By John Hofman
So, you finally got your department to ante up and purchase some resistance equipment so that you can begin to improve your members’ fitness and performance. Your government leaders have approved the purchase, and now you enter into the shark tank of the fitness equipment world. What do you buy? What makes some equipment better than others? How do you write a bid? What about home equipment for the members that wants to establish a home gym? Here are some simple tips to help you separate the contenders from the pretenders. (I will focus on cardiovascular equipment in another article.)
To better understand your needs, use the acronym SAVE:
1. Is it SPECIFIC to your needs?
2. Is it AFFORDABLE?
3. Is it VERSATILE?
4. Is it EFFECTIVE?
1. TRX Suspension System
SPECIFIC: Yes it is. Firefighters train with their bodies, and core development is the key to injury prevention. If the core is weak, the rest of the body will suffer. The TRX suspension uses the core in every exercise.
AFFORDABLE: With a price of $180, it is a bargain, especially when you can train the entire body with one piece of equipment.
VERSATILE: It can be used in circuits, body weight exercises, isometric exercises, and stretching routines. It is also compact enough to take with you on vacations.
EFFECTIVE: YES! The TRX system is being used by many of the world’s best athletes. It is even being incorporated into the Militaries Fitness Regime (created by a Navy SEAL).
Standard Kettlebell Competition Kettlebell
SPECIFIC: Swinging a heavy sledgehammer dozens of times, moving a high-pressure hose line down a 100-foot hallway, and walking up 25 flights of stairs with 60 pounds on your back are just some of the skills involved with firefighting.
These skills are comprised of muscular endurance and strength, power output, and aerobic capacity. The kettlebell can develop all of these physical responses.
AFFORDABLE: Greatly depends on the size and type of the kettlebell. For a 16 kg (the most common size), prices range from $40 to $85. The great thing about a kettlebell that you only need one.
VERSATILE: Kettlebells are great because they can be used with other types of training. From circuits to muscular endurance to overall strength training, the kettlebell can meet anyone’s demand. It also compliments #1 – the TRX.
EFFECTIVE: I have used the kettlebell in most of my training programs. From back injuries to weight loss, there is always some type of relevant kettlebell exercise, and the results have been positive.
3. Foam Rollers
SPECIFIC: Foam rollers are the missing link between being healthy and being hurt. Firefighting causes the body to move in awkward positions, resulting in a lot of stress to muscular joints and fascia. The foam roller helps reduce those injuries.
AFFORDABLE: Most foam rollers range from $20 to $40, but make sure you purchase a high-density roller (colored rollers, usually black). These compressed rollers will last a long time and can be used by many without softening the roll.
VERSATILE: Even if you do not exercise, as a firefighter you will develop muscular imbalance that will cause pain. The foam roller is an excellent way to provide relief over the long term.
EFFECTIVE: With Self-Myofascial Release techniques, a foam roller improves flexibility, function, and performance and reduces injuries.
SPECIFIC: There is a lot of pulling in firefighting, especially with one’s own body weight. Yet, many people still cannot perform a pull-up. Superbands allow the firefighter to develop their upper- and lower-body strength with assistance or resistance.
AFFORDABLE: You can purchase 1¾-inch band for about $30. This will give a load of 75 pounds.
VERSATILE: It helps develop both the upper and lower body by either adding resistance or assistance to the individual. They are also great to use in a dynamic warmup or cardiovascular conditioning, and they are easy to travel with.
EFFECTIVE: Superbands have been used by many firefighters to assist them with their pull-ups. Over time, we have seen many of our older firefighters have a difficult time performing one pull-up; by using superbands, they increased their max rep to 5 in just a few short weeks.
SPECIFIC: Firefighters have to develop effective power for many of their skills; a medicine ball with no bounce is a great way to do this. Because it does not bounce, the firefighter will engage his core more throughout each exercise, therefore making it more similar to firefighting.
AFFORDABLE: A 16-pound ball will cost about $80, but the great thing about it is you only need one.
VERSATILE: Like many of the other pieces of equipment listed here, the D-ball can be used for both upper and lower body, speed and power development, or circuit training.
EFFECTIVE: Because the firefighter is using his entire body to accomplish many of the motions used with D-balls, it creates a more functional firefighter that will be better conditioned to firefighting.
