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Resistance training

Where to begin

A firefighter needs to have both muscular strength and endurance to be able to carry out core duties effectively, without posing a risk of injury. Strength is required for ladder lifting, whereas carrying heavy equipment, rescuing a person in an incident and hose running, which take place over a longer duration, require both muscular strength and muscular endurance.

For well-rounded results, it is not necessary for your training to be complex, just that it be specific for you and includes a combination of methods to train for both muscular strength and endurance. Your programme should focus on the whole-body, whilst tailored to target any specific weaknesses. Progression and rest are essential elements to be included within your programme, to allow time for your body to develop, adapt and recover.

The resistance training in this programme offers a blend of functional training in a circuit format, core training and traditional resistance sessions, giving a well-balanced approach to prepare your body for the challenges of firefighter tasks.

Base Training Phase - Weeks 1 to 4

It is strongly recommended that you complete the base training phase if you have not engaged in regular resistance training sessions over the past three months.

The base training phase offers an introduction to general resistance training which is a great place to start if you are new to this training mode. This phase is an opportunity for correct technique to be mastered, helping to mitigate injury. Focusing on developing muscular endurance will allow the body to gradually adapt to the stress of overload from resistance training, creating a solid foundation to progress onto the next phase.

Development and Familiarisation Phase – Weeks 5 to 8

Following a period of base training, resistance training will progress from an endurance focus towards hypertrophy (increase lean body mass with both endurance and strength gain), preparing the body for the transition to the demands of strength training. In addition, exercises that incorporate specific tasks that correlate with the physical demands of the firefighter role will be introduced.

Strength and Endurance Phase – Weeks 9 to 12

During this phase, sessions will incorporate a mixture of training methods, enabling your body’s muscular strength and endurance ability to continue to adapt, develop and progress.


How often?

General guidelines recommend training major muscle groups 2 -3 days per week. Allow 48-hour recovery between each session or training a specific muscle group. You can choose a whole-body approach in the same session. Individuals that are intermediate and advanced can train 3 – 7 sessions per week by splitting their training, selecting specific muscle groups on different days. For example, upper body/lower body, or push exercises/pull exercises.

Exercise selection and order

Your training programme should incorporate both compound and isolation exercises:

  • Compound exercises target multi-joint or major muscle groups such as squats, leg press, shoulder press, chest press and latissimus dorsi pull down.
  • Isolation exercises target single-joint major muscles such as bicep curls, triceps extensions, front raise, leg extensions and leg curls.
  • Carry out compound exercises before moving on to isolation exercises. If your programme is a whole-body approach, you may choose to alternate between upper and lower body exercises, or push and then pull to allow sufficient recovery.
  • Ensure you work opposing muscle groups to avoid muscle imbalance – such as bicep curls and tricep press, core exercises and back extensions, hamstring curls and leg extensions for quadriceps.
  • Perform exercises through a full range of motion, ensuring good technique at all times.

Repetitions, Sets and Recovery

Training goal Repetitions Sets Recovery between sets
Muscular Endurance >12 2-3 < 30 seconds


increase lean body mass with both endurance and strength gain

6-12 3-6 30-90 seconds
Strength <6 2-6 2-5 minutes

You may choose to work within the guidance above, using set working reps and sets. However, a circuit-based approach is also an option; selecting a set duration, with a recovery period, and completing as many reps as possible with good form within in that time. There is no right way, both options are perfectly fine. You will find a mix of both circuits and traditional training methods have been used in the programme. If you wish to change the session, that is fine, apply the principles outlined and choose which method you prefer.