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Surfs Up with North Carolina Firefighter Wayne Jeno

We sat down with Surf City Fire Department’s Wayne Jeno, fitness advocate and diehard surfer. Here’s what he had to say….


Q: Tell us about your home turf!

A: Surf City Fire Department is a station on the North Carolina coast with 24 full time firefighters, 2 Chiefs, and a mixed crew of career paid and volunteer first responders. And… for this guy, plenty of surf!

Q: What do you like most about being a firefighter?

A: The brotherhood and bonds that you build with each other. No matter what department you’re in, those are the same. Your work is to go into dangerous situations with people. You need the ultimate mental preparation. And to know that you have people who are going to watch over you and vice versa. 

Q: How do you prepare for the lifestyle of being a firefighter, having to respond unexpectedly and immediately to calls and then rapidly execute? Do you feel “ready”? Have you ever felt “not ready?” 

A: I’m 66, so staying physically fit and active is the single most important aspect of being a firefighter for me. Being fit, ready, is how you have confidence that you are safe. Not only do you have to be trained to do the tasks required but you have to be physically fit to achieve those tasks. You mind is racing. You need to be confident, never question, that you can physically do what you need to do, and then you have more time to mentally think about what’s needed. During the most critical moments, you reach back and recall your training. You have to rely on this and let it takeover, know you are ready. Take a few deep breaths. Don’t get ahead of yourself. 

Q: What is your biggest challenge or hardest part of being a firefighter? 

A: Preparation. You have to constantly keep ratcheting it up. 110 floors in 18-20 minutes in the gym. Not losing the edge and stepping back. When you have new skills to learn such as ocean rescue training, you have to be prepared for the demand. Swim laps, and at the gym, focus on strength training geared towards swimming. 

Q: Who is most important to you in supporting your work and commitment to being a firefighter?

A: My wife supported me from day one. This is a huge time commitment, and it adds an unexpectedness to your day in and day out. Dinner’s ready for us to enjoy, and boom I’m out the door….

Thanks Wayne for sharing a moment with us!

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My Personal Game-Changing Moment

Olympic athletes set their sites on defining moments years in advance. Politicians know when Election Day is. Soldiers and firefighters plan and train for pivotal missions. These professionals employ teams of coaches, trainers, managers, officers, and teachers to help them prepare for moments that matter. 

But for all of us, any given day can have a big moment, and we may not anticipate it. It may not be a run at an Olympic medal, a campaign won or lost, or a life or death decision. But it might impact our family, change the course of a career, or shape our purpose. More modest, it might make a day or week a bit brighter. It may be a success that yields joy, a failure that spurs strength, or an emotion that moves us. A major presentation, a tournament goal, a key negotiation, a sick baby. 

My work in fitness training, and Fitfighter’s focus on readiness for these moments, are inspired and punctuated by a handful of my own. One occurred the night of February 22, 2016. 

I woke up flushed with a headache and pounding heart. My pregnancy had been far from routine, so I didn’t read into this. When I was 14 weeks, I had done the detailed maternal fetal test that revealed an elevated Inhibin A protein level. At 35 and in mint condition, I was shocked and confused — how could this be that my pregnancy wasn’t right on track?! Of course I was applying neither a rational or clinical lens to the scenario. This sent me down a cascade of research and emotions: inhibin A can indicate fetal conditions from pre-eclampsia to Down’s Syndrome to growth abnormalities. Dr. Schneider, my OB-GYN, advised that I likely had an issue with my placenta, but the data isn’t conclusive to predict a concrete diagnosis.

I had gone about my next six months getting monthly growth scans and worrying myself into a frenzy. I talked with my husband about whether to get an amnio test to learn more, and we decided against it. I also stayed physically fit. I worked out in the firehouse gym where we had an elliptical trainer, and stayed strong through resistance and low-weight training. And I am 100% certain that strength got me through one of the hardest physical, mental, and emotional 24 hours of my life. 

