This year marks my 13th year coaching and working within the fitness and sports performance industry, as well as my 7th year owning my own facility. During those years I went through a series of drastic career changes, which exposed me to completely different fields and demographics.
Luckily, after graduating in 2008, I already had a few years as a personal training under my belt and that allowed me to get a job right out of school at a local commercial gym.
I say luckily for one primary reason… I knew within 8 weeks that nothing about that industry was for me. It did not appeal to me, and I felt my total reach was far too limited and ultimately unfulfilling.
One night, while bartending at a nightclub, I was chatting with some military members who made me aware that there were opportunities to work with the Canadian Armed Forces as a civilian PT instructor. This appealed to me big time, since I initially considered joined the forces myself, but instead went to start my degree and pursue my passion for wrestling in University.,
To get right to the point on why this is important; it quickly showed me that while there was a huge difference in how physical training is approached between the public and the military, the actual population is not that different as a whole.
I could write an entire article on the outliers within the forces. These are the members whom were or are still highly athletic. These members were athletes before they joined, continue to be athletes and will be so for their life spans. It is who they are and how they are designed.
However, a MUCH LARGER portion of the military as well as all other Emergency Personnel and First Responders are NOT athletic specimens. These individuals still have amazing characteristics needed to be skilled at their careers, however their physical capabilities are often not what the typical “poster worthy” member may be.
I have had the pleasure of working with, testing and managing rehab for THOUSANDS, and I do mean thousands, of wonderful members of the following fields:
- Military (Army, Airforce, Navy, SARTECH’s, Special Forces)
- Police officers and Emergency Response Team members
- Fire fighters
- EMT’s (paramedics)
Simply put, there is a huge range of physical abilities within these fields and within individuals, so my goal with this article is to highlight some key points that I feel anyone involved in these fields should always consider, or that fitness professionals must be aware of when designing appropriate strength & conditioning programs for them.
Consideration #1: Physical Stress Uncertainty
Simply put, this means that it is hard to predict what obstacles and physical demands will be required on any given day.
A Paramedic may sit for 4 hours on a night shift, and then be called upon to stretcher a 320lb man out of a half collapsed car in a critical state, in the dark on a 30 degree incline.
A police officer may have to wrestle with a crack head who is feeling no pain and fighting like his life depended on it.
Or a soldier may have to endure a fire fight for hours, wearing heavy gear in a hot or cold terrain on uneven ground.
Finally, nurses are constantly put into awkward positions to transfer, lift, move or support patients in a variety of situations, often for multiple hours during a shift.
These are just examples to highlight degrees of difference in what they may experience. Take any one of these individuals and throw in a poorly designed training program, or a lack of physical preparation training all together, and injuries or inability to perform tasks is a serious reality.
Consideration #2: They need a solid level of General Physical Preparedness and Work Capacity
Due to the unknown demands, as well as unknown total volume or duration of the jobs that they may be called upon to complete, it is essential that emergency personal and first responders possess an appropriate level of multiple physical traits.
I personally know dozens of these professionals who excel at distance running, strength training or whom possess awesome muscularity from years of training to develop muscle mass.
The important consideration here is that all energy systems are touched on, the body systems are somewhat balanced and appropriate endurance, strength, power and mobility are at a level needed to perform the most extreme situations they may experience.
A special forces soldier would require higher levels of all physical traits than a cardiac nurse, however both need to meet a required level of physiological ability based on the specific situations they may be called into action for.
There is no way around this, and the variety is broad, however knowing your specific occupational requirements and what you may be exposed to is a great start to developing a plan to make you feel confident that you can handle your own, and do so without injuring yourself in the process.
Consideration #3: Psychological Variability
This is a topic that is in no way a specialty of mine from a psychology standpoint. I do however, have extensive experience working with a lot of individuals whom suffer from various degrees of PTSD and other work related stress.
I am touching on this, because it is very real and will fluctuate and alter what someone should expect from a training session, or what a coach or trainer should have as client outcome expectations. Learning to read a person from the moment they walk in can be a big first step towards setting the bar where it should be that day. And sometimes, the goal is just to move and leave feeling accomplished.
Coming off a 12 hour shift for a nurse who lost 3 lives, or working with a fire fighter who had to unexpectedly work 5 extra hours without food due to a massive fire are 2 totally different scenarios. One situation may have more of a physiological and emotional impact, whereas the other may have more of a physical and mental clarity impact.
Likewise, a police officer who has dealt with 10 calls on a Saturday night shift, where they had to handle some very emotionally disturbing situations, will totally change their focus and perhaps even make them highly irritable or frustrated if they are not performing how they wanted.
The point here is to be very realistic. All programs are written in pencil, so to speak. So be ready to assess how you or your client feels and just do what you have to get the body moving and leave on a high note.
A good training session leaves you with more than it takes away, not the other way around!
Hopefully these points resonate big time with those of you who work in these fields. In fact, if I did a good job writing this, you got to nod your head a few times and agree with me. For those of you who are fitness professionals reading this, it is your job to recognize and take these points into account when working with Emergency Services personnel.
As far as how to train for these career fields, well that would be an entire book, since every paragraph would start with “it depends on the person”!