Aaron Zamzow is a firefighter/training officer for Madison (Wisconsin) Fire Department with 20 years of experience as a fitness trainer and host of the Better Every Shift podcast. the owner of Fire Rescue Fitness, a company dedicated to creating products and blogs focused on keeping Firefighters, EMTs, and Paramedics in top physical condition and “fit for duty.” He holds a bachelor's degree in health and wellness as well as a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certification.
I incorporate healthy habits into my daily routine by working out every day and planning for good nutrition. I try to maintain an 80% clean diet, with protein with each meal and 20% cheat meals. I find that midday is when I'm most productive so I plan my workouts around that. Transcript: "Hey everybody, great question here about how do you incorporate healthy habit behaviors into your everyday routine as a first responder? Look, habits are essential for improving your fitness. So first things first, workout. I try to do something every single day. Now recovery is part of my program so I might not physically do a lot but that's planned. Secondly, you have to plan for good nutrition. First thing that I always try to do is make sure that I'm hydrated and those that are around me are very well hydrated with water by the way. And then from there, it's all about choices. So for nutrition, if I'm feeling pretty good where I'm at, I try to maintain an 80% diet of being clean and then I'll give myself cheat meals 20% of the time. If I'm trying to make progress, I would be 90 to 95% where I'm watching what I eat, limiting my sugars and making sure I have protein with every meal and then 5 to 10% of the time, I can have a cheat meal. That's all about give and take of establishing these habits. For me, working out midday, I feel my best so right after lunch, I have it in my schedule where I'm going to work out. You may be a morning person, you may be an afternoon person but you have to establish that habit and sometimes it's just a matter of getting out and doing it."
When overcoming challenges with fitness, it is important to check your ego at the door and listen to advice from professionals. Focus on nutrition and creating healthy habits. Be mindful of how any exercises you do affect your mobility and performance. Transcript: "Here's a great example for you about how to overcome some challenges with fitness either as a first responder and just in general. Shoulder injury about 18 months ago and the biggest thing you need to do when you get injured is you got to check your ego at the door and you got to listen to those people around you that know what they're talking about. Do your rehab exercises like you're supposed to and also remember that nutrition can play a lot into helping you recover and to improve. So any health issue a lot of times is just a great way to help you reset, check yourself at the door and look at what habits have I created or what things am I doing. Are they making me more healthy or are they digressing my health. You know bench press is a great exercise but I'm almost 50 years old and by doing it really heavy deteriorates my joints which then you know decreases my mobility and it decreases my performance. So by focusing on different things helps you overcome those challenges and a lot of times this all begins with looking in the mirror and checking your ego at the door. Do you really need to lift 600 pounds if you can't move efficiently. You can't fake bad nutrition and you can't fake not working your core."
For firefighters looking to improve their physical performance, the Ultimate Fire Athlete program is a great way to go. It focuses on core and active movements for warm-up and stretching, full body strength and cardiovascular work, as well as incorporating recovery, sleep and nutrition into the overall plan. Dynamic warm-ups, circuits and supersets, interval training and static stretching are all good components of the program. Transcript: "This is a great question for anyone you know preparing to be a firefighter or trying to take their their level of fitness as a firefighter to the next level and it's you know can I describe some specific training programs that have been effective for improving physical performance on the job. I have one it's called the ultimate fire athlete and I break that down into you know a couple different things. First and foremost as a firefighter you need to have a plan. You have to make sure that your workouts incorporate core and I like to call prehab. They also incorporate active movements to warm up and stretching and recovery. They work full body strength at some point because we don't isolate on the fire ground so you shouldn't do your workouts. You also need to incorporate in cardiovascular work, build a good solid foundation and then add interval training because that mimics the stop go stop go high intensity of the fire ground and then you also have to take into consideration the big picture recovery, sleep, nutrition. So that is first your emphasis is that your program and your fitness and health and wellness needs to focus on those things. From there when you look at your workout program you know set it up like that then. So make sure you dynamically warm up, you incorporate your core movements, some full body strength either set up as a circuit and or you know you can set them up as supersets. Those will also work really well meaning you'll do a dumbbell alternating chest press and then you'll do a one arm row or a two arm row rest repeat then work that into a squat to press with lunges then work that into a standing you know bicep curl maybe on one leg to triceps. Then incorporate in just some quick interval training and finish with some great static stretching and foam rolling. A very well-rounded program but make sure that fits into an overall plan."
