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Fit for Firefighting: How to Train When Lives Depend on It

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Special Ops Tactical Fitness | Patrol Officer Tactical Fitness | Firefighter Tactical Fitness

Firefighters may not have the typical physique of pro athletes or bodybuilders, but that doesn't mean they're not incredibly physically fit.

Take a moment to visualize a firefighter in action. Are you picturing someone carrying a heavy ax with a big coat and large helmet? Did you notice the thick oxygen tank on their back, or the enormous boots? Well, that ax weighs close to 20 pounds and the oxygen tank can weigh up to 50 pounds, depending on how full it is. Imagine carrying all of that while sprinting through a fire!

Your local firefighters may not step onto a bodybuilding stage anytime soon, but it doesn't mean you can't learn important functional fitness tips from their workouts.

And if you're reading this with an eye toward becoming a firefighter, it can help increase your chances of passing the physical tests.

Each step below represents a different segment of the average firefighter workout. Pick a movement or movements from each category and move down the list consecutively:

Step 1: Start with a Movement That Works in Multiple Planes

Traditional strength training workouts will only have you move in what's called the sagittal plane, meaning front to back, like a forward lunge. Now consider a firefighter, who sprints through a burning building. Do they charge forward the entire time? Not a chance.

There are two other planes of motion: frontal and transverse (horizontal). An example of a frontal plane exercise is a traditional standing dumbbell lateral raise. You're already familiar with the transverse plane if you perform cable twists to build core strength.

Dumbbell lateral raise

With firefighting training, your first movement should be a multi-plane movement for timed rounds. Start with 3 rounds of 30 seconds each. Build to a maximum of 60 seconds per round.

Here are some exercises to choose from:

Functional fitness training requires the ability to hit every single workout hard. For that level of intensity, you need a pre-workout that's up to the task.

Step 2: Explosive Training

Next up is explosive training. You won't be doing multiple, consecutive jumps during too many real-world situations, but you should train your joints and muscles to be explosive—you never know when you'll need to leap across flaming rafters to get to an attic window! I prefer to measure my explosive training by reps instead of by time. Medicine balls are great for this type of training.

Perform 4 sets of 8 reps for any one of the following movements:

Other explosive movements:

Step 3: Work One Side at a Time

Unilateral movements, a true test of core strength, involve loading one side with weight in order to resist rotation. By carrying or holding weight to one side while performing a movement, you cause numerous spinal stabilizers to activate. When do firefighters carry something that's equally balanced? Never. It's more like: ax in right hand and distressed fire victim over left shoulder.

Pick any two movements from each of the three sections. Begin by performing 3 sets of 15 reps. After 4 weeks, increase sets to 4 and drop the reps to 12.

Single-arm dumbbell row

Full-body unilateral movements:

Upper-body unilateral movements:

Lower-body unilateral movements:

Step 4: Hit Your Core Hard

When unexpected gut-checks occur in life or at work, we must to learn to adapt. Nothing is more chaotic than the scene of a fire. A firefighter must burst through a building to rescue someone. They activate their core to kick down a door, heft a beam, carry a small child, or even climb a tree to get your neighbor's cat.

Start with 3 rounds of 30 seconds each. Build to a maximum of 60 seconds per round:

Step 5: Backdrafts Require Back Work

A firefighter's shoulders take a beating, so finish your workouts with a direct hit on your upper back. Strengthening the muscles that stabilize the shoulder blades allows you to carry heavy loads. The goal with this movement is to pull your shoulders down and back.

Pick one of the movements below and perform 4 sets of 15 reps:

Full Firefighter Workout Breakdown (Printable Page):

You now have the five training lessons you need to become a physically fit firefighter. Give the workout a try, and the next time you see a firefighter, maybe you'll have an idea of the physical fatigue they feel after every call.

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Beginner Workouts

Why Do Muscles Fatigue?

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Why do muscles fatigue? First, fatigue is a safety mechanism that stops us from causing greater damage to our bodies. From a physiological perspective, muscle fatigue is the inability to maintain power output. Some forms create change at the molecular level in the muscle and cause peripheral fatigue, such as physical exercise, whereas others involve the brain, or reduced hormone levels, and lead to deteriorating energy levels and performance. Most of the studies that examine fatigue focus on the neuromuscular system, but in fact, all organs are involved.

