What is Fitness?
To be fit means different things to different people, but from a firefighting point of view, it involves a combination of things.
If you are marathon runner, fitness is about being able to run as far as you can in quickest time possible so it doesnt matter how strong your upper body is. If you are a weightlifter then fitness is about how much weight you can lift and your muscular strength, so most weightlifters are not concerned with cardio fitness.
A firefighter needs to be able to call upon reserves of muscular strength and cardio endurance to carry out their role.
Being fit is the interaction of all the muscles in your body working together to complete a specific task, and the fitter you are, the easier that task will be. It is about your fitness being functional. This means that some people may be ‘fit’ in just one aspect of physical activity.
For example, a long distance runner is more than capable of running up 10 flights of stairs but does not have the strength to carry heavy fire fighting equipment with them so their fitness is not balanced.
In the same way, a bodybuilder or power lifter does have the muscular strength to carry the same firefighting gear, but lacks the cardio endurance to carry that equipment up the same 10 flights of stairs.
If you add the fact that firefighters will often work in cramped and confined spaces, an amount of flexibility is also important. They may be fit in their chosen sport but this is not functional and not suited to the kind of fitness that firefighting demands.
So, being fit means you are able to perform well in all situations that come your way, whether it be crawling around in confines space such as a sewer, using hydraulic cutting gear to release a trapped car driver or running out hundreds of metres of hose from a water supply to a fire ground.
This holds true for every day life as well. When you are running for a bus, carrying heavy shopping bags or bending to tie your shoelaces, being fit in this way will make these tasks so much easier and improve your quality of life, better prepare you for every day tasks and reduce the aches and pains that life throws at you.
Being fit means being able to apply the fitness you have to functional, everyday tasks which are varied but natural. Firefighting involves a huge range of physical work, whether it be lifting, dragging, pushing, pulling etc. Being ‘fit’ in just one area isn’t ideal. To become fit for firefighting duties, it is important not to neglect areas of your fitness. For example, if you live in the gym and continuously pump weights, you will become stronger at the expense of your cardiovascular fitness and will soon become tired when running hose or dragging casualties. If all you do is run and never do any strength building exercise, you wont have the strength to carry heavy equipment or break down heavy doors.
Its all about getting the balance right between strength, stamina, flexibility and endurance.