Periodization For Firefighters

A close look at the demands of firefighting should paint a picture for how to properly prepare the body to avoid injury and perform well.  Diving right in, the main qualities a firefighter needs to train would be strength, power and endurance.

“What about speed?”

“What about mobility?”

“What about stability?”

Whether you run on the fireground or not, you’re never moving at top speed.  Looking at the force-velocity curve, because of the weight of the PPE and the equipment being moved you’re more closely moving in the power range.


A police officer, however, would want to train in the speed range as it is more important for them to be able to move at top speed in a foot chase.

Mobility and stability are no-brainers.  Everybody should be working on that.

Assuming we want to best prepare a firefighter for the demands of the job we should be focusing our training in developing strength, power output and both anaerobic and aerobic endurance.  Periodization is basically a systematic approach to training in which we plan out some progressions over time.  It’s the opposite of throwing a bunch of shit at the wall and seeing what sticks.  More like finger painting.  If you know what you’re doing you could even make it a masterpiece.


Did he just make a poop joke?

Yes, yes I did

And I just kept it going

Any program should start with some type of assessment.  It’s not only helpful when you start out to have an idea of your strengths and weaknesses, when compared with your end goal, it gives you a road map for how to get there if you know what you’re doing.  For example, client A wants to achieve “X” but is clearly weak in “A,B,C” qualities.  We’ll need to work on “A,B,C” to get to a point where we can work on “D” and progress it all the way to “X”.

There are 3 main types of periodization I use with myself and clients.  Concurrent, conjugate and block.  In the past, I have supported block training for most people as it focuses on one quality at a time and I believe it’s important to bring up your weaknesses.  Lately, however, I haven’t been as big a fan.  I think each type of periodization has its best population it can work for.  People new to formal training can respond best to a concurrent type of programming – whether the are 16 or 42.  If they haven’t been training consistently, and properly, for at least 6 months (I’d even go up to a year if pushed) then they will likely respond very well to a concurrent training model.

Thanks, what is a concurrent training model?

Well, it’s simple.  Of the three it is actually the closest to throwing that pile of shit at the wall.  The difference is that you are throwing it all with the right amounts in the right places.  Where block training would be like throwing all of the shit into 1 third of the wall space, concurrent is well spaced out and smooth.

If the poop analogy is too much for you, think of something like spaghetti.  If you’re afraid of carbs then picture virgin coconut oil being throw at the wall, and while you’re at it maybe lather some of that all over your ketogenic ass and pay attention!.  I’m going to stick with writing shit.  Use the replace function if it offends you that much.

The conjugate model then takes that even spread out smear and artistically transfers portions to different parts of the wall, while still leaving gentle streaks in all corners.

What the fuck man?

Concurrent is everything at once, developing a foundation for further progression if needed.  Block is focusing on one attribute for a period of time.  Conjugate is concurrent’s older brother with more facial hair.  It still hits on all trainable characteristics but weights the training in one area at times, maintaining competency in the rest.

Ok, poop joke is over now.

All three types can work for a firefighter.  If they have specific goals outside of the job, such as running a marathon then block may be a good approach for them – but we are assuming then that they have a base of athleticism.  If not, concurrent is my suggestion because they require a large range of physical abilities.  Sure, the calendar boys may need some specialized weight loss and focused hypertrophy training but for the rest of us strength, power and endurance should be a main focus and weight loss can come mainly from better choices in the diet.

Now that we agree concurrent training is a good place to start (which I’m assuming you agree with me), homer fist

we can start talking about how.  So, firefighter A is in their 40s and has never been too athletic.  He should obviously start with a concurrent approach because he would probably have some equally low scores across the board. Firefighter B is also in their 40s and she was a pretty good athlete back in the day, but family and working a side job hasn’t left her much time to keep it up.  Although she has a background in athletics starting with a concurrent approach is still probably the best choice, she may just progress faster into more specialized training if she still has some basic athleticism hidden somewhere.

With both firefighters we want to focus on the following:

Strength in the basic movements – pull, push, hinge, squat, lunge and carry

General aerobic fitness

Setting a base for developing power down the road

I have written about how to simplify strength training here.  I have also written about how to build a base of general aerobic fitness here, here and here.  But power, that’s a new one for me to post about, and maybe totally new for you.  Starting both of these relative “newbies” with a box jump, Olympic movement or kettlebell swing is probably not a good idea. Read: it’s fucking dumb.  Maybe it’s fun for 1 or 2 sets, hell, maybe even 2 or 3 workouts but it’s not going to lead to anything positive.  They’ll either fuck it up and get hurt during the workout, progress too quickly or stall out not so far down the road.

The best bet is to start small with some short skipping intervals and some deceleration drills.  Any good performance coach knows you have to absorb force well before you can create it effectively, let alone over and over.  Take the time to develop this ability through eccentric jumps, hops and skips or specific drills like a snap down.  Sprinkle this in with some simple interval work, hammering out the basic strength movements every workout.  Don’t even bother with sleds or sprints yet.  Maybe stretch something here and there and you should be well on our way to building the foundation to progress into more specific training cycles which the conjugate model offers, which I will discuss in part 2.

I would keep writing but where’s the fun in that?  I now have you hooked and waiting in suspense.  I also need to go read about how to implement conjugate training on Wikipedia.


In all seriousness, I have gone way over my new 2-dump-read limit with this one so I’m going to split it up into a few separate posts.  There I go again with the poop references.  I need to stop this and get my shit together.

Stay tuned for the next part to what I guess is becoming a series of posts about periodization for firefighters.  Maybe I can clean it up and make unicorn references or something more stick in the mud-friendly.

3 Replies to “Periodization For Firefighters”

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