Introduction

Importance of fitness for firefighters

Firefighting is a physically demanding occupation. Common duties of a firefighter include carrying heavy equipment upstairs, using heavy manual tools, dragging hoses, lifting and climbing ladders, and performing search and rescue activities, all while wearing up to 23kg of protective gear. These tasks alone require a high level of cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, core stability and agility. When combined with stress, heat and limited opportunity to warm up maintaining a high level of physical preparedness is essential to perform safely and effectively under intense physical and mental pressure.

To give you the best chance of meeting the physical fitness requirements of firefighting, you should be committed to following a structured strength and conditioning program that prepares you for the physical requirements.

Purpose and audience of this guide

The information in this guide is provided for candidates who are preparing for the Physical Aptitude Test (PAT) as part of the recruitment process to become a Victorian career firefighter.

By providing general, up-to-date information that has been compiled by Accredited Exercise Scientists, this guide aims to help develop your understanding of how specific physical fitness relates to firefighting tasks.

The information provided in this guide will help you to determine the needs of your own PAT training program.

The included sample program is aimed at those who already have a solid base level of fitness and have been consistently undertaking cardiovascular and resistance training at least three days per week.

Before you start

It is recommended that prior to commencing training for the PAT that you consult with your GP if you:

  • Are new to regular physical activity and exercise
  • Have a medical condition that warrants special advice
  • Experience shortness of breath or chest pains during physical activity
  • Become faint or experience dizziness during physical activity

Regular physical activity is a vital part of preparing for the PAT as well as for longevity as a career firefighter.

The Right Exercise Program

Firefighting as a career requires a high level of general whole body strength, agility and mobility, so maintaining a high level of functional strength and cardiovascular fitness is important in meeting the physical demands of the job.

The use of a planned, structured and individualised exercise program will help to improve your physical fitness towards your goal of successfully completing the PAT and Shuttle Run as part of your application to be a career firefighter.

Improved physical fitness is achieved through adaptation and specificity by gradually modifying the main elements of your exercise program: frequency, intensity, type, and time (FITT principle).

Keep your training specific.

The PAT involves a series of structured firefighting tasks which help to determine your ability to undertake the work-specific physical demands of the job.

Practicing similar activities in a similar format to those that you will be completing as part of the PAT is the best way to prepare yourself for the tests, just as practicing running will help prepare you for the Shuttle Run.

The program included in this guide is an example of PAT specific training.

FITT Principles

Element

Description

Adaptation

Improving fitness with gradually increasing exercise demands

Frequency

How often you train

Intensity

The level of effort in each training session

Type

The type, or mode, of training (cardio, resistance)

Time (duration)

The duration of each training session (excluding warm up and cool down)

Warm up

A gradual warm up is essential to ensuring your exercise sessions remain injury free.

Your warm up should be gradual and dynamic in nature and replicate, at a low-intensity, the movements you are about to perform

Cool down

A low-intensity cool down should be performed following your session to help return your body to its resting state. A proper cool down can help minimise delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Stretching as part of your cool down, while your body is still warm from exercise, can be a beneficial time to increase your flexibility.

Tapering

Allow yourself up to 1 week to reduce the volume and intensity of your exercise to ensure you are well rested prior to the PAT.

Rest and over-training

Rest is an important part of allowing your body to recover and adapt to your training program. Rest days of low-intensity exercise help to reduce the risk of injury and improve the outcomes from your training.

Over-training is indicated by a decrease in performance and excessive fatigue during ongoing training. The risk of over-training can be minimised by ensuring sufficient rest periods between your training sessions.

Recommended rest periods

Low or moderate intensity

  • Can generally be safely performed most, if not all, days of the week

High impact or vigorous intensity

  • 1 day rest between high impact or vigorous sessions.

Resistance

  • 1-2 days rest between training the same muscle group

Nutrition and hydration

Good nutrition can help your energy levels both on the fire ground and in your physical training, providing you with more energy for longer. The Australian Dietary guidelines state that:

  • It is important to eat a wide variety of nutritious food from each of the 5 food groups every day, including:
    • Plenty of vegetables, including different colours, legumes/beans
    • Fruit
    • Grains, particularly wholegrain and high fibre varieties
    • Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, legumes/beans
    • Milk, yoghurt, cheese and their alternatives
  • Drink adequate amounts of water
  • Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol
  • Prepare and store your food safely

Cardiovascular Fitness

A high level of cardiovascular fitness helps you to:

  • Sustain long periods of activity
  • Perform repeat efforts
  • Resist fatigue
  • Recover quickly from strenuous activity

All of the above points are inherent physical requirements in the role of a firefighter.

