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To become a firefighter, you must pass the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) which consists of eight different events: the stair climb, hose drag, equipment carry, ladder raise and extension, forcible entry, the search, the rescue and the ceiling breach and pull. You must complete all events in 10 minutes and 20 seconds or less to pass the test. Your gear includes a 50-pound weight vest plus an extra 25 pounds of weight during the stair climb. Although this test is physically taxing, the maintenance of physical fitness after completing the test is what some firefighters are lacking.
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A 2013 Extreme Physiology and Medicine study found that sudden cardiac arrest was the cause of 46% of all on-duty U.S. firefighter deaths, suggesting that firefighters are dealing with pre-existing cardiovascular issues. Environmental issues such as smoke can contribute to these deaths, but the best way to prevent sudden cardiac death is through regular physical activity. The fitness community has recognized the need to improve firefighters’ physical conditioning, as evidenced by workout programs/classes such as 555 Fitness, American Council on Exercise’s Peer Fitness Trainer Certification, New York Sports Club’s Bravest and Finest class and Crunch Gym’s X-treme Firefighters’ Workout.
Crunch Gym has been offering a firefighter workout class for at least 15 years and we wanted to put their Extreme Firefighters’ Workout to the test. The class provided enough intensity to satisfy any HIIT lover.
“About 15-16 years ago we had a firefighter workout class here and it was nothing like what it is now,” says Paul Lauer, co-instructor of the X-treme Firefighters’ Workout and an active firefighter of 20 years with the Paterson, NJ fire department. “When Crunch contacted me about doing this class I said, ‘It has to reflect what it’s like being a firefighter, which is anaerobic activities done for 40 minutes, doing multiple tasks whether it’s dragging hoses, people, or knocking down doors with axes.’ That’s how we designed the class, going from one task to the next, doing firefighter-specific activity.”
SEE ALSO: Everything You Need to Know About HIIT
With a work to rest ratio of 1 minute of work to 10-15 seconds rest, heart rates were spiked quickly during the circuit-style workout. The equipment included medicine balls, kettlebells, a 100-pound weighted dummy, a plyo box, and the instructors even installed metal poles in the studio that we had to climb. The movements mimic the CPAT, such as the dummy drag serving as practice for the “rescue” portion of the test or the kettlebell farmer’s walk as training for the equipment carry. Prior to the start of class, most of the fitness enthusiasts already had a partner.
“A lot of the returners come back with their partner every week because they find that they like working out together,” says Marc Daigle, co-instructor of the X-treme Firefighter workout and group fitness instructor at Crunch Gym. “They didn’t know each other before here, but they know that they’re going to show up and have a partner for this class.”
Cameraderie was shared as one man helped his partner, a woman, drag the weighted dummy across the room as she tired toward the end of the workout. Partners were also seen holding each other’s legs during the pole climb once upper body strength gave out.
“This class has a teamwork element and we always work in pairs,” says Lauer. “When someone is having trouble, you help each other. That reflects what happens during a fire. It encourages people to work harder.”
After three rounds of sweat and a probable upward tick in my VO2 max, I saw a class participant named Alex talking to the instructors.
“Alex said it was harder today than it was last week and he’s been here since day one,” Lauer says.
“The good thing about the X-treme Firefighter fitness class is that it never gets easier because we can always push you harder and you can always try to faster and get more reps in,” says Daigle. “Maybe you don’t give up in the last five seconds. I don’t think you can ever peak in this class because we can always make it harder and that’s why they keep coming back.”
Whether you’re training for the CPAT, a devoted gym rat, or a fitness junkie looking for a new challenge, the X-treme Firefighters’ Workout will leave you sweating and wanting more. There’s no shame or embarrassment in selling out and pulling out all the stops here, it’s a training environment. Check out how this unique fitness class was structured below. Do you think you can handle the heat?
3 Rounds: 1 minute of work for each exercise, 15 seconds rest between each exercise
Total Class Time: 45 minutes
Each pair of partners will start at a station. Partner 1 does one exercise while partner 2 does the other. Alternate exercises. Then, rotate and move to the next station. Rest 3-5 minutes after completing round 2.
Station 1: Battling Rope Slam and Bodyweight Squats
Station 2: KB Farmers Carry and Pushups
Station 3: Medicine Ball Slam and Burpees
Station 4: Dummy Drag and High Knees
Station 5: Pole Climb for both partners
Station 6: Box Jump and Plank