Letter to the Editor: Firefighter Fitness Should Focus on Injury Prevention

By John Hofman

I recently came across several articles on CrossFit and the fire service. As a strength and conditioning coach who works with more than 1,000 firefighters, I feel this is a dangerous path. The University of Arizona just showed that 1/3 of injuries are because of exercise in the fire service. Why is this so? There are a number of reasons, but the number one cause of the stress the job places on the body. In short, many firefighters’ posture stinks! Many members suffer from posterior pelvic tilt, which entails a flat back and rounded shoulders. If this is the case,¬†these firefighters should not be performing bilateral squats and deadlifts, overhead press, or kipping pull-ups–all exercises associated with CrossFit (CrossFit has its place if you have a smart coach). If they do suffer from flat back and perform these exercises, they will blow their back out.

I have written two articles on these exact points. I understand that many firefighters have a passion for fitness and are just trying to help others, but there is a difference between passion and knowledge. Knowing the difference is like the difference between an EMT and medic. This industry reacts in a knee-jerk fashion, and I can foresee a time when someone will not allow our firefighters to exercise on duty because the number of injuries have become too high on account of the wrong type of exercise prescription. Exercise prescription is similar to the task of a medic: give just the right dose and the person is well; give too much and they are not.

In today’s information age, everyone is an expert. But bad information is almost worse than no information at all. I get phone calls from all over the state of California from fire departments looking to enhance their fitness program because CrossFit only made things worse. Just recently a department called me because they had two CrossFit-certified firefighters who developed their program. They have been working on it for two years with no success–all they managed to do was get those who did exercise to continue it and hurt their shoulders (the “more is better” attitude) and get the older ones to sit down on the recliner even more (“Hey kid, thanks but no thanks, I am not doing that crazy stuff. It hurts me.”) The ultimate solution was to ask for help.

All I am saying is please be careful when consider your firefighter fitness regimen. I believe we are treading on thin ice by promoting CrossFit exclusively as the answer to fitness in the fire service. My passion and love for firefighters is like that of my own family, and I hate see them hurt when I know it can be avoided.

John Hofman is the strength and conditioning coach for the Sacramento Fire Department, John oversees the Wellness Centre, 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, John also works as 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.

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