A high level of cardiovascular fitness also helps your body to cope with the additional stress of performing these tasks in extreme environments after limited warm up or recovery time.

Improving your cardiovascular fitness

Depending on your staring level of fitness, you may find improvements in your cardiovascular fitness with regular moderate intensity exercise.

To see improvements as you reach higher levels of fitness (a score above 8.0 on the Shuttle Run) it is recommended to include vigorous or high intensity interval training (HIIT) in your program.

The minimum cardiovascular fitness requirements for a career firefighter is a score of 9.6 on the Shuttle Run.

The best types of cardiovascular exercise for improving fitness are generally continuous, rhythmic, whole body movements using large muscle groups, such as:

  • Jogging or running
  • Bike riding
  • Rowing
  • Swimming

Including running into your training program is an important part of preparing for the Shuttle Run.

Copies of the Shuttle Run are readily available online if you wish to practice the test or determine your current level.  Please be aware that versions of the Shuttle Run may vary and self-administered tests should be used as a guide only.

Guide to exercise intensity (Talk Test)

Low  intensity

  • Can talk and sing comfortably

Moderate intensity

  • Can talk but not sing
  • You may be slightly breathless

Vigorous intensity

  • Can’t say more than a few words without pausing for breath

Musculoskeletal Strength

Resistance training helps to develop muscular strength and builds your capacity to lift, pull, push, and carry heavy objects both over short and long periods of time. As a career firefighter this may translate to sustaining a hose hold while applying water to a fire, carrying equipment upstairs, or performing a rescue.

To successfully complete the PAT, as well as to complete the duties of a career firefighter, a substantial level of lower body, upper body and core strength is required.

Reduces the risk of injury

Resistance training can help reduce the risk of injury through the gradual progression of exercises improving strength, coordination, and range of motion.

Resistance training reduces injury risk by:

  • Improving core strength and stability
  • Correcting muscle imbalances
  • Developing effective movement patterns
  • Creating strength through the full range of motion of joints

Improving your muscular strength

Muscular strength is improved through the gradual progression of resistance exercises. The intensity and volume of your resistance exercise determines which component of muscular strength you will improve – endurance, strength or power.

Muscular endurance

Muscular endurance is the ability of your muscles to do repetitive work over an extended period of time.

Muscular power

Muscular power is the amount of work your muscles can perform in a short period of time and also incorporates an element of skill-acquisition.

Guide to resistance training intensity

Endurance

Strength

  • 65% - 70% 1RM
  • 2 – 5 sets
  • 12 – 15 repetitions
  • 1 – 2 minutes rest between sets
  • 80% - 90% 1RM
  • 3 – 4 sets
  • 4 – 8 repetitions
  • 2 – 3 minutes rest between sets

Power *Advanced exercises

  • Explosive exercises (e.g. 20m sprint, plyometrics)
  • 5 – 8 sets
  • 3 – 6 repetitions
  • 2 – 4 minutes rest between sets

PAT Specific Training

The PAT will test your musculoskeletal strength and endurance with minimal recovery time between tasks. The higher your level of strength and cardiovascular fitness when undertaking the PAT the easier you will find the tasks and the higher chance you have of completing the course successfully.

The structured nature of the PAT helps in being able to program for the test. The following 12 week program has been specifically designed to replicate the PAT off the fire ground, helping to develop your strength, endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and importantly the movement patterns of each task.

While the program lists exercises that require gym equipment, it can be modified for use with minimal equipment. For assistance, please consult an accredited exercise professional.

In conjunction with the PAT specific sample program it is recommended that you continue an individualised program to develop your strength and cardiovascular fitness. Sessions for you to continue your individualised program have been incorporated into the weekly plan of the sample program.

Things to remember

  • Start low and gradually build up
  • Progress your training by increasing:
    • Frequency
    • Intensity (weight / effort)
    • Type (variety)
    • Time (duration)
  • Do a combination of cardiovascular and resistance training
  • Individualise your training to suit you
  • REST
  • Taper your training before the PAT or the Shuttle Run

Examples of PAT task-specific exercises

Task

Task description

Body part

Example exercise/s

Ladder raise/lower

Raise the ladder, hand over hand, by walking under it until it is placed against the elevated walkway. Lower in reverse.

