Heart healthy in 30 minutes

Heart healthy in 30 minutes

Byline: Daniel Ball, M.S.

To ensure that firefighters are ready for the rigors of the job, the International Association of Fire Fighters suggests that fire personnel be fitness-tested periodically. Toward that end, the Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness and Fitness Initiative included an innovative circuit that combines a 20-minute workout with a standardized fitness assessment. It’s designed to simulate and test the general cardiovascular and muscular endurance demands placed on firefighters.

The two biggest fitness complaints heard from fire administrators is that there are no funds and no time in the day to maintain a regular program. The workout in Appendix B of the IAFF/IAFC joint initiative, available at www.publicsafetymed.com/education/education.htm/ in the Redmond Symposium section, is designed to be job specific, can double as a fitness test and takes no more than 30 minutes to complete. It can be performed with a minimal amount of equipment and space, and it can be adapted to a variety of fitness levels.

This is a very reasonable and workable starting point for introducing a fitness program to your department. It’s definitely worth sharing with your training officer or fitness/wellness committee. If you already have a fitness program but don’t have a fitness test, this program could serve as a first step in testing. When used as a fitness assessment, the fitness professional or peer fitness trainer should be nationally certified, as well as CPR certified.

The suggested exercises essentially are circuit training that alternates cardiovascular activities like using a treadmill, bike or stepper with resistive exercises like using free weights or weight machines and doing calisthenics, all in rapid succession to develop both muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance. The physical demands are enormous and constant and require mental stamina.

According to Kim Favorite, the wellness/fitness coordinator for the Seattle Fire Department, “Firefighters need to keep exercising to maintain their performance level throughout their career.” They also need to “work physically smart” and recognize their limits and the physical toll exacted during a variety of difficult working conditions. This gives them the experience to correctly gauge the energy needed to do different tasks and pace themselves so as not to deplete their personal energy reserves.

The exercise program can begin after the following equipment, which will be used during the circuit/assessment, has been assembled:

*Stopwatch or a sports watch with a chronograph.

*Treadmill or a sturdy bench or step.

*Various-size dumbbells or equivalent weight training machine for the different exercise stations, including pairs of 15-, 20-, 30- and 35-pound weights.

*Sturdy flat bench or chair

*Lat pull-down machine set at 80 pounds.

*Heart-rate monitor, which is recommended but optional.

Ensure that all equipment to be used is reasonably close to the treadmill. Position all equipment so that there is no more than a 30-second transition time between exercise stations.

This is an excellent high-energy program when training and/or testing two participants at the same time. While one participant is on the treadmill, the other is at a resistance training station. However, when working with pairs or small groups, make sure that times, repetitions and weights are recorded correctly for each participant.

It’s important to clear your personnel physically for fitness participation and assessment by using American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for exercise testing or the Par-Q Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire. Prior to testing, be sure that participants are warmed up properly with five to 10 minutes of stretching or light cardiovascular activity.

Less-in-shape individuals will need to adapt the program to a beginner level, approximately 50% of the weights listed on the training form. Keep in mind that if your department is using this program as a fitness test, members need to be consistent with the exercises they perform and the weight lifted to ensure that an accurate heart rate recovery comparison can be made with prior tests. Instruct clients to move the weights through a full range of motion. Have them move briskly between events but in a controlled fashion.

Before the workout and test, determine 85% of estimated maximum heart rate for each participant [(220-age) x 0.85], and ensure that this is not exceeded for more than one minute during the test. Although the IAFF test criterion does not specify 85% of maximum heart rate, ACSM recommends it.

The assessment portion of this workout is based on two fitness-testing premises. First, the rate at which the heart recovers from exercise indicates cardiorespiratory endurance. An aerobically fit person’s heart recovers faster from a bout of cardiovascular exercise than a non-aerobically fit person. In other words, the more aerobically fit you are, the quicker your heart rate returns to normal. Thus, if the participant’s heart rate readings are lower in the second test, they have demonstrated an improvement in their cardiovascular fitness level.

Be prepared to record heart rate and time on the test form. Record heart rate at the termination of each stage, as well as the number of repetitions performed and the amount of weight used at each station. If you will be using a heart rate monitor, be sure that it’s functioning properly prior to starting.