Some of the causes of muscle fatigue are: 

  • Depletion of phosphocreatine concentration  
  • Accumulation of hydrogen (H+) and changes in pH values 
  • Depletion of glycogen in muscle and decreased glucose in the blood

Sleep, recovery, and proper diet are all critical for reducing muscle fatigue. Sleep deprivation results in reduced protein synthesis, which decreases the body's ability to restore muscle damage. Without proper recovery, muscle growth will be stunted and exercise-induced stress will remain high. And, of course, without proper nutrition—especially protein intake—energy levels will decline and muscles will begin to waste away.

Fatigue can be broken down into two general categories: acute fatigue and overtraining fatigue.

Acute Fatigue

Acute fatigue generally refers to exercise-induced fatigue. Compared to a consistent drop in energy levels, acute fatigue is often an everyday occurrence. Possible sites of exercise-associated acute fatigue can be:

  • Accumulation of lactates 
  • Inhibition of the Ca2+ release of the sarcoplasmic reticulum 
  • Glycogen stores decline 
  • Inhibition on motor neural drive 
  • Cytokine released during exercise 

Overtraining Fatigue

Overtraining fatigue represents a more serious physiological problem. It usually occurs when the balance between training and recovery is disproportionate. The average man loses 1 percent of his muscle mass after age 30. If schedule and training are not adjusted to allow proper recovery for this reduction in capacity, overtraining-induced fatigue may occur.

While long-term decreased training capacity can occur without any evident physiological or psychological signs of overtraining, it could also reflect on mood state, immune system, biochemistry profile, sleep, etc.

Recovery from overtraining could last from 4 weeks to 6 months or even a year. Overtraining can even lead to a reduction in your capacity to produce ATP.

What is ATP?

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the body's ”molecular currency,” created during the Krebs cycle (also known as the citric acid cycle). Carbohydrates are the predominant fuel source and the reactions that make up the cycle require oxygen, which is why it is also known as “aerobic” metabolism.

Prolonged, low-intensity exercise activities, such as walking and cycling, require a great deal of oxygen to run this cycle and generate the needed energy. In contrast, high-intensity sports that rely on repeated short bursts of energy use anaerobic (no oxygen) metabolism. Weightlifting is classified as an anaerobic activity.

Oxygen is not necessary during anaerobic exercise since ATP is needed at rates that exceed aerobic metabolism. ATP converts to adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and can only sustain a high-intensity movement for a few seconds. This timeframe can be extended using phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine donates a phosphate group to convert ADP back to ATP, thereby extending the time the body can perform high-intensity exercise.

This process happens naturally, as we have endogenous creatine stores. However, supplementation with creatine increases phosphocreatine stores to extend the anaerobic timeframe for high-intensity exercise. Here is a list of ingredients that help extend ATP production:

Muscle Burn Out vs. Mental Burn Out

So far, we've been discussing muscle burnout, which is primarily caused by insufficient levels of energy and changes in pH values due to lactate and H+ accumulation.

Mental burnout is a combination of several physiological factors, including CNS inhibition and hormone imbalance. The production of cortisol, a stress hormone, is higher under these circumstances. This scenario influences our mood and will affect exercise and training.

How to Combat Muscle Fatigue

Since fatigue usually develops because of low energy levels (phosphocreatine and ATP), it is logical to assume that creatine supplementation can tackle both chronically low energy and acute fatigue.

Creatine can also act as an antioxidantimprove mitochondrial activity, increase exercise capacity, and delay muscle fatigue. It can increase strength, power, and total workload, and it is the ultimate supplement to enhance performance and delay fatigue. It appears 3-5 grams of creatine per day is sufficient to increase muscle phosphocreatine levels.*

Beta-alanine is a nonessential amino acid produced in the liver, and when combined with L-histidine forms a dipeptide called carnosine. Intracellular acid-based regulation is the main physiological role of carnosine, but it's functions also include protection from oxidative damage, glycation, and regulation of calcium sensitivity.

