Tactical Fitness: The Front Lunge

 

In the coming weeks, we will be featuring simple, tactical exercises that are relevant to firefighters.  These exercises will be body weight only, simple to perform at the fire station and they can be done as a crew or as an individual.

The exercise featured this week is the front lunge.  This exercise is relevant to firefighters because it is similar to movement patterns used in climbing stairs and ladders.  It is a tactical movement when performed properly, as it trains you to maintain footing in challenging situations.  For example, pulling a pre-connect to the front yard of a house that has wet grass or uneven terrain.

The Warm Up: Knee to Chest/Heel to Glute

The Training Exercise: The Front Lunge

The Compensatory Movement: Pigeon

 

Take a look at the instructional video:

TACFIT Firefighter Nutrition

 

Firefighter Nutrition

Obtaining optimum levels of health and fitness requires a strategy that provides proper nutrition to meet the needs of the firefighter. What you eat will have a direct impact on how you perform, how you feel and how you look.  Healthy food choices may also help prevent major medical problems such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease to name a few.

There is a lot of information out there about nutrition.  It seems like a new “diet” becomes popular every few months.  Many are based on sound principles, but there is no magic formula or one size fits all eating plan that is perfect for everyone.  It is important to understand some basic nutrition principles and eating strategies that will work for you.  Healthy cookbooks may also be valuable tools in helping you get started with quality meal planning and adherence to consistent eating habits.

 

Strategies for Improving Firefighter Nutrition

Basics

Take a close look at what you eat from day to day.  There are some basic principles that firefighters should adhere to.  Here we make simple suggestions about what to increase in your daily intake and what to decrease:

INCREASE:

  • Water – It is vital that firefighters stay hydrated year round.
  • Vegetables – Terrific source of vitamins and minerals.
  • Protein – Many firefighters underestimate their daily protein needs.  Protein is an important part of improving strength and maintaining/gaining lean body mass.  Consider eating .08 – 1.0 grams per pound of body weight.
  • Healthy Fats – Fat has had a bad wrap over the years, but it is an important part of a healthy diet.  Include healthy monounsaturated fats in your diet such as olive oil, avacado and nuts.  Get your omega 3 fatty acids from fish such as wild Alaskan salmon or omega 3 enriched eggs.

DECREASE:

  • Sugar – Sugar is one of the worst things we can eat, but it is found everywhere.  Even “healthy” foods such as yogurt and granola are often loaded with sugar.  Look at your nutrition labels and try to limit your daily sugar intake.
  • Unhealthy Fats – Trans fats are also on the “foods to avoid” list.  Look at food labels and avoid trans fats.  Saturated Fats (beef for example) aren’t all bad in moderation, just don’t overdo it.
  • Starch/High Glyemic Carbs – Vegetables are the best source of nutrient dense carbohydrates.  Other sources of carbohydrates should be lower on the glycemic index.  For example brown rice instead of white rice, sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, etc.
  • Alcohol Intake – Consume alcohol in moderation for obvious reasons.  Too much alcohol will have a negative impact on your fitness level and body composition.

Every positive change you make in your daily nutrient intake is another step towards reaching your fire fighter fitness goals.

Meal Portions

We know that what we eat is the most important part of good firefighter nutrition.  Portion sizes are important as well.  The “rule of palm” is a good guideline.  Your serving of protein should be roughly the size of your palm, your carbohydrate serving should be roughly the size of your cupped hands and you should try to include some sort of vegetable with every meal.  Include healthy fats throughout the day as well.

Nutrient Timing

Nutrient timing is a more advanced eating strategy that may have a positive impact on performance and body composition.  Consider eating a large part of your calories and carbohydrates early in the day and right after your workout.  Meals after 4pm should be comprised of lean meats, vegetables and healthy fats.  The exception would be a post-workout meal in the evening.

Calorie Counting and Cycling

Calorie counting and cycling are advanced strategies that are unnecessary for most people.  These strategies are helpful for those that are already fairly lean and have mastered the other strategies listed above.  If you are interested in counting calories, there are many formulas available to calculate your caloric needs based on your body weight, activity level and body composition goals.  The Harris-Benedict formula and the Katch-Mcardle formula are available online.  Cycling calories typically involves a calorie deficit for 2-3 days followed by a day of calorie surplus.

 

Resources and Sample Menus

The first cookbook we recommend is “Eating for Life”, by Bill Phillips.  This book has been very popular at our fire stations.  Each recipe is healthy, easy to prepare and easy to adjust for more or less people.  A days worth of meals from this book might include:

  • Breakfast:  Golden Pancakes (delicous and packed with protein).
  • Snack:  Hardboiled Eggs and Oranges (healthy snack to hold you over until lunch).
  • Lunch:  Chicken Cilantro Burrito (well balanced, hearty meal).
  • Snack:  Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake (protein powder, peanut butter and banana. Great post-workout).
  • Dinner:  Balsamic Salmon Salad (protein, healthy fats, and vegetables).

