Firefighter Core Strength Development: Part 1

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Few occupations or activities are more physically demanding than firefighting. Swinging tools to breach doors, advancing hose lines into burning buildings, and lifting people from awkward positions are just a few of the physical tasks firefighters commonly perform in the line of duty.

Now consider that often times these tasks are performed while wearing an additional 75 pounds of personal protective equipment. Firefighters must possess a wide array of physical attributes to perform at a high level and avoid injuries. Attributes such as strength, power, endurance, and mobility come to mind. The physical attribute at the center of it all, the key to building a strong foundation for physical performance, is the development of core strength.

Sonnon Power Chamber

Coach Scott Sonnon has been training emergency responders such as firefighters, police officers, and military personnel for years.  He recognizes the need for core strength and has developed the “Power Chamber Workout” to build that strength. Check out his introduction to the program and Part 1 of the workout:


The Basic Position

• Pull your ribs downward at the sides, engaging the internal and external obliques as well as quadratus lumbarum (your suspenders). Pull inward your transverse abdominus (your corset) but don’t suck upward, and crunch downward your rectus abdominus (your 6 pack) pulling your chest down to your hips. This creates the strongest core activation possible with exhalation mandatory.
• The part of the chamber that many have trouble lies with the pelvic tilt and leg drive. The pelvis has a small range of motion. Relax and lay down flat on the floor with arms extended above head. Your body will naturally form an arch in the lower back. While laying on your back, place one hand under your lower back. Notice your hand go right under your lower back as if going through a tunnel. The key aspect of the Power Chamber is to press the lower back to the floor so that “tunnel” goes away. In order to do this you must be able to tilt the pelvis, while driving both hips forward into one line.
• With the pelvic tilt, you must also contract the pelvic wall upward, as you have exhaled to contract the intercostals inward, the diaphragm downward. This muscular lock “crushes the can” of power chamber, creates a systemic knot of strength.
• Exhale and engage the pelvic floor, drawing it upwards towards your navel. Think of it as the space between the pubic bone and the tailbone. Initially you may need to contract and hold the muscles around the anus and genitals, but you want to isolate and draw up the perineum (between the anus and genitals). Engaging the pelvic floor creates both powerful lift and secure rooting. This is especially useful when jumping, receiving a collision or administering force.
• Squeeze your abdominals, thighs, and glutes very hard. Grab the floor with your toes and feet, and push the Earth away midfoot while knees remain bent. The tighter – the lighter!


The Power Chamber Workout: Part 1


 Day 1: Gravity-Resisted Rotation


Exercise 1 – Floor “V” Control Pause

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Lay on the ground with arms overhead/shoulders packed down. Follow the steps outlined above to achieve the basic power chamber position. Start tightening with your exhale, and hold as long as you can at the END of your exhale in the basic position. When you must inhale, relax the body down for the end of the repetition. AS SOON AS you begin to exhale at the end of that inhale, begin the next repetition. DON’T ADD AN EXTRA BREATH CYCLE! Repeat 10 repetitions in ten consecutive breaths.


Exercise 2 – Bar Hold Control Pause

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Grab a hold of a pull-up bar. (If you don’t have a pull-up bar, then improvise some sort of recline position, like under a sturdy table, porch, or even holding on to a partners hands). Pull the shoulder blades down, lock the elbows, and round the mid-back while tucking the pelvis to get into the basic position. If you’re holding on to the pull-up bar at dead hang, pull your shoulder blades down and hold that position. Don’t bend your elbows at all; as a matter of fact, flex your triceps to keep them locked! Imagine that someone is standing in front of you punching you in the abs, contract your core like in Exercise #1 – the Floor V. Perform the same exhale and controlled pause contraction at the end. When you absolutely must inhale, relax and let your shoulders go (sliding your delts to your ears). Pull them down again as you exhale into the power chamber position, be sure to maximally contract at the end of your exhalation. Repeat for 10 consecutive breath cycles without taking any extra breaths! Trust me. This is neurologically vital to fully awakening the core activation, and giving you this mighty abdominal power.