— 

Despite the pounding headache, I took my rat terrier Jack for a slow jog — fresh air always helps when I’m dragging. I felt better, took a hot shower, and sped off to the 7:12 LIRR train into New York City, despite the strong advice of my husband (a surgeon) who told me not to go into work, and make an appointment with the doctor. Denial? Ego? Emotion? I’m not sure. At 10:30 am I was sitting at my desk and the screen went blurry. I told my colleague to cover my meetings, high-tailed it back to Huntington, and saw Dr. Schneider’s colleague at 3:15. My blood pressure, typically 100/60, had risen to 140/90. I was puffy. Within a half hour, I was headed to Labor and Delivery “as a precaution.” My husband later told me he knew exactly what that meant (bless him for his even keel) — that I was likely having a baby, and my condition may be very serious. 

Pre-eclampsia occurs in roughly 3% of pregnancies and, when associated with extreme hypertension, is one of 3 major causes of maternal death. The cause is unknown, and the only treatment delivery of the baby. With my blood pressure rising and my body inflating, I was textbook. By 8 pm, my BP read 230/130 at its height, and my body felt like an erupting volcano. I was on anti-seizure magnesium, Procardia, hydrazine, Lasix, and Labetalol, among others. What unfolded over the next 12 hours, and ultimately 8 days in the NICU, warms my heart and gives me deep faith in and gratitude for those who have chosen medicine and service as their path. 

Dr. Ava Sierecki, on call at the time, came to my bedside. With calm eyes and even tone, she discussed our options and made me feel like we were a team. I begged to have a vaginal delivery instead of a C-section — I had a personal yearning for this if it were medically possible. She advised that it may not be an option if my condition worsened, but she was willing to try to manage my hypertension and induce me from scratch 4 weeks early. She asked for my full cooperation should she need to make a new call at any time. On reflection, despite her daily patient care decisions as an OB, that must have been a big moment for her. 

We made it happen. Emory was born 4 lbs. 9 oz. (tiny peanut!) the following day and whisked off to the NICU. I wallowed in love, relief, and utter exhaustion, still reeling from the drugs, but touched and grateful that Dr. Sierecki had been willing and attentive to my delivery desires. 

As fate would have it, I wasn’t out of the cellar. Having expected the searing abdominal pain to go down, I had a second wave. Suddenly my rectum felt like it was on fire, and that someone was trying to push a bowling ball through it. My medical records say patient states she feels she like she needs a BM. Understatement. I turned onto my hands and my knees, and remember trying to describe to the nurse how bad, how desperate, I felt. It was worse than both the childbirth and the hypertension I had just endured. I have vivid memories of a trio of doctors quickly gathering at my bedside. After examining me, they recorded a 6x4 cm hematoma in my left vaginal wall. Pressure from the birth had caused a billiard ball sized pooling of blood in my groin. Finally the nurses pushed Dilaudid through an IV to force rest. 

The following morning, I limped to the shower to rinse my busted body, and settled into a new bed in maternity to start healing, draining my puffy face, absorbing the hematoma, and caring for my baby best I could. A troop of eager nursing students filed in and out of my room several times to take a peak between my legs at my hematoma — a rarity in its size and location. (As the spouse of a doctor, I am always generous with this since everyone has to learn somehow, but this one was a particular test of my graciousness!) 

For the next 6 days, I kept a 3 hour cycle day in and day out: sipping apple juice, eating vanilla pudding, emptying my Foley catheter bag (I couldn’t urinate), taking vitals, downing meds, having visits from specialists, and visiting Emory in the NICU to cuddle and breastfeed. I remember with agonizing vividness that tiny body with bright white eye shades in a plastic box, starting life. The NICU nurses are angels. They taught me and nurtured me as a mom, and they live to care for these mini humans. 

Finally returning home after a week, without Emory, who stayed in the hospital a bit longer to gain weight and clear her bilirubin, rocked my heart and brings me to tears as I write. Another 4 days later, Emory came home too, ending this chapter. 

— 

Two years later, I often joke that this story wasn’t exactly the baby and mom are happy and healthy! update that I envisioned for my first birth. My body, mind, and soul were tested that day. Some 85 million mothers have their own unique stories, many more harrowing than mine. I am grateful for the stamina and support I was afforded to survive this moment and come out the other side stronger and more humble. I’m certain that my physical strength got me through the worst, and always wonder whether I could have been better prepared mentally and emotionally. 

