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Functional Training for Tactical Responders

11 August 2020
Functional Training for Tactical Responders

In this post I would like to make the case for maintaining a base level of strength for tactical responders.  This at first may seem like an obvious suggestion, however, the reality is that this goal is often neglected due to time constraints, injury or sloth.  More often what is likely to happen is that you are working hard to maintain strength, but it is not translating to job performance or injury reduction. 

First let’s take into consideration our ever changing job environment. According to National Center for Health and Statistics at the CDC, the weight of an average man rose from 166.3 lbs. in 1960 to 191 lbs. in 2002.  The average man today is 5’9” and tips the scale at just under 200 lbs.  The average woman in 1960 weighed 140.2 lbs. which increased to 164.3 lbs. in 2002.  To put that in perspective, the average woman today weighs what the average man weighed in 1960.  Also consider that these are just averages.  As first responders, it is not uncommon for us to manage individuals weighing 300 lbs. or more.

Next, let’s consider gear. It is estimated that police today carry an extra 25-30 lbs. on their person at all times.  Firefighters in full turnout gear carry an extra 70 lbs. minimum, throw in a set of irons and that jumps up to 100 lbs. that they carry on their frame.  Ironically, new technologies that are introduced to first responders can actually make our jobs more strenuous as we then have to lug these items around at all times.

As we all know, our job as responders is becoming more physically demanding.  We all know the importance of being strong, but what strength in particular is best suited for us to perform our jobs. According to Matt Wenning, a three time world champion powerlifter and consultant to the US. Army and Dublin Ohio Fire Department, the most important strength to maintain for a tactical athlete is strength in the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes and low back).  In fact, in a 2017 Fire Engineering article, he suggests that an appropriate strength goal for the posterior chain would be a deadlift 2 ½ times your own bodyweight. He also suggests that this can be a particular challenge for those responders that like to sit on their posterior chain for extended periods of time.

Now some may be dismayed that they can’t do a 500 lb. deadlift, and just the thought of that would blow out their back.  For those of us who do not have the opportunity to be coached by a world champion powerlifter, I would suggest handling a weight you feel comfortable with and building up to a level of proficient strength. Once you attain that, there is some good news.  It takes a lot less to just maintain strength as compared to building muscle and strength.  According to a study in the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, subjects were able to maintain their strength gains by training just one time a week. Always seek professional coaching to do these functional exercises properly to avoid injury.

For first responders this is great news. With a few sets of compound movements and just a little bit of intensity once a week, we can remain fit for duty for the remainder of your career.  This is an achievable goal for any tactical athlete and one we should all aspire to.  The majority of our responders out there are either overtrained or undertrained.  If you wish to have a long and prosperous career, remember, this is not a sprint, but rather a marathon, and research shows that we can hit that finish line in stride if we just train smart. Be well. 

bio photo

Lieutenant Michael "Sporty" Kilbane

Michael Kilbane is a retired officer from the Cleveland Fire Department having served for over 35 years.

In that time, he has spearheaded many efforts to advance the betterment of the division through wellness initiatives and grants. He has also authored a pamphlet on maintaining back strength and health for firefighters.  Mr. Kilbane’s education includes an undergraduate degree in both Philosophy and Natural Health, along with master’s level coursework in both Physiology and Philosophy.  He is also a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is recognized through that organization as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. As a trained massotherapist, Mr. Kilbane has also witnessed literally first hand the damage done to first responders by over straining in some of the most hostile work environments. His most recent focus is utilizing kettle bells for functional training and is the author of The Athletes Ultimate Guide to Kettlebell Training.

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