If you are familiar with or part of the fire service, you might have heard these words uttered a few times, its usually after a tough and grueling fire, “I am getting to old for this stuff”. Those words are usually said as protective gear is getting stripped off, and physical exhaustion is setting in. As a 13-year veteran of my department, I have heard those words many times. They are usually said by the older firefighters, but surprisingly enough I have heard then from a lot of the younger firefighters as well. These are people who aren’t physically preparing themselves properly, or at all for that matter, for the rigors of firefighting.
Lets face it, firefighting is tough enough as it is. You are wearing and carrying over 75 pounds of gear and equipment, which you usually have to carry as you climb stairs, as nothing ever seems to happen on the ground floor. You are also hauling and handling charged (filled with water) hose lines, which can weigh over 100 pounds, and throwing (setting up) extension ladders of various sizes and weights. Then comes overhaul, which to the laymen is when the bulk of the fire is knocked down, and then walls and ceilings are breached and torn down, in search of hidden pockets of fire. The overhaul phase requires a lot of overhead work with tools of various sizes and weights, and is no easy task. Ask anyone who has done it. And all this is done in some of the most horrendous of conditions, high heat, limited to no visibility and the compromises made to the structure from the fire damage. Not to mention the “adrenaline monster” that goes along with the thrill of it all. Would you want to go into that kind of environment physically unprepared? No wonder why heart attacks are the number one killer of firefighters, and the number one injury is sprains and strains of the lower back, with the shoulder following close behind.
Well I’m here to attest to you, fellow brothers and sisters of the fire service, that the answer to these problems facing you is a lot simpler than you think. It’s nothing new, in fact its “old school”. It’s nothing fancy, and to say it comes with no fluff would be an understatement. If you are not familiar or heard of Russian kettlebells and Pavel Tsatouline, the time is now.
If you, like just about every other department out there, are strapped for available space, cash, and time, your answer is here. The Russian kettlebell is the perfect solution. If you have room in your firehouse to lay down a standard piece of plywood (4’x8’), then you have a decent size space to work out in. The space has to be clear of clutter and have overhead clearance, but you don’t need hundreds of square feet. As for price, the money you will spend on say 3 kettlebells of various sizes, will be a mere fraction of what any of the new “infomercial” driven exercise gadgets that are out there, making their promises as empty as your pockets.
The kettlebell is known as the “complete gym in your hand”. Pretty much every exercise you perform with a kettlebell, uses total body strength to complete, thus cutting down on long drawn out body part isolation, typical gym workout. The kettlebell is anything but typical. Kettlebells stress muscle integration not muscle isolation, so your body gets stronger as a unit, instead of separate “mirror muscles”, the idea is to get all your horses pulling as a team. Make no mistake though, this is tough stuff, but hey it’s a tough job.
If cardio fitness is a concern, don’t worry, there are ballistic movements, such as the swing and the snatch, that will not only make you stronger from head to toe, but will jack your cardio through the roof. Hit these exercises foe a while and see for yourself, how much more time you will get out of an SCBA bottle. (For the layman, that is the bottle of air that firefighters breath out of in a fire. SCBA stands for self-contained breathing apparatus)
Looking to make your back more injury resistant, again its kettlebells to the rescue. Through proper technique and movements, which are explained in detail in Pavels books and videos, you will strengthen your back with every rep of every exercise. If you are looking to gain flexibility with your strength, there is the windmill, an exercise that your back is yearning for. Get on board with this, don’t become a back injury “statistic”.
We cannot forget the shoulders in all of this. Kettlebells will give your shoulders the strength and endurance they are going to need to pull those ceilings and walls. Virtually every overhead exercise done with kettlebells will give your shoulders the strength that’s needed to get thru the toughest of fires.
A lot of guys complain that they experience an “all over” body hurt after fires. Well if an all over body exercise is what you’re looking for, I have 3 words for you… Turkish get up. That’s all im going to say. This exercise makes everything else a party. Everyone I’ve ever taught these to, hate them at first, but love them, when they see the return in strength that they are gaining. Again check out Pavels “enter the kettlebell” book or DVD for more on the Turkish get up.
I almost forgot to mention the added bonus of incredible hand strength that is a byproduct of kettlebell training. Every firefighter knows that once your firefighting gloves get wet, how cumbersome the handling of tools becomes. I found doing some kettlebell drills with firefighting gloves on, is a killer way to improve your grip on tools.
As a recent graduate of the level 2 RKC training held in June 2006, it becomes apparent to me everyday, that the fire service, in all its glory and old school tradition, should embrace the Russian kettlebell and the teachings of Pavel, as they both ooze “old school”, in their simplicity and effectiveness. Here is another plus. Kettlebells are virtually firefighter-proof. In other words, indestructible. Everyone knows that firefighters are famous for either “breaking it” or “losing it”.
My department puts on a firefighter safety and survival seminar every year, and a lot of the training has to do with rescue, whether it’s a victim or a downed firefighter. I always thought to myself, if you are not capable of saving yourself, how are you going to save someone else? Get yourself strong and agile enough so that you are part of the solution, not the problem. Don’t wait until you find yourself in a situation like that and then try to call on “life saving” strength. Pick up a kettlebell, Pavel’s Enter the kettlebell” DVD or book, start training, and be ready for any situation that might arise. Make kettlebells part of your rescue training. Don’t become a statistic.
Anthony Grokaitis is a 13-year veteran of the Worcester, MA, Fire Department and currently serves as a Lieutenant with Engine 16 and was previously assigned to Rescue 1. As the Worcester Fire Department’s lead fitness instructor, his duties include designing and implementing fitness programs for recruit and current firefighters.He is a certified personal trainer (ACE) with a Level II RKC, as well as a certified fire service peer fitness trainer through the International Association of Fire Fighters.