My interest in readiness spawned from big moments like this one. Can we all be more ready? The answer is a resounding yes.

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Practicing Readiness for your Everyday Mission

You can practice readiness for the moments that matter most in your life, both planned and unexpected. To be ready for big moments you need three things — a strong body, steady emotions, and a healthy mind. The good news is, in a world where we track everything and are more transparent than ever, you can recognize, train and manage all three of these readiness pillars.

Defining 3 pillars for practicing readiness

PHYSICAL FITNESS. As a general public, we are investing more in physical fitness than ever before. Evidence undeniably shows the links between our activity, nutrition, and brain health. In fact, aerobic fitness boosts your ability to respond effectively to challenges, makes you less impulsive, and improves your attention span, decision-making and motor skills. But physical fitness is only one piece of the puzzle. Given the strong connection between our bodies, emotions, and minds there are two other attributes that make us ready: emotional competence and mental health. 

EC. To diffuse its academic vibe, emotional competence (EC) is the ability to detach from powerful and impulsive short term emotions, be aware of, understand, manage, and control them. Research says this quality plays the biggest role in performance when compared to 30+ other professional skills, and that coaches who have strong EC are more successful. You can proactively change and improve EC through positive thinking, external support, and self-awareness (see below section!).

MENTAL HEALTH. Finally, many people are surprised that 1 in 5 of us suffer a mental health condition, and many more some type of mental unrest. While about 15% of mothers are diagnosed with clinical postpartum depression, 80% experience the baby blues. A half a million soldiers returning home in the past 15 years have some form of diagnosable PTSD, but many more than that will struggle in some way to reintegrate into home life. Once I began speaking openly about my own struggle with being a startup executive and mom of two young babies with a surgeon spouse, the floodgates opened with other colleagues' and friends’ stories. The many pressures of our modern lives can tip us over sometimes, and we need to proactively address them.

These three pillars are equally responsible for your overall wellbeing, happiness, and success. Each takes work to maintain and needs attention. 

Just ask Nathan Chen, who arrived at the 2018 Olympics as America’s ice king, crashed and burned in his debut, and turned around less than 24 hours later to make stunning history in his free skate. Many opined about the night in between, talks with his mom, and what was happening in his head and heart during the roller coaster. Certainly his physical fitness didn’t change dramatically overnight — but one can only imagine the mental and emotional swings.

Ask Matt Long, an FDNY Firefighter hit by a bus and given the slimmest odds of survival. Most physical therapists warned he would never walk again, let alone return to an active lifestyle. Five years and 43 surgeries later, he finished an Ironman. Matt now speaks around the country about the extraordinary fusion of body, heart, and mind required to regain his life and spirit. His doctors profess that physical fitness and mental stamina were his tickets to live. 

Ask Kevin Love, who recently made headlines for his transparency with his mental health struggle. He reflected on our underinvestment in mental and emotional readiness: "In the NBA, you have trained professionals to fine-tune your life in so many areas. Coaches, trainers and nutritionists have had a presence in my life for years. But none of those people could help me in the way I needed when I was lying on the floor struggling to breathe.” 

Ask Tracy Young, an indomitable force who just sold her construction tech company PlanGrid. Known as a laser-focused founder, Tracy noted recently “I’ve just been a much more effective leader since I started taking better care of myself.” Like many company founders, for years she maintained she was too busy to eat well. The she decided to make a life change and credits it in part for high quality performance.

Ask Kerri Strug, whom I watched become a success story of readiness in Atlanta in 1996. It wasn’t muscles or endurance that created one of the greatest moments in sports history that day. On busted ligaments, Strug sprinted 80 feet, executed a flawless vault, landed on one foot, turned 90 degrees to present to the judges, and then collapsed in agony. She was carried to the podium in a cast. The performance won the US a team gold medal.