Intramuscular carnosine helps regulate acidity produced during high-intensity anaerobic activities. As the training load increases, lactate production increases and pH decreases. This leads to a decrease of force production and an increase of fatigue. A limiting factor in carnosine synthesis is the lack of availability through dietary intake. A number of studies reported an increase in muscle carnosine through beta-alanine supplementation, suggesting it is justified and more efficient than absorbing it through nutrition.

Hydroxymethylbutyrate (HMB) is another ingredient with anti-catabolic characteristics, meaning it aids in preventing muscles from breaking down. It can also decrease muscle damage after strenuous workouts and has been shown to have positive effects on strength, aerobic and anaerobic performancebody-fat reduction, and increases in muscle mass.*

Preventing Muscle Soreness for Improved Capacity

Multiple actions can be taken to prevent muscle soreness. Immediately after exercise there is a window of opportunity to consume glucose, electrolytes, and proteins. Various supplements can also help in preventing muscle soreness. Intake of the amino acid leucine, most effective when taken as hydroxymethylbutyrate (HMB), can improve recovery and help to rebuild the muscle.*

Hydrogen therapy is proving to be a novel recovery aid, most effective when taken by drinking or bathing in hydrogen-rich water. A hydrogen water bath immediately after high eccentric training may also enhance recovery and decrease muscle damage biomarkers. Hydrogen (H2) has been shown to decrease inflammation in the muscles after heavy exercise.

How to Combat Mental Fatigue

Mental fatigue can emerge due to factors such as oxidative stress, sleep deprivation, and mitochondrial dysfunction. Many studies have evaluated the effects of essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals without any significant improvements detected for these outcomes. However, molecular hydrogen (H2) is demonstrating to be one of the most effective and clinically validated therapeutics for a wide range of outcomes. H2 can selectively reduce free radical damage and oxidative stress, promoting redox homeostasis, which is the harmony between beneficial oxidative and nitrosative molecules and our bodies production of antioxidants.*

Long-term excessive intake of traditional antioxidants inhibits redox-sensitive signaling pathways and interferes with mitochondrial biogenesis, cardiac and skeletal muscle hypertrophy, and improvement of insulin sensitivity.

Molecular hydrogen has been shown to improve exercise performance and recovery. It has been proposed as an emerging therapy for improving cardiovascular health, and has shown to increase insulin sensitivity, in part due to its selective nature regarding free-radical scavenging.

There are several ways to administer H2, but the most feasible is through hydrogen-rich water. Emerging studies also show that drinking hydrogen-rich water can reduce fatigue and increase alertness among sleep-deprived habitual coffee drinkers equivalent to caffeine, while leading to a more robust improvement in brain metabolism than caffeine.

As mentioned, creatine supplementation can also address mental fatigue, which can be caused by low levels of brain creatine.  

A third solution to fight mental fatigue is caffeine. Caffeine can act as a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant by suppressing adenosine receptors in the brain. Caffeine increases alertness and aids in the maintenance of attention, mainly in extended and demanding tasks.

One patented form of arginine, ”Nitrosigine,” has shown to improve focus, alertness, and mental stimulation in clinical research.

Choosing the best supplement can be more complicated than many think. Besides false advertising, a lot of supplements on the market—as many as 15 percent—are contaminated with illegal ingredients.

Look for supplements bearing certifications such as ”Informed Sport” or ”NSF Sport,” to ensure they have been tested for banned substances. Make sure your supplements also include clinically validated ingredients delivered in the dosages shown to be effective in the research. “Fairy dust” levels of ingredients hidden in ”proprietary blends” amount to nothing but an expensive placebo. Look for brands that proudly state what they've added, in what dosages, with the testing to prove it and the certifications to prove nothing else is contaminating their product.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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Beginner Workouts

Which Burns More Calories? Running on a Treadmill or Outdoors?