The second cookbook we recommend is “the Paleo Solution”, by Robb Wolf.  This book has a lot of great recipes and information for those that may have gluten sensitivity or want to avoid grains, dairy, etc.

  • Breakfast:  Sweet Potato Hash (very filling start to the day).
  • Snack:  Beef Jerky, Almonds and Apple (light balance snack).
  • Lunch:  Chicken Fajita Salad (tasty and easy to prepare).
  • Dinner:  Halibut with Roasted Asparagus (balanced and healthy).

The key to healthy firefighter nutrition is to select the eating strategies that are realistic for you.  You don’t have to change everything overnight.  Pick one or two of the basics and go from there.  Try more advanced strategies after you get comfortable with the basics.  Find a few cookbooks that you really like and you will use on a regular basis.  Proper nutrition is the key to optimal health, performance and body composition.

 

Preventing Sudden Cardiac Death Part 3: Mitigating the Risk

 

Fire Department Health and Wellness Programs

Does your fire department currently have a health and wellness program?  If not, establishing a program should be a top priority.  These programs not only improve the health of firefighters, but they also save the department money in the long run due to decreased injury and illness.  A comprehensive health and wellness program may include:

Annual Medical Exams

Medical exams should include a comprehensive medical questionnaire, vitals, body weight and body composition, a complete cardiac and pulmonary work up, blood work, head to toe physical exam, audiometry, eye exam, diagnostic imaging, and screenings for cancer and other diseases.

Physical Fitness Assessment

A physical fitness assessment should be administered once or twice a year by a certified fitness professional.  This may be a fire department peer fitness trainer or an outside consultant.  The assessment evaluates body weight and composition, aerobic capacity, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and movement capability.  Individual exercise prescription should also be available.

Peer Fitness Trainers

The IAFF/IAFC Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative developed a peer fitness certification program.  These individuals serve as “in house” personal trainers for their departments.

Firefighter Combat Course

The firefighter combat course reflects fireground tasks for structural firefighting.  The Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge and the CPAT test are courses that have been established to demonstrate firefighter readiness.  You could set up one of these courses each year or you could set up a custom course of your own.

Incident Safety and Rehab

Each department should have specific methods of monitoring firefighters engaged in fire suppression activities  and provide adequate rehab to reduce the physiological strain of the incident.

 

Firefighter Personal Accountability

It is up to each firefighter to educate themselves about the physiological strain of the job and the risk factors for cardiovascular disease.  We must take a close look at our lifestyle and determine what we can change to improve our performance as firefighters and reduce our risk of sudden cardiac death.  Exercise and nutrition have the biggest impact on performance and health.

Firefighter Exercise

Firefighters are occupational/tactical athletes and should train as such.  A comprehensive firefighter exercise program includes moderate intensity strength training, high intensity metabolic conditioning, no intensity joint mobility, and low intensity compensatory movements.  Firefighters must train to perform at max heart rate, but we must also train to recover better.  It is the recovery that maximizes health and performance.

Firefighter Nutrition

Firefighters need to look at food as fuel for performance.  It is important to really think about what we are eating and how food is having a positive influence on our body composition, health and performance.

Other Considerations

It is also important to consider how stress, sleep, alcohol consumption, smoking and other factors influence our health and well being.  The nature of firefighting as an occupation makes lifestyle choices that much more important for us.

 

The TACFIT Fire Fighter Call To Action

TACFIT Fire Fighter was designed to improve the health, wellness and performance of firefighters.  We have had the good fortune of working for progressive departments that prioritize health and wellness.  We have also had access to highly respected health and performance experts such as Scott Sonnon.  Your journey to improved health and performance starts here:

Answer the following questions and discuss your risk of cardiovascular disease with your physician:

1.    Do you have a family history of cardiovascular disease?

2.    Do you smoke?

3.    Do you have high cholesterol?

4.    Do you have high blood pressure?

5.    Do you participate in a regular exercise program?

6.    Are you obese?  What is your body fat percentage?

7.    Are you diabetic?

8.    Do you eat healthy foods?

Exercise and nutrition have a huge impact on most of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease.  For the next seven days keep a nutrition journal and exercise log:

Nutrition Journal:

Write down what you eat and drink throughout the day.  Don’t make any major changes yet.  This journal is a reflection of your current nutrient intake.  Consult with your physician or peer fitness trainer to get some tips to improve your nutrition.