The second premise of the assessment is based on the ACSM’s guidelines for muscular endurance testing. According to ACSM, muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle group to execute repeated contractions over a period of time sufficient to cause muscular fatigue, or to maintain a specific percentage of the maximum voluntary contraction for a prolonged period of time. Therefore, if a participant is able to perform more repetitions or use heavier weights than in a previous test, muscular strength and/or endurance improvements have occurred.

The ability to obtain valid and reproducible results is essential in testing. It should be ensured that any differences between test results are due to exercise-induced factors. When using this regimen as a fitness assessment, be sure to use the same equipment and testing procedures for all members each time.


Set treadmill time to at least 20 minutes to ensure that it runs continually throughout the test. Set the speed for 2.5mph and the incline at 15%. When the treadmill reaches 2.5mph, have the user start walking while increasing the speed up to 5mph. Begin timing the test when the treadmill reaches 5mph. Have the user run on the treadmill for one minute, then reduce the speed to 3.5mph and step off treadmill. Record heart rate and ask the user to proceed to the next station.


Instruct the participant to pick up the 15-pound dumbbells and perform 24 standing biceps curls using both arms simultaneously. Advise the user to maintain a slight bend in the knees to prevent lumbar-sacral, or lower back, hyperextension when performing any standing upper-body lifts. Record heart rate and number of repetitions completed, and have the user move back to the treadmill.


Instruct the participant to walk on the treadmill for one minute at 3.5mph at a 15% incline. Record heart rate and move the participant to the next station.


Instruct the participant to perform 24 repetitions of the bent-over dumbbell row with the left arm, then repeat on the right. Record heart rate and number of repetitions and have the participant return to the treadmill.


Instruct the participant to walk on the treadmill for one minute at 3.5mph at a 15% incline. Record heart rate and move the participant onto the next station.


Instruct the participant to pick up the 20-pound dumbbells and perform 24 repetitions of the military press in a standing position, alternating right and left arms. Record heart rate and repetitions, and have them return to the treadmill.


Instruct the participant to walk on the treadmill for one minute at 3.5 mph at a 15% incline. Record heart rate, and have the participant move to the next station.


Instruct the participant to pick up two 35-pound dumbbells, using the legs and gluteal muscles. Have the participant carry the dumbbells to a mark 6 feet away and set them down on the ground, pick up the dumbbells again and return to the starting line. Repeat this for 10 repetitions; each time the participant sets down the dumbbells is considered one repetition. Record heart rate and repetitions completed and return the participant to the treadmill. For those who are recovering from low-back or knee injuries, eliminate this station and substitute lunges or leg press.


Instruct the participant to walk on the treadmill for one minute at 3.5mph at a 15% incline. Record heart rate and have the participant move to the next station.


Set the lateral pull machine weight to 80 pounds. Have the participant grasp the bar with hands 8 to 10 inches apart, palms facing forward, while keeping knees secured. Cue the participant to pull down in front of the body until the bar reaches the chin. Have them perform 24 repetitions. If a lat pull machine is not available, substitute push-ups. Record repetitions completed, total time of test and heart rate.


Ask the participant to sit down. Record heart rate every minute for five minutes. This is where a heart rate monitor comes in handy.

Identify where the participant’s heart rate exceeds the 85% value. If the heart rate remains at near maximum it indicates that he or she needs to work on aerobic conditioning.

Next, take a look at the form to determine whether the participant completed the required number of repetitions for each station. If not, have that individual work on strength and endurance in the deficient muscle groups. For example if the subject had difficulty completing the military press, adjust the training regimen to focus more on shoulder strength and trapezius and deltoid development. Conversely, if the participant performed the repetitions with ease, have them consider increasing the weight by 5%. Perform a new baseline test whenever resistance is increased.

As a workout, this circuit should be performed a minimum of two times per week. You can get creative with the exercises as long as they reflect the specific muscle groups used in the test. For example, use a stability ball for the military press, add biceps curls to the routine, and introduce dumbbell rows to increase core strength. As a fitness test, perform the routine at least twice a year to ensure that your personnel are fit for duty.

Daniel Ball, M.S., is a master fitness trainer and an occupational fitness consultant based in Seattle. He can be reached at 425-844-4039 or 1dball@attbi.com.

COPYRIGHT 2003 PRIMEDIA Business Magazines & Media Inc. All rights reserved.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group