ENDURANCE TRAINING FOR FIREFIGHTERS
Optimized endurance training, or crosstraining, involves training in many different ways using many different sports and activities, including running, bicycling, and swimming, among others. Jumping rope; using stair climbers, stationary bikes, and rowing machines; and cross-country skiing also can be used by firefighters to help gain the efficiency they need to do their jobs.
This article focuses on using these individual activities as training methods for helping to increase your endurance and cardiovascular conditioning for better performance and safety on the fireground. Cycling, swimming, running, weight training, and many other physical activities will contribute to overall fitness. In the most simple analysis, with such training your muscles will become stronger and more efficient and your heart will get stronger.
It is vitally important to be in reasonably good physical condition before starting this or any exercise program. If it has been any amount of time since you exercised hard or regularly, consult a doctor before engaging in this or any other workout routine.
OVERALL FITNESS PRINCIPLES
Most fitness experts recommend at least 20, and preferably 40 to 50, minutes of aerobic exercise a minimum of three times a week. This is a good starting point, but you may find that you will reach a “plateau”—that is, after your body adapts to a certain level of training, the amount of improvement will diminish rapidly. If the exercise is no longer challenging, it is easy to lose interest and stop the exercise routine. The best way to avoid plateaus and the resulting boredom is to increase the intensity of your workout. You always should attempt to improve on the last workout: Try to run a little faster or lift a little more weight. If you don’t improve a little from time to time, it is easy to lose interest.
You should try to get your heart into its “target range” for the duration of your workout. You can easily calculate your target heart rate by first subtracting your age from 220, which will give you your estimated maximum heart rate. For best results, keep the heart rate between 60 and 85 percent of this number. For example, if you are 35 years old. your approximate maximum heart rate w’ould be 185. When exercising, you would attempt to keep your heart rate between 157 and 111.
Any activity that keeps your heart rate in this target range for a minimum amount of time —approximately 20 to 50 minutes—three to four times a week will increase your cardiovascular capacity. This article presents a general set of guidelines for a beginning exercise routine, but feel free to choose any number of the exercises presented, do them in any order, and add any activities—tennis, basketball. cross-country skiing, and so forth. Remember, to get the maximum benefit, you must work hard enough to keep your heart rate in the target range.
Warming up is essential and should take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on how intense or long your workout w ill be. Warming up can consist of easyjogging, brisk walking, body twists and bends, and easy calisthenics. It is a good idea to get your muscles w^arm before stretching because stretching a cold muscle is more likely to lead to an injury than stretching a warm muscle.
You should stretch before any workout. Stretching helps prevent injuries and prepares your muscles for the upcoming exercise. When stretching, avoid bouncing or jerking the muscle involved —the stretch should be slow, even, and controlled. Stretch until you feel a slight pulling or tension in the muscle; if you are using the correct amount of pull, the tension will lessen as you hold the stretch. You should stretch all the major muscle groups—legs, back, arms, shoulders—before any workout.
Equipment needed. Good running shoes are essential. WTiile you are running, your weight is landing on each leg as many as 700 to 800 times per mile with a force of 1 ½ to four times your body weight. Gcxid cushioned and stable running shoes will make your runs more enjoyable and prevent injuries as well. Comfortable running shorts, shirt, and socks also are important.
Where to run. If you choose to run outdoors, you will be battling the elements, local dogs, and inconsiderate drivers. If you have the option of running indoors on a track, you will be limited by the operating hours of the fitness establishment.
How far. fast, and often. For beginning runners, an average goal would be to run 20 minutes nonstop at a brisk pace. Instead of counting your miles, it may be easier for you to keep track of the total time of the run —the goal is to improve endurance, not train for a race. For optimal increase in cardiovascular conditioning in a new runner, aim to run 20 to 40 minutes three to four times a week instead of an arbitrary number of miles.
The best way as a beginning runner to judge your training effectiveness is to monitor your pulse. Use the method described earlier to determine your target heart rate. Running too slowly, while not as much of a problem as running too fast, will not give the results seen in a workout where the heart rate is in the target zone. Too fast a pace, however, can result in injury and actual loss of conditioning, since you won’t maintain your pace long enough to get any conditioning benefit. Another easy way to determine if your pace is fast enough or too fast is to try to talk or carry on a conversation while you are running. It may sound silly, but if you can speak without too much difficulty while running, you probably are going at the correct pace. If you don’t have enough breath to speak comfortably, then you may be running too hard.
Running workouts. Running three or four times a week is ideal, but this does not mean you should go out and run four days in a row and then take three days off. Tr>to get a day of rest between hard running sessions. You can run anywhere—local streets, an indoor track, an outdoor high school or college track, or a local park. Following are two options for a running workout:
- Run hard tor two minutes, followed by a two-minute jog. Then run hard for three minutes, followed by a five-minute jog. Next, run hard for five minutes, followed by jogging until you feel ready to repeat the cycle. Repeat for a total of 20 to 40 minutes.
- Run for as long as you feel comfortable running, trying to increase your time each time you run, until you reach 20 to 45 minutes of good-paced running at every workout.