Ask yourself when readiness has played an important role in your life, from the playground to the board room. Recently I suffered severe pre-eclampsia with the birth of my first daughter Emory, and am certain that physical strength, bolstered by a dream team of clinical and family support, propelled me through the emotional anguish and mind bender of the ordeal.

With growing visibility, transparency, and resources available to not only be fit, but ready, you don’t need to be a professional athlete to learn and train readiness. And your big moments don’t need to be national championships. Building a strong readiness program takes humility, proactive preparation, a support team, and a packaged approach. Here’s a blueprint to get started.

Shaping your personal readiness pillars

1. Shore up your physical plan for the long haul. 

Baby steps first. As a fitness professional, I’ll echo every stat for you on the importance of daily exercise. And I have a rap sheet of options for you to try. But not everyone needs to be a HIIT junkie or the yoga queen. Starting today: adopt one new good food habit, and one change or addition to your weekly exercise plan. Don’t try to “boil the ocean” on transformation; it’ll never work. If it helps to have a confessional, I drink about 7 cups of coffee a day and have a mean sweet tooth. I counter these vices with green-loading and mixing up my workouts. I’m a certified trainer and still belong to two different group ex gyms. We have to keep it fresh. If you’re stuck in an exercise rut, it’s time to stop hemorrhaging and treat yourself to a new plan. We all have our crosses to bear, but you can’t ignore the long term necessity to commit to your physical health.

2. Work on your EC in real time

At my first training event in the Army outside of my basic course, I was nominated for an MVP type award. I felt invincible going in, but when answering questions in front of a board of high ranking judges, fumbled so badly the interrogating officer asked me to stop talking. My training and gumption had gotten me a long way, but I had hit a wall. I knew the material cold, but didn’t have the EC to interpret my environment and carry myself through the test. From that experience forward in the Army I focused on my emotional readiness. Simple ideas include practicing self-awareness in important moments, visualizing what you’ll do and say, and actively turning your lemons into lemonade. When you crash and burn, think positive thoughts. In One Simple Idea, Mitch Horowitz gives us irrefutable evidence this works. Ask what you can do to use failure to your advantage. As Matt Long did, make a decision to get up in the morning. Another idea is to join a team activity. You might cringe if you’ve never seen yourself as that “team sports kind,”, but evidence shows that people who regularly participate in cooperative activity have higher EC due to the discipline, leadership, and self-control required to engage as a team. So lace up your sneaks and hit the court/pitch/field (which also checks box #1!). 

3. Identify clinical support for your mental health (even if you don’t think you need it now). 

The first time I sought professional counseling was when I suffered postpartum depression after the birth of my second daughter. Whether or not they result in clinical diagnosis, the pressures you face as a person, parent and/or professional are legitimate and worthy of external support. Resources such as ZocDoc, a review-based online broker for primary and specialty care, and TalkSpace, one of the largest consortiums of online counseling services, are wonders of modern medicine. When you need it most, you don’t want to be scrambling to find support for your mental health. You need someone to call whom you already know and trust and who’s qualified to help. Compare it to having directions to the emergency room for a head laceration that needs stitches.

4. Keep looking back while you surge ahead!

Write down a list of 10-15 big moments in your life. These can but do not need to be epic. This can be the birth of your child, a Tough Mudder race, a job interview, a sales pitch. Organize your moments into the following buckets: Crashed and burned; Got through it; Nailed it. Next to your “grade”, write one sentence about why. Then write a couple of additional sentences about how you prepared, and what you might do the same or different next time. When you face moments that matter, you are tackling them with an arsenal of experiences behind you, so leverage them for the better! This isn’t so different from the debrief concept deployed diligently by military, medical, and first responder services, and increasingly in corporate settings. 

5. Know your dream team.

Identify your inner support network — a small but diverse group of special people who are always on your side. This likely isn’t your five BFFs, because your life has many facets. The group might include a shoulder to lean on, an inspiring conversationalist, a professional sounding board, a local neighbor and fellow parent, as examples. Know who you’ll call in both your joyous successes and tough failures. When I interviewed Dr. Ava Sierecki, on call the night I delivered with pre-eclampsia, about her decisions in that moment, she emphasized that she always makes critical decisions with her team — the nurse manager, anesthesiologist, high risk obstetrician, on call nurse, and so on. She also reflected that her spouse is her sounding board for debriefing, because he understands her clinical vocabulary and knows her. Stay in touch with your dream team monthly to check in and sustain the special relationship you’ve defined. 