I track my progress and fitness level by monitoring my body composition every month and doing challenge workouts every 6-8 weeks. Additionally, I do air consumption drills with my crew to measure my firefighting related tasks. Transcript: "How do you track your progress, your level of fitness as a firefighter? I like to do one of two things. Number one, I always like to focus on body composition. I monitor my body composition every month, every four to eight weeks depending upon how my workouts are going. I believe that's a really a great indicator of you know muscle mass, body composition, body fat. So you know I want to try to make sure I maintain you know a healthy level right around 15 percent. Just for me 15 and lower depending upon what my goals are. So I monitor body composition. The next thing I do, I have challenge workouts and actually fitness workouts that I routinely do every six to eight weeks that measure progress. Run a mile and a half, how many push-ups can I do in a minute, how many you know body weight squats and burpees can I do. And I have a little rubric that I take and score. And to me you know as I age I really try to continually try to push myself to maintain those levels as far as fitness and body composition. So that's to me one of the best ways. The other way is to do routine air consumption drills with your crew where you're on air performing five or six different fire related tasks. And I think that's the you know kind of the bonus way to do it as a firefighter. Boom!"
To stay healthy while on the job for first responders, firefighters, EMTs and medics, focus on mobility, flexibility, core work, balance, and fire ground-based movements. Also, take 10 minutes a day to practice deep breathing and be grateful for things in your life. This will help maintain physical and mental health. Transcript: "A great question on how to maintain your physical and mental health while on the job. Now on the job for first responders, firefighters, EMTs, and medicine, it could be a 24-hour shift. It also could be paid on call. Now there really isn't a lot of difference other than the fact of the time constraint, but when you're on shift, I'll start with that. What I found to be very successful is to work on some of the things that you won't necessarily work at at your own gym. Mobility, flexibility work, core work, work a lot of the stabilizing muscles, and balance. I don't like to lift heavy. I also try to incorporate in more fire ground-based movements and interval training, meaning crawling, carries, stairs, sledges, drags, pushes, pulls. Sometimes you can do that in gear, but a lot of times just find things around the firehouse, heavy equipment, just carry that around. Focus on posture and focus on core. Now the other part of that, the mental health side, is to take 10 minutes every single day and just sit in a corner and focus on breath, tune out everything, and make that a habit. You could even start with just five minutes. Pick a couple things to be grateful for, take some deep breaths. Now it doesn't matter if you're at the firehouse full-time or if you're on call paid. Those two things can go a long way in helping you physically and mentally."
To stay motivated to work out on shift, plan your less intense workout days for your shift such as mobility, foam rolling, yoga and recovery work. Take a day of rest and do some deep breathing and mental exercises. Utilize the shift for unpleasant things and your off time for more intense workouts that you look forward to. Transcript: "Great question on how do you stay motivated to work out on shifts, especially during down times or long shifts. I like to actually plan my workouts and that's one of the first things I would recommend to you is that don't plan your really intense workout days for your shift because if you don't get that in, you know, A, that kind of leaves you a little bit almost depressed in a way but you start to take a little bit of a setback. So first and foremost, plan those things that you don't necessarily like doing on shift, mobility work, foam rolling, yoga, recovery work, active movement patterns, you know, cardio intervals but nothing too intense to take away from the fact that you still have to perform. I really love to use shifts for those reset days, mobility days, work on core strength and, you know, sometimes just take it as a day of rest, you know, maybe just walk around the firehouse a little bit and work on your mental side of things where you just take a corner and do some deep breathing, maybe write something that you're thankful for or set up your week's work of workouts but utilize that shift for those unpleasant things and utilize your off time for those workouts that you really look forward to a little bit more. For me, almost 50, mobility is the best thing that I do on shift and I focus 20 to 30 minutes of shift on it and it works."