6. Mini Bands
SPECIFIC: Firefighters have an array of injuries that generally come from some type of muscular imbalance. The mini bands are an excellent method to incorporate both prehab/rehab exercises for any workout.
AFFORDABLE: A pack of 10 mini bands cost around $20. Most popular are yellow, green, and blue.
VERSATILE: Specific workouts would focus on creating more strength in the glutes and scapula, which will help reduce lower back injuries, shoulder injuries, and knee injuries.
EFFECTIVE: Mini bands have been used in helping reduce many injuries associated with the fire service. They also allow a firefighter to have a fast and effective warmup before starting any exercise program.
7. Hex Bar
SPECIFIC: Firefighters need the ability to lift 140 pounds in front of them; the deadlift is an excellent method to train the posterior chain while strengthening the anterior front wall.
AFFORDABLE: Cost is around $150, but the investment is priceless because of the injury reductions associated with lower back injuries.
VERSATILE: The hex bar allows for better deadlifts, BUT it can also be included in shrug exercises and farmer’s walks, which will help develop better grip strength and a stronger core.
EFFECTIVE: Because the center of gravity is close to the body, the shearing forces on the spine are reduced by 20 percent vs. the typical deadlift. Many firefighters love to perform deadlifts during their workouts, and it is a staple in Crossfit workouts. Incorporating the hex bar into a workout allows firefighters to maintain proper pelvic control while at the same time perform an exercise they enjoy.
SPECIFIC: Firefighters work in multidirectional ways, forcing their body to move in different directions. Their core needs to be able to stabilize and absorb forces while maintaining good posture. Ropes are designed to enhance a firefighter’s ability to move more functionally, especially during hose operations.
AFFORDABLE: Cost is around $120 for 50 feet of rope.
VERSATILE: Stabilizing the core is extremely important for injury reduction, but it also incorporates some cardiovascular conditioning which can be fun as well. Battling ropes will allow for both.
EFFECTIVE: Ropes allow you to strengthen the body in a specific manner associated with firefighting.
9. Rip Trainer
SPECIFIC: Most back injuries occur under rotation and load. Training firefighters to resist rotational movements while generating force are key elements in injury prevention.
AFFORDABLE: Cost is around $190, but there are not many accessories on the market that will allow you to train with as many rotational movements in a simple manner as the Rip Trainer.
VERSATILE: The Rip Trainer uses a lever bar and a resistance cord to provide a unique mix of rotation, core stability, control, power, strength, mobility, metabolic conditioning, balance, and coordination challenges in any size fire station within a variety of fitness levels.
EFFECTIVE: An innovative resistance cord system that creates a variable, unbalanced load that enables development of core strength, explosive power, flexibility, and endurance through movement patterns related to firefighting.
10. Sled Barrow
SPECIFIC: Firefighters often hurt their backs when lifting patients. The sled barrow is the closest training tool for firefighters to train their posterior chain while approximating lifting a patient onto a gurney.
AFFORDABLE: Cost is around $400, but this works as a three-in-one device.
VERSATILE: The sled barrow: 1) Is a sled that comes with harness that allows you to pull or drag. 2) Has handles that allow you to push or drive. 3) A front-loaded piece that allows you to lift and carry. 4) Can be used to deadlift in the most optimal manner possible.
EFFECTIVE: Training the lower core while pushing reduces lower back injuries. By having the ability to push through the lower core, you are creating better strength on the L4-L5. Because the center of gravity is also unstable, anti-rotational stability is created, forcing the body to strengthen the entire core through pushing and pulling.
John Hofman, CSCS, MS, is the strength and conditioning coach for the Sacramento (CA) Fire Department, He oversees the Wellness Center; coordinates the department’s medical and fitness assessments; develops recruit fitness training, pre-employment medical and fitness evaluations; and assists the department’s 20 certified Peer Fitness Trainers. In addition, he is the strength and conditioning coach for the California Regional Fire Academy, Sierra Fire Technology Program, Rocklin Fire Department, and South Placer Fire District. He also consults with the Fire Agency Self-Insurance System of California. Visit John’s Web site at www.firefighterfitnessonline.com.
In an effort to help keep firefighters safe Strength & Conditioning Coach John Hofman authored Beyond the Turnouts: A Comprehensive Guide to Firefighter Health & Wellness — where he combined the latest research and his years of experience developing firefighter health and wellness programs within the fire service. CLICK HERE for more info about the book.