Exercise 3 – Arched Pushup Control Pause

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Move down to the ground onto your belly. Press up into the top of a pushup position. At the top, begin exhaling and driving your palm heels to press the Earth away. Tighten the quads to lock the knees, and drive the heels away pulling toes to shins. Tuck the glutes and squeeze them as you move into the power chamber position from Exercise #1 and #2. At the end of your exhale you should be in a slightly arched position at mid- back with your lower-back flat (as in Exercise #1). Strive for maximum contraction for the control pause at the end of the exhale. When you absolutely must inhale, relax down into the top position of the plank / pushup. But as soon as you begin to exhale, go up again into the power chamber position. Repeat for 10 consecutive breath cycles without any addition extra breaths in between.

•Allow a maximum of 30 seconds between each exercise transition (from #1 to #2, and #2 to #3) for optimal effect.
• Shake out your body in between exercises and rounds while performing fast, powerful exhalations, like if you’re out in the cold winter and trying to warm yourself (some of us are! LOL!)
• Take a 2 minute break in between. Repeat that circuit of 3 exercises for 10 breath cycles for 4 total rounds.


Check in next week for Part 2 of the Power Chamber Workout!

The New Generation TACFIT 26 – Sale Ends Monday


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We first met Coach Scott Sonnon in 2005 when he walked into our department proposing a tactical fitness competition between local police and firefighters. After a grueling competition, the firefighters won and earned access to Coach Sonnon’s “TACFIT” classes for a year.  We were quite literally test subjects for the original TACFIT 26!  Most of us were fit when we started training  but we found that after a few months of following the TACFIT training protocols, we were able to take our firefighter fitness to a whole new level.  We went on to conduct an informal study in Whatcom County to see if these results could be repeated.

Check out the results here:  Whatcom County Study

The TACFIT 26 program was a huge inspiration for TACFIT Fire Fighter: First Alarm and has had a tremendous impact on the health and fitness of firefighters around the world.  Emergency responders and tactical operators have been using TACFIT programs for years and it has helped them to improve occupational performance and remain injury free.

Coach Sonnon has been fine tuning the TACFIT 26 program and has just released the New Generation TACFIT 26.  This program has been completely updated and is now available at a fraction of the original price!

The New Generation TACFIT 26 is on sale through Monday.  Don’t miss out on this amazing discount price!

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TACFIT Instructor Certification Spring 2013



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Fitness Professionals from around the world gathered at the Bellingham Athletic Club on March 18th and 19th to participate in the TACFIT Field Instructor Certification Course.  This 2-day course includes intense physical training and class room discussion designed to improve and evaluate coaching skills.  Each candidate seeking certification is required to demonstrate proficiency in technique for each TACFIT exercise, but more importantly they must demonstrate the ability to coach their athletes through high intensity physical training safely.

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Featured Athlete: Firefighter Combat Challenge World Champion Dwayne Drover

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 A World Champion’s firefighter fitness and workout plan


The Firefighter Combat Challenge is a tremendous demonstration of firefighter fitness. What does it take to excel in this event? Our featured athlete, Dwayne Drover shares his knowledge with us.

Dwayne Drover (AKA D-Train) is the 2009 Firefighter Combat Challenge World Champion. He is 37 years old, and he has been with the Waterloo, Ontario Fire Department for nearly 10 years. We had a chance to talk with Dwayne in Dubai where he was coaching the athletes participating in the UAE International 911 Firefighter Challenge.


Dwayne, you have been a firefighter for nearly 10 years, what drew you to the fire service?

I always wanted to do it. I decided at 25 years old it was time to go for it. I failed my eye test initially and had to go in for laser eye surgery. I came back two weeks later and I was good to go with 20/20 vision.

