In firefighting, functionality is key. Equipment must be functional. Vehicles must be functional. And as firefighters, you have to be functional, too.
Functionality is just as important off the job. For example, if you injure an ankle by playing a weekend pickup game, you’re not functional. Using a walking cane might improve your functionality a bit, but you’re still hampered, and that will affect your ability to perform when back on the job. To see more information on walking canes, see http://www.stickmakers.org/types-walking-cane/.
One of the best ways to make sure your body remains fully operational on and off the job is to forget about solely focusing on the weights and Stairmasters and Elliptical machines and regularly incorporate functional fitness into your workout routine.
A Different Kind of Strength
The general definition of functional fitness is doing exercises designed to replicate movements used in everyday life. You are training the muscles to take on those repetitive movements, and therefore, have less chance of injury from bending over to pick something up, carrying items up or down stairs, or at the station, coiling hoses.
One might conclude that hitting the weight machines would be the best strength-building exercises. It’s true that weightlifting will build muscles, but typically only work one group at a time. For example, lying on a bench doing presses will push your chest and shoulder muscles to work hard, but that position is doing nothing for your glutes, core, or quads.
On the other hand, functional exercises are full-body movements. You use both upper and lower body, which also requires the core to be engaged. Therefore, these are more strength-building activities than muscle-building.
Other key characteristics of functional fitness exercises include:
• Start from a standing position
Because functional fitness moves simultaneously make demands on multiple muscle groups, you almost always start from a standing position. Taking this stance means you’re not only involving the core, but you’re also testing balance and agility. Think of it this way, when you’re in the field, you don’t get to sit on a cart while hauling gear. You’re on your feet as well as moving your shoulders, back and arms.
• Use your body for resistance
You don’t need an elaborate lat-pull machine in order to create the necessary resistance to put muscles to the test. Coming out of a squat has built-in resistance from simply pushing your own body weight up. Multi-directional lunges are another example. As you get more accustomed to these types of exercises, pick up free weights, such as dumbbells and kettle bells. The added resistance will up the strength-training factor, but also increase your range of motion. That could be critical if you find yourself in a tight spot on the job where you have to become a contortionist.
• Explode with each movement
This is more for an advanced exerciser, but when you “pop” a move, it pumps up the power, which increases the metabolism because the explosion shocks muscles into a more intense reaction. A good example is the up-downs, where you run in place, drop into a pushup, and pop back up into running. Doing this type of exercise also can increase your endurance significantly.
• Functional fitness exercise examples
Standing bicep curls
Many yoga moves
Squat with overhead lift
Single leg dumbbell row
Side lunge with reach
Reverse lunge with press
Kettle bell snatch
When you have to stay in shape for the job, it’s important to make sure your workouts match the physical demands of the work, and that’s why functional fitness is a good fit for firefighters.