Shore Up Your Weaknesses

        In the last post I talked about the importance of a good cardio base to firefighters.  I discussed some of the physiology of why having a strong and efficient cardiorespiratory system not only benefits you on the fire ground, but also how it benefits you into retirement.  Another key lesson that I have learned is how vital it is to always identify and shore up your weak areas.

     This lesson is not only applicable in the fitness realm, but also in our job tasks.  Too often firefighters get a few years under their belt, or officers get promoted up the chain and get complacent with tasks and skills that they view as either basic or beneath them.  In the fire service nothing could be farther from the truth.  It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the job will humble me when I get cocky.  I have been at highly complex calls and excelled only to go to a basic medical call and completely mess up setting up a CPAP.

Fitness is often the same way with firefighters.  Some get a few years under their belt and claim they “work smarter not harder”, and therefore don’t need to be as fit.  Other get complacent being at a slower station and figure surfing to the end of Netflix and back is more worth their while.  Others strive to be fit but get too comfortable with the routine they’re in, or the lifts they are strongest at, and only workout in that manner.

Law of Accommodation

In terms of fitness, doing the same routine and working out the same lifts day in and day out leads to accommodation.  The Law of Accommodation according to Zatsiorsky states that the response of a biological object to a constant given stimulus will decrease over time.  In firefighter’s terms this means doing the same routine over and over will lead to losses in fitness levels as the body will become used to the given stimulus and no longer adapt in a positive manner.

Our bodies are always adapting; either forwards or backwards.  You are always either getting better or regressing.  The body needs new and unusual stressors to continue adapting forwards.  For example, if I perform a bench press at 135 lbs. for 3 sets of 10 one day, I need to either increase the load (weight) or the volume (sets,reps) in order to elicit a positive response the next time I train bench press.  However, if I perform the same bench press week after week, changing the parameters each week, I will eventually hit the dreaded “plateau”.

That plateau is where the law of accommodation is taking over.  To prevent the plateau I need to change the stimulus.  In this specific example that means changing the type of bench press (incline, decline, floor press, dumbbells, etc.) or the speed and loading of the press (adding bands, chains, pushing for speed, etc.).

Working Weaknesses

Another way of avoiding the plateau is to identify and strengthen your weak areas.  This can take on a few different forms.  For example, if you follow a block periodization method of training, you can change which block you’re in.  If you been training strength for a while there’s a good chance your cardio and work capacity has decreased.  When your strength gains plateau it’s time to shift gears and work more cardio and metabolic conditioning.

If you’ve been doing the classic bodybuilder “bro” split and are plateauing it may be time to change to a powerlifting, strongman, or Crossfit style of training.  As much as it may hurt to give up your international chest day on Mondays, you may want to switch to training movements rather than body parts.

I personally follow the Westside Barbell Conjugate Method.  This method allows me to train multiple weak areas simultaneously and avoid the law of accommodation by both changing the lifts and the type of loading and lift speed parameters constantly.  I will dive deeper into the conjugate system in another post.

Having No Weaknesses

Ideally, as firefighters we need to limit or have no weaknesses in our fitness levels or skills.  To be the best we should always be trying to identify areas where we need work and then develop them.  If you’re an engine guy that hasn’t pulled a pre-connect with limited room to maneuver you should probably practice it.  If you’re a truckie that hasn’t touched your vehicle stabilization system in some time, get on it.  If you haven’t conventionally forced a tight door in a tight space find a training prop and make it happen.

As far as fitness goes, find your areas that need work and make them better.  When I first started out I was a cardio fairy who could run for days but couldn’t squat my own bodyweight.  I got on a strength program and put a lot of work into getting stronger.  As I got stronger, but saw my cardio taking a major hit I started training more cardio and metabolic conditioning.  Another area that I am admittedly weak is mobility and power.   To combat this I am adding yoga and explosive movements to my training.

Take a look at your fitness level.  Identify the areas you need work, and then develop a plan to work on them.  If you don’t know how to work on them find a Peer Fitness Trainer, someone in your department that knows a lot about that type of training, or educate yourself and then get to work.