Exercise log:

Record the duration and intensity of each exercise session.  The intensity can be based on a rating of perceived exertion or percentage of maximum heart rate.  Rating of perceived exertion is based on a 10 point scale:

  • RPE 3-4 is low intensity
  • RPE 5-7 is moderate intensity
  • RPE 8-10 is high intensity

Wearing a heart rate monitor is a more accurate way to gauge intensity.  Monitor your heart rate during each session.  The intensity is based on percentage of maximum heart rate:

  • 65-75% is low intensity
  • 75-85% is moderate intensity
  • 85-95% is high intensity

Calculate your personal heart rate zones:

1.    Calculate your estimated maximum heart rate (HRmax  = 220 – age).

2.    Count your resting heart rate (RHR) as soon as you wake up each morning.  Document the average over  3 days.

3.    Calculate your heart rate max reserve: (HRmaxRESERVE = HRmax – RHR).

4.    Calculate target heart rate for desired percentage of HRmax: (HRmaxRESERVE x %) + RHR.

For example, a 40 year old firefighter with a RHR of 60 wants to train at high intensity above 85%:

1.    HRmax :  220 – 40 = 180

2.    RHR = 60

3.    HRmaxRESERVE:  180 – 60 = 120

4.    Target heart rate:  (120 x .85) = 102 + 60 = 162

Training at a heart rate of 162 and above is considered high intensity for this firefighter.

 

As a fire service, we spend a lot of time and money purchasing and maintaining apparatus and equipment. It is the firefighters who are the most valuable asset to any organization.  Fire department health and wellness programs are a vital part of keeping firefighters healthy.  We must also take ownership of our health as individuals.  Participating in a medical exam and journaling your exercise and nutrition are tremendous first steps in improving your health and reducing your risk of sudden cardiac death.  In the coming weeks we will be providing a variety of information specific to firefighter fitness and nutrition to help you improve any problems identified through this process.

 

 

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Preventing Sudden Cardiac Death Part 2: Cardiovascular Disease

 

Cardiovascular Disease

Smith, Liebig, Steward, and Fehling (2010) describe cardiovascular disease as “a pathological condition that affects the heart, blood vessels, or the clotting potential of blood”.  Although cardiovascular disease is a chronic condition that progresses over the course of many years, it may transition into an acute life-threatening event in which death occurs quickly.  The physiological strain of firefighting coupled with underlying cardiovascular disease may be the lethal combination causing a sudden cardiac event in firefighters.  In order to prevent a sudden cardiac event, we must understand the physiological effects of firefighting and the risk factors for cardiovascular disease (Smith, Liebig, Steward, & Fehling, 2010).

 

Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease

The American Heart Association (2011) lists the following risk factors for cardiovascular disease:

Risk Factors Beyond Our Control

Age — A large percentage of people who die from coronary artery disease are over age 65.  The risk for firefighters increases over age 45.  In 2009, 34 of the 47 fire fighters to die from heart attack or stroke were between the ages of 35 and 60 (USFA, 2009).

Gender — Men are more likely to die as a result of heart disease than women.

Family History — Individuals may be predisposed to cardiovascular disease based on family history.

Major Risk Factors We Can Control

Tobacco Smoke — The Surgeon General identifies smoking as the leading preventable cause of disease and deaths in the United States.  Smoking increases blood pressure, decreases tolerance to exercise and increases the risk of blood clots.

High Blood Cholesterol — Excess cholesterol in the blood can build up in the walls of arteries leading to heart disease.

High Blood Pressure — High blood pressure increases the workload of the heart, causing cardiac muscle to thicken and become stiffer.

Sedentary Lifestyle — Lack of physical activity can have a negative impact on heart health directly and it can also lead to other risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels and diabetes.

Obesity — Obese individuals are likely to develop heart disease even in the absence of other risk factors.  Lack of exercise and poor nutrition are both lifestyle choices that lead to obesity.

Diabetes — Significant risk factor causing damage to blood vessels (AHA, 2011).

It is estimated that firefighters have a 300% increased risk for cardiac disease compared to other segments of the population.  Dr. H. Robert Superko conducted a FEMA sponsored study of firefighters in Gwinnett County, Georgia.  The study was prompted by the sudden death of a 53 year-old firefighter who suffered a cardiac arrest while fighting a house fire.  Superko (2011) found that the stress and psychological pressures related to the job, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and inherent personality traits, combined with a genetic predisposition to heart disease may have a tremendous impact on the risk of sudden cardiac death in firefighters (Superko, 2011).

 

Risk Factor Assessment

How many of the risk factors above apply to you or someone on your crew? We each need to take responsibility for our health.  The decision to make lifestyle changes is a personal one. You have to make that choice for yourself.  Understanding your risk for cardiovascular disease is a vital part of improving your health and reducing your risk of sudden cardiac death.

 

Next week we will discuss some other strategies to prevent sudden cardiac death in firefighters and we will issue our TACFIT Fire Fighter Call To Action.

 

References:

American Heart Association. (2011, May 13).  Risk factors and coronary heart disease. Retrieved from http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4726

 

Heart Scan Services. (2011, May 16).  Landmark FEMA study:  Heart disease is an epidemic for firefighters.  Retrieved from http://heartscanservices.com/police.php

 

Smith, D., Liebig, J., Steward, N., Fehling, P. (2010)  Sudden Cardiac Events in the Fire Service:  Understanding the Cause and Mitigating the Risk.  Skidmore College.

 

United States Fire Administration (USFA). (2009).  Firefighter fatalities in the United States in 2009. Emitsburg, MD.