Equipment needed. You can train on your old rusty 10-speed bike and receive just as good a result as you would from riding a new. top-of-the-line. 21 -speed mountain bike. But your riding will be much more enjoyable and you may ride longer if you have a bike that is in great shape.
You must wear a helmet while you ride. It is reckless and irresponsible not to protect yourself with a good helmet while riding. You also may choose to wear cycling shorts. Cycling shorts are padded in the crotch and make long rides much easier and more comfortable. They also are long enough to protect the insides of your thighs from chafing. While not a necessity, they are highly recommended.
How far, fast, and often. Bicycles are very efficient machines. Thus, it is possible to go on a long ride and not seriously taix your cardiovascular system, so you mayhave to consciously push yourself hard to get a good workout. Start your ride with a comfortable pace in a low gear until you are warmed up completely. After warming up. increase your cadence (tracking pedal speed) to between 60 and 80 rpms and control your speed with the gears until you get your heart rate into the target zone.
A very common mistake casual bikers make is to cruise in too high a gear, which results in having to push the pedals harder and at a slower rate. This tends to tire you more quickly than pushing in a lower gear and also puts extra stress on your knees.
For the first few weeks, concentrate on good form and keeping up your rpms. This also will build a base on which you can increase the speed and distance in subsequent rides. After building a conditioning base, increase the distance and speed of your rides. Try to ride for at least 30 to 45 minutes three or four times a week, and climb some small hills as well.
Bicycling workouts. Ideally, you would bike outside, but the weather may not always be permitting. On bad-weather days, you can bike inside on a stationary bike. Following are two options for bicycle workouts.
- Ride hard for three minutes, followed by easy cruising for two to three minutes. Then ride hard for five minutes, followed by cruising for three to five minutes. Ride hard for three more minutes, and then rest until you are ready to repeat the cycle.
- Ride at a constant, moderately difficult pace for 20 to 40 minutes, making sure to keep your heart rate in the target zone.
Techniques. Use any swimming stroke with which you are familiar or comfortable. being sure to work hard enough to keep your heart rate up. Don’t worry if your swimming technique is not as good as those of the other people in the ptxl; you’re not there to compete, just to get. into shape.
Swimming workouts. The swimming workout can take place in a backward pool, a lake, or an indoor pool. For a good workout, swim 100 meters twice, fob lowed each time by a 30to 60-second rest. Then swim 200 meters followed by a 30to 60-second rest. Then swim 100 meters again, after which you should rest until you feel ready to repeat the cycle. Tlie entire workout should take between 25 and 45 minutes. If you can finish it in less than 25 minutes, add laps until you are in that prime range.
Equipment needed. What could be simpler than jumping rope? Rope jumping is a great conditioner that can be done anywhere. Several types of rope can be used for a rope-jumping workout. The first and most familiar is the simple leather rope with wooden handles popularized by boxers. The second type of rope is weighted rope. It comes in a variety of weights from two to six pounds.
Rope-jumping workouts. It is the rope itself that is heavy, not the handles, making for an exceptionally tough workout. Rope jumping also builds coordination and strength in the forearms. Attempt to jump lor a few minutes at a time until you can jump continuously for 20 to 30 minutes. Initially, you could jump for two to three minutes, rest for one minute, jump for two to three minutes more, rest for a minute or so, and so forth, until you can jump continuously for 20 to 30 minutes.
Stair climbers are great for cardiovascular endurance and strengthening the legs. A good stair climber, unlike a stationary bike, is fairly expensive, so you may only have access to one at a gym.
Start out climbing for three to five minutes at a time until you feel very comfortable using the stair climber. Then, slowly add time to each workout until you are up to 20 to 40 minutes.
Circuit training is weight training done with very little rest between sets. It facilitates cardiovascular stimulation by keeping the heart rate up during the entire workout. Circuit training is a great way to incorporate weightlifting (see “Strength Training for Firefighters,” Eire Engineeri,lg, April 1993) with endurance training, thus training in two ways at once.
Techniques. A typical circuit can involve any number of movements — as few or as many as you wish to include in your current workout. You will have to lower the weight used in each movement because of the lack of rest, and the stimulation of the muscles will not be as great as it would be it you were using heavy weights, but the desired result is an improvement in cardiovascular fitness as well as strength improvement.
Workouts. Perform the following circuits with a very light weight (one-half to one-third the weight you would use in a strength workout) and only 10 to 30 seconds of rest between sets.
- Circuit 1: Bench press, curls, overhead press, squats, crunches, bent-over rows.
- Circuit 2: Push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, lunges.
If someone tells you he knows the onlyway or the very best way to improve your endurance, he is lying. The most important thing to keep in mind is that everyone is different. If you find something that works for you, stick with it. One of the principles of cross-training is to let different muscles share the load of the workouts. Swimming, which involves all major muscles but does not overly stress the joints, and biking, which mainly works the thighs, are great complements to running, which tends to work the hamstrings (backs of thighs). All of these activities, however, will work the heart, which is the main point of endurance training.