Once I was accepted into the program, I went to fire service school full time while holding down a full time job. I was on the go from 0800 to nearly 0100 the next morning. I received the outstanding achievement award at the end of my training, and was hired by the Waterloo Fire Department 3 months later.


What was it about the job that motivated you to go through all that?

It is a prestigious job, an important job, and I wanted very badly to be associated with the fire service. We had a fire in our house when I was 11 or 12, and the work that the firefighters did left quite an impression on me. It took me a while to get here, but I wouldn’t change a thing.


Firefighting is a physically demanding job, have you always been physically active?

All my life, right from fetus! I’m sure I was doing curls with my mother’s umbilical cord. I first started lifting weights as a kid. We were all very active growing up in Newfoundland. I was about 12 when I started lifting weights. We would challenge each other to see who could lift the most. We had the vinyl weights with the cement and dust leaking out of them. My first bench press was 70 pounds and I could barely lift it. I made my shed at home into a gym and loaded it up with the cement weights. I have lifted weights consistently since then. I discovered the Firefighter Combat Challenge in 2005 and changed my training regimen to prepare for that event.


What did you do to prepare for your 2009 World Championship run?

In January, I went to my Massage Therapist/Personal Trainer, Tara Fulop Conner, and asked her to train me. She is this tiny little gal, maybe 100 pounds, she asked, “Are you going to listen to me?” I told her I would do whatever she said and off we went. She started by testing my core strength. Here I was, this big 240 pound weight lifter, and I could barely sit on the physioball without falling off. My core was so weak. I had to start from scratch again. I could lift a house, push anything, but my core was my weak link. That was the focus of our training initially, then we proceeded to high intensity cardio training, and I would lift weights with an emphasis on leg strength. My training with Tara was very specific, much more functional and well rounded than what I was doing before. I would run stairs with a weighted vest for nearly 2 minutes, and then I would drag the 175 pound dummy 120 feet. It was beyond the pain that you would go through for the race. I was toast after the stairs, so the dummy drag was a mental test as much as anything. Lot’s of explosive training, speed training. I would train with a snorkel in my mouth to restrict the air coming in. I wanted to maximize my anaerobic capacity. Every second counts in competition, so I wanted to push myself harder than anyone else was. I was able to maintain my weight at 240.  This was my perfect weight for speed, agility, and strength.  If I was lighter, I felt weaker and if I was heavier, I felt too slow.


What was your fastest time in competition?

My fastest time ever was 1:18:04 in Windsor.  I woke up that morning feeling great and I knew that I was going to do something big that day.  I wasn’t planning on breaking 1:20, but I just ran really well.


What kind of support system did you have in place while you were training?

I was training 4-5 hours a day.  God love my wife Mireille and my daughter Demi, because they put up with all of this.  My daughter who was 3 years old at the time would say, “go dad go!”  She knew what the Combat Challenge was.  She loved watching me train, but she wouldn’t watch me race.  She didn’t like all the screaming and yelling.


You stopped competing in 2010 and you are now focused on coaching. Why did you choose to stay involved with this event?

I feel that I put in a lot of work to master the technique for each exercise. I know what it takes to physically prepare for the event. I have studied the elite athletes that have been successful in the event. I realize that efficiency is the key. I can share this knowledge with others to help them be successful. The times will keep getting faster and faster.


What else are you up to these days?

I have been competing in long drive golf believe it or not! I enjoy it because this is a skill that requires proper body mechanics and efficiency. It’s all in the hips!


Do you have any advice for other firefighters looking to get fit or achieve a specific goal?

A lot of guys that I raced against were ripped at 170 pounds. They would ask me, “How can you be so fast at 245 pounds?” It is not about the size of your muscles or 6 pack abs, it’s about heart, passion, and will.

Once you have your goal in your head don’t hem and haw about it. Put in the work and just go for it.


Check out Dwayne’s championship run:




In the coming weeks, we will be sharing exercises that will help you to prepare specifically for each component of the Firefighter Combat Challenge.  Stay tuned!