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By Rick Morris

Technology is a wonderful thing. It helps us complete many of our tasks with greater ease and efficiency. Modern technology has had an impact on nearly every phase of our lives, including fitness and exercise. It wasn’t that long ago that if you wanted to get in a running workout, you had to lace up your shoes and head out the door. It didn’t matter if it was raining, snowing, or 110 degrees in the shade. If you were going to get your run in, you had to dress appropriately and brave the elements. Today we have high-quality, technically advanced treadmills that allow us to complete any running workout in the comfort of our home or gym. We no longer need to run in bitter cold or scorching-hot temperatures. There is no longer a need to endure a run in a driving rainstorm or raging blizzard.

Treadmills have definitely made staying fit and healthy safer and more convenient. The convenience and safety factors of treadmill running have made these machines among the most popular pieces of cardiovascular exercise equipment in both the home and gym. A major goal of many of those treadmill users is calorie burning. A common question and concern among treadmill runners is whether or not treadmill running burns as many calories as outside running. Many say it does not, but I disagree. It’s true that there are differences between road running and treadmill running. Some of those differences result in less calorie burning, while others burn more calories. Of course, the positive differences are good news, but how about the negative differences? There is also good news there, because the negative differences can be overcome. The primary differences between treadmill and outdoor running are related to wind resistance, running surface and pace consistency.

Wind Resistance

Lack of wind resistance has the most effect on an important part of running: calorie burning. When exercising on a treadmill, you are, in effect, running in place. You are not moving your body against the air. When you run outside, the air creates resistance. Studies have estimated that outside air resistance creates an increase in your workload of between 2 percent and 10 percent, depending upon your running speed. The faster you run, the more of an effect the air resistance has on you. A study conducted some years ago determined that the energy cost of overcoming wind resistance was 7.8 percent when sprinting, 4 percent when running at fast, middle-distance paces and 2 percent when running at easy paces. Higher energy costs means you are burning more calories, so the lower energy costs associated with a lack of wind resistance will result in fewer calories burned.

Luckily, there is a very easy solution to this problem. Simply elevate your treadmill slightly to increase your energy costs. Your obvious question is how much should you elevate your treadmill to compensate for the lack of wind resistance? AM Jones and JH Doust at the Chelsea School Research Centre in Eastborne, United Kingdom answered that question. The researchers investigated the effect of various treadmill inclines and found that elevating your treadmill 1 percent will make the energy cost of treadmill running equal to running outside on a level surface. Running at zero percent elevation burns less calories and running at 2 percent or more elevation burns more calories than level, free-range running.

Running Surface

I’ve been coaching runners for more years than I’d care to admit. During all those years of coaching, I have seen many different types of running injuries from strains and sprains, to tendinitis and fractures. Among all those injuries, there is one type of injury that I see more than any other: medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) and stress fractures of the tibia. MTSS is the more accurate term to describe shin splints, which are an overuse injury to the muscles in your shin that stabilize your foot. A stress fracture is a micro fracture of your tibia that is usually caused by ignoring the symptoms of MTSS.

You may wonder what this has to do with calorie burning. It actually has a great effect on calorie burning, because recovery from MTSS can take from one to four weeks. Recovery from a stress fracture can take up to three months. You can’t run when you are recovering from these injuries. If you can’t run, you aren’t burning any calories. So, you obviously need to try to avoid these very common running injuries. How do you avoid them? Studies have shown that substituting treadmill running for outdoor running can help you avoid MTSS and stress fractures. You’ll be able to spend more of your time running and less time recovering from injuries.

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine measured the amount of tibial strain on volunteers during both treadmill running and outdoor running. The researchers found that tension and strain rates were between 48 percent and 285 percent higher during outside running than treadmill running. They concluded that outside runners are at a much higher risk of MTSS and tibial stress fractures than treadmill runners.

This is great news for runners who want to ensure a consistent, injury-free running program that will maximize long-term calorie burn, but it isn’t without its drawbacks. I’m sure you’ve heard the axiom, “use it or lose it.” I believe that to be true more often than not, and I think it’s at least partially true in this case. While the lessened stress of treadmill running protects you from injuries, it also decreases the amount of tibial bone strengthening. That same stress that can cause injuries also helps build up the strength in your bones. So it is like a double-edged sword. The stress caused by outside running can hurt you, but it can also help you. The answer to this dilemma is to do some running both on the treadmill and outdoors. The treadmill running will reduce stress and protect you from injury, while the outdoor running builds up the strength and resilience in your tibial bones.

