• Nick Holderbaum

On Firefighter Injury Prevention

The most common work-related injuries for firefighters are sprains and strains, mostly affecting the back, shoulders, and knees. Interestingly enough the majority of these injuries occur while working at the firehouse or during physical training related activities. I injured my shoulder doing the simple movement of reaching back to turn on my bottle. Millennials! Regardless, it could’ve been avoided had I focused more on shoulder strength and mobility. How many knee injuries have happened as a result of stepping down from the truck? From overtraining? Ego alone is the cause of many back injuries- going too heavy, too often while lifting. There is no single solution to the problem, but having some prevention strategies in place can help.

Hiring a professional to show you how to properly squat, deadlift, and bench press is the first step. Build a strong foundation and focus on form before moving on to heavy weight. Male firefighters should work their way up to 50 pushups, 20 pull-ups, 50 bodyweight squats, and a two minute plank. Females should work up to 20 pushups, five pull-ups, 50 bodyweight squats, and a two minute plank. Once you are able to perform these functional movements safely you can consider adding weight. There are many strength training programs out there; however, I recommend you pick one that is time tested, safe, and sustainable for you.

The Conjugate Method or the Westside Method is a staple here in Columbus due to the infamous Westside Barbell having broken over 100 world records in powerlifting. The little-known Colorado Experiment of one-set-to-failure is another great option and requires little time. That being said, the best workout for you is the one that you’ll actually enjoy doing consistently. Remember, 2-3 strength training sessions a week is all you need to be extremely fit. Keep your workouts brief and intense with plenty of rest and recovery in between sessions.

Powerlifters should do more mobility work while the mobility focused should do more powerlifting. Is that how the saying goes? Having full range of motion in your shoulders and hips is essential for injury prevention. Dr. Kelly Starrett, author of the best-selling book Becoming a Supple Leopard, and creator of MobilityWod - the one stop shop to improving athletic performance and correcting movement dysfunction, has plenty of free content on Youtube to get you started. Has your department considered working with a yoga instructor? We can all benefit from yoga, don’t be scared.

Let’s look at some essential exercise equipment every firehouse should have:

  • The Belt Squat - belt squats allow the user to pull the weight with their hips instead of loading weight on their shoulders and back. This machine is great for strength and conditioning, it’s safe, and can actually traction out the spine instead of causing compression. Proper squat technique is also essential for knee health and range of motion. This is by far my favorite piece of gym equipment.

  • Reverse Hyper - Weak backs eventually break in the fire service. Popularized by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell, the reverse hyper thoroughly stresses the posterior chain of muscles (erectors, glutes and hams). Done correctly, this exercise is vital in lower back training, injury prevention, and for rehab purposes.

  • Versaclimber - The only piece of cardio equipment you need is the Versaclimber. It is the most effective piece of equipment you likely haven’t used. It can be brutally intense and therefore it scares most people away. This thing gets your heart rate higher quicker than anything else in the gym. You will get a full-body workout with little impact on your joints. Keep those knees healthy! Whenever I get the chance to use one I perform all out sprints or Tabata intervals. Another added bonus is that it takes up little space. Don’t sleep on the Versaclimber.

Upgrade your department’s gym with the above equipment and focus on enhancing these injury prone areas of the body. Introduce a movement practice into your daily routine today. Avoid stupid mistakes on the fireground and in quarters that could cause injury or get you hurt. Enhance your training by lifting heavy things (squat, deadlift, and bench) two or three times a week and allowing for plenty of time for recovery in between.In other words, be strong, be mobile, and fit for duty. Your health, your hands.

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