteboards for all to see; be sure to leave your ego in your car before you go in. There’s a reason they do this: it’s that you work harder at life if you’re keeping score¹…

I’ve seen tremendous results from CrossFit. In the very short time I’ve been doing CrossFit, my ‘scores’ have gone up exponentially, as have my deadlifts, squats, presses, and of course, my capabilities on the fireground. Recently, I had to run a long block due to the aforementioned ‘third-due’ situation twice in one day. I had plenty left at both fires and I definitely knew why. The road to true fitness, I have discovered, is less traveled and I’m glad I’m finally on it.

CrossFit is evolving into one of the fastest growing sports and got the attention of Reebok® who recently signed a longterm partnership to help grow the sport even more. There’s also an annual CrossFit Games held in Carson, California every year where the elite of the Crossfit world come together to find the “Fittest on Earth.” I took advantage of a media pass this year to witness and document the event for Urban Firefighter Magazine. The amazing thing about the competitors is that they come from all walks of life. Some are former collegiate and professional athletes, some are or were Navy SEALS, others are those who simply became fit enough regular Joes after discovering CrossFit to compete amongst the best. And yes, several are firefighters. This was another reason why I had to make the trip: to give deserved press to these firefighters that epitomize fitness; you’ll get a chance to meet one of them in the following pages of this issue.

CrossFit is for everyone. There are the young, elderly and those critically wounded in combat who have taken up CrossFit. The only excuse you have not to try it is the lack of a CrossFit gym in your area. It will change your life. Give it a shot, and you may be better able to save another one yourself someday.

¹Glassman, Greg (2011). The CrossFit Training Guide. CrossFit Journal. [On-line].

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