Pace Consistency

Running is like a battle between your will to keep going and the effect of fatigue insisting that you stop or slow down. When you’re running outside, you may lose that battle without even knowing it. When fatigue rears its ugly head, your brain and body begin to gang up against you and your will to continue. You physically feel the fatigue through minor pain and burning. That is your body signaling you that it would like to slow down. You’ve probably experienced that feeling many times, but your will is strong enough to keep your body going. The problem is that your brain and body begin to force you to slow down whether you want to or not. Your brain begins to decrease the signals to your muscles that allow them to contract. As a result, your pace begins to slow. You may not even know you’re slowing down because your effort level feels the same. Slower pace translates to fewer calories burned.

When you’re running outside, there’s very little you can do about that. Treadmill running is a different story. The treadmill belt moves at an unrelenting pace. Your body has only two choices. Keep on running at your planned pace, or jump off the treadmill. This speed consistency of treadmill running is a powerful tool for keeping your calorie-burning level high.

The Bottom Line

At first glance, it may appear that treadmill running burns fewer calories than outdoor running. If you compare a treadmill at zero percent elevation and running outdoors on a level surface, treadmill running does burn between 2 percent and 4 percent fewer calories. However, that difference is very easily overcome by simply elevating your treadmill 1 percent. When you take into account the increased calorie burning of pace consistency and injury prevention, the treadmill is equal or even superior to outdoor running in calorie-burning potential.

References:

Effects of wind assistance and resistance on the forward motion of a runner, Davies CT, J Appl Physiol. 1980 Apr;48(4):702:9

A 1% treadmill grade most accurately reflects the energetic cost of outdoor running, Jones AM, Doust JH, J Sports Sci. 1996 Aug;14(4):321-7

Are overground or treadmill runners more likely to sustain tibial stress fracture? C Milgrom, A Finestone, S Segev, C Olin, T Arndt, I Ekenman, Br J Sports Med 2003;37:160-163

The post Which Burns More Calories? Running on a Treadmill or Outdoors? first appeared on FitnessRX for Women.

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Beginner Workouts

BREAK IT DOWN: The Gorilla Row

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It’s no secret: If you want a strong back, rowing is a must. Like other bent-over row variations, the gorilla row builds strength through the middle and upper back, lats, and shoulders while also enhancing scapular mobility, plus thoracic and abdominal stability.

What sets the gorilla row apart is the stance: You maintain a hip-hinge position, like the setup position of a deadlift, while simultaneously performing a single-arm row. Holding this isometric position builds tension, control, and stamina through the hips and legs. The lower body does a surprising amount of work, even though this is technically an upper-body exercise.

In addition to holding the hip hinge, it’s important not to overlook the nonworking arm: While one arm pulls the weight up, the opposite side presses down. This alternating push-pull pattern helps maintain stability and creates a slight rotation through the midsection.

The gorilla row is typically performed by alternating sides with two kettlebells. If you need to use dumbbells, elevate them to midshin height when beginning the move. If you have only one kettlebell, or a set of mismatched weights, perform all reps on one side at a time, making sure you have something to brace the nonworking hand against.

Gorilla row

  1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart or slightly wider, with two kettlebells between your feet.

Tip: Assume a wider sumo stance, depending on your comfort.

  1. Hinge your hips back and bend your knees until you can reach the handles of both kettlebells.
  2. Grasp the kettlebells, then row them one at a time, alternating sides. As you row up with one side, push down into the opposite kettlebell on the floor. Don’t allow your hips or upper body to rise up.

Tip: Keep your hips back and down throughout the movement; don’t let them rise or sway.

Tip: Allow your upper body to rotate and open slightly as you row the weight up.

  1. Complete three sets of 16 to 20 reps (8 to 10 reps per side).

This originally appeared as “The Gorilla Row” in the January/February 2021 print issue of Experience Life.

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