  • Shoulders
  • Legs
  • Standing dumbbell alternating shoulder press

Ladder extension

Extend a raised ladder by pulling the extension cord continuously in a hand over hand manner.

  • Mid / Upper back
  • Arms
  • Pull down / chin up
  • Triceps extension

Stair climb

Carrying a high rise pack over the shoulder, make contact with each step while continuously using the internal hand rail.

  • Legs
  • Trunk stability
  • Step ups
  • Single side carry

Container haul

At the 2nd floor: A container weighing 15kg and attached to a rope is hauled up, hand over hand, from ground level.

  • Upper back / Trunk stability
  • Shoulders
  • Row
  • Reverse fly

Chain cutting

At the 5th floor: Cut each side of a designated chain link (2 cuts).

  • Shoulders / Upper back
  • Chest
  • Fly / pull down / chin up
  • Bench press

Hose reel advance &

 

Hold the branch in front of the chest, advance forward 20m and place the branch down. Return to half way and pull an additional 10m of hose. Pick up the branch and advance a further 10m around an obstacle.

  • Legs
  • Trunk stability
  • Sled drag
  • Resisted lunges

Hose reel pull

At the designated area, turn around and haul in another 10m of hose. Time limit: 70 seconds.

  • Legs / Back
  • Shoulders / Arms
  • Cable row / sled row
  • Triceps extension

Equipment carry

Remove two bags, one at a time, from the top shelf of the appliance. Pick up the bags, one in each hand, carry 20m around a marker then return each bag to the shelf.

  • Shoulders
  • Trunk stability
  • Shoulder press
  • Farmers walk

Hose advance and hold

Hold the branch in front of the chest, advance forward 5m. Slowly open the branch, resist the force of the water and direct the flow as instructed.

Timed: 2 minutes

  • Trunk stability
  • Shoulders / Arms
  • Russian twist
  • Triceps extension

Casualty rescue

Lift and drag a 72kg dummy, backwards, around a 45m course. Time limit: 70 seconds

  • Trunk stability
  • Legs
  • Deadlift
  • Reverse sled drag

Sample Program

  • Any physical training is conducted at the participant’s own risk of personal injury
  • This program is designed for people who are consistently undertaking cardiovascular and resistance training at least three days per week and therefore may be suitable for them.
  • Choose weights that challenge your ability while allowing good form for the given number of repetitions, circuits and length of the rest periods

Week 1-4

Week Mon Tue Weds Thurs Fri Sat Sun
1 Circuit 1   Cardio   Strength    
2 Circuit 2   Cardio   Strength    
3 Circuit 1   Cardio   Strength Cardio  
4 Circuit 2   Cardio   Strength Cardio  

Circuit 1 (Endurance)

  Exercise Reps %RM Additional
1 Deadlift 12 - 15 65 - 75 5-10kg backpack
or weight vest
2 Db single-arm shoulder press 12 - 15 65 - 75
3 Cable single arm pull down 12 - 15 65 - 75
4 Step Ups 12 - 15 65 - 75
5 Renegade Row 8 - 12 ea arm 70 - 80
6 Front Lunges 12 - 15 ea leg 65 - 75
7 Cable single arm row 12 - 15 ea arm 65 - 75
8 Single side carry 30m 65 - 75
9 Russian twist 8 - 12 70 - 80
10 Prone plank hold < 60 sec NA
Repeat circuit 2 - 3 times
Rest: 15 - 30 secs between exercises, 60 - 90 secs between circuits

Circuit 2 (Muscle growth)

  Exercise Reps %RM Additional
1 Squat 4 - 8 80 - 90 5-10kg backpack
or weight vest
2 Hammer curl 8 - 12 70 - 80
3 Wide grip pull down 8 - 12 70 - 80
4 Step Ups 4 - 8 ea leg 80 - 90
5 Reverse Fly 8 - 12 70 - 80
6 Reverse lunges 4 - 8 ea leg 80 - 90
7 Cable alternating row 8 - 2 70 - 80
8 Farmers carry 30m 70 - 80
9 Side plank hold < 30sec ea side NA
10 Fit ball abdominal roll-out 8 NA
Repeat circuit 2 - 3 times
Rest: 15 - 30 secs between exercises, 1 - 3 mins between circuits

 

Week 5-8

Week Mon Tue Weds Thurs Fri Sat Sun
5 Circuit 1   Cardio   Strength    
6 Circuit 1   Strength   Circuit 2 Cardio  
7 Circuit 1 Cardio Strength   Circuit 2    
8 Circuit 1 Cardio Strength   Circuit 2 Cardio  

Circuit 1 (Strength)

  Exercise Reps %RM Additional
1 Deadlift 4 - 8 85 - 90 10-15kg backpack
or weight vest
2 Db single-arm alternating shoulder press 4 - 8 85 - 90
3 Cable single-arm alternating pull down 4 - 8 85 - 90
4 Step Ups 4 - 8 ea leg 80 - 90
5 Renegade Row Max in 20 sec 65 - 75
6 Travelling Lunges 4 - 8 ea leg 80 - 90
7 Cable single-arm alternating row in lunge 4 - 8 ea arm 80 - 90
8 Single side carry 30m 70 - 80
9 Russian twist 8 - 12 70 - 80
10 Prone plank hold with alternating leg raise 10 ea leg NA
Repeat circuit 3 - 4 times
Rest: 15 - 30 secs between exercises, 2 - 5 mins between circuits

Circuit 2 (Endurance)

  Exercise Reps %RM Additional
1 Squat 12 65 - 75 10-15kg backpack
or weight vest
2 Hammer curl into shoulder press 15 65 - 75
3 Wide grip pull down 15 65 - 75
4 Step Ups with knee drive 12 ea leg 65 - 75
5 Reverse Fly Max in 20 sec 65 - 75
6 Travelling reverse lunges 12 ea leg 65 - 75
7 Cable single-arm alternating row 15 ea arm 65 - 75
8 Farmers carry 30m 70 - 80
9 Side plank hold with leg raise 12 ea leg NA
10 Fit ball abdominal roll-out 10 NA
Repeat circuit 2 - 3 times
Rest: 15 - 30 secs between exercises, 60 - 90 secs between circuits

 

Week 9-12

Week Mon Tue Weds Thurs Fri Sat Sun
9 Circuit 1 Cardio Strength   Circuit 2    
10 Circuit 1 Cardio Strength   Circuit 2    
11 Circuit 1 Cardio Strength   Circuit 2 Cardio  
12 Circuit 1 Cardio Strength   Circuit 2 Cardio  

Circuit 1 (Strength)

  Exercise Reps %RM Additional
1 Deadlift 4 - 8 80 - 90 15-20kg backpack
or weight vest
2 Front lunge with Db single-arm shoulder press 8 - 12 70 - 80
3 Cable single arm pull down 8 - 12 70 - 80
4 Step Ups with knee drive 4 - 8 ea leg 80 - 90
5 Renegade Row with push up Max in 20 sec 70 - 80
6 Resisted Travelling Lunges Max in 30 sec 80 - 90
7 Cable single-arm alternating row in lunge 8 - 12 ea arm 70 - 80
8 Single side carry 30m 80 - 90
9 Russian twist 8 - 12 65 - 75
10 Prone plank hold with alternating leg raise 15 ea leg NA
Repeat circuit 2 - 3 times
Rest: 15 - 30 secs between exercises, 2 - 5 mins between circuits

Circuit 2 (Strength and power)

  Exercise Reps %RM Additional
1 Squat 4 - 8 80 - 90 15-20kg backpack
or weight vest
2 Hammer curl to shoulder press 4 - 8 80 - 90
3 Wide grip pull down 4 - 8 80 - 90
4 Step Ups with knee drive 4 - 8 ea leg 80 - 90
5 Reverse Fly Max in 20 sec < 50
6 Travelling reverse lunges Max in 30 sec < 50
7 Cable single-arm alternating row in lunge position Max in 30 sec < 50
8 Farmers carry 30m 80 - 90
9 Side plank hold with resisted leg raise    4 - 8 ea leg NA
10 Fit ball abdominal roll-out 8 - 10 NA
Repeat circuit 3 - 4 times
Rest: 15 - 30 secs between exercises, 2 - 5 mins between circuits