6. Recognize and embrace moments. That doesn’t mean hype them, but it does mean strike a pose. Treat the moment as special. Think ahead to success. Debrief the moment: Crashed and burned. Got through it. Nailed it. Write down what you’ll do next time, put it on an Evernote titled “for next time,” and move on. 

Holistic personal readiness is not an overnight exercise. In contrast, it’s a lifelong effort. But I’ve found it’s a worthy one if your moments are more valuable than ever before and if you want to nail the big ones. 

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A+ for the Army fitness overhaul

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A+ for the Army fitness overhaul

Change is always super hard! But try major overhaul to a centuries long (1858 to be exact) tradition at one of the oldest institutions in this country — the Army — and you quickly become unpopular. Efforts to evolve entrenched standards always stagnate at first. However, with a few folks like General Mark Milley and Secretary Mark Esper at the helm willing to break some china, and a growing number of young people unfit to become soldiers, wheels are in motion to pilot a new skills-oriented combat readiness and fitness test.

Kudos to these leaders for continuing to kick tires on this. There’s no substitute for stubborn persistence when it comes to behavior and policy change on issues like fitness standards. The same was true of allowing women to serve and lead in infantry and armor units, and Ranger training. Finally, there was no reasonable argument remaining to ban females who meet the same standards as males from leading combat arms units. (BTW: have you seen these badass soldiers?!) But it takes a while for culture and precedent to catch up to practicality and metrics. We’re human, after all.

Reflecting on my own path in the military, I chose the Engineer Corps precisely for the likelihood of leading a platoon as a female in a combat support role. At the time I branched in 2001, there had been rumblings about women in combat arms branches for years, but it took another nearly two decades to become a reality. Now the military is both setting an example and setting new standards that should be praised and followed by other public institutions.

At Fitfighter we are honored to work closely with candidates — men and women — seeking to join another of the most physically demanding professions — the fire service. Together we are making big dents in fitness standards across the ranks. Leaders such as Chief Hood in San Antonio and Derek Alkonis in Los Angeles have set a high bar for investment in both department level programming and national fitness standards, and they are sounding the alarm to others. Departments such as Phoenix, AZ have long been pioneers in first responder wellness, and I was honored to partner up with Kyle Herrig, Owner of Triplex Training in Chandler, AZ and Matt Long, Professional Firefighter, to offer demo steelhose circuit training for Phoenix area firefighters. I am thrilled to be involved in taking a page the Army playbook and iterating on national fitness standards for firefighters that increases readiness, improve performance, and optimize results.

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Door is ajar for a tackling overhaul

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Door is ajar for a tackling overhaul

The NFL should have switched to the rugby wrap tackle a long time ago. It's equally as epic, requires more refined technique, and when done correctly, safer. 

In his televised announcement this past week football's top health and safety guy dropped a bomb that will change the game forever. My reaction was less shock and awe at the admission and more "it's about time and it makes practical sense." And, it doesn't need to hurt the viewing or playing pleasure of America's game we all love. As a lifelong rugger I'm biased on this issue, but it doesn't mean my conviction is less powerful.

I'm going to stay out of the debate on whether and / or how the NFL knowingly suppressed injury data relevant to accurate reporting on this issue, and instead focus on my expertise -- tackling! As a former All-American fullback I've got a few of these under my belt. 

I'll take on any naysayer who claims the rugby tackle is less entertaining, less to ogle over, slower-paced, or any other negative outcome. It's the opposite! The "wrap" tackle as used on the rugby field pits a lone defender against a power runner at top speed and creates the same thrilling moment of high flying suspension (maybe more!) as a "collision" tackle (my term).

The key difference in the two tackles is that the wrap maneuver changes the skill from a rigid impact to the head, shoulders, and skeletal structure to a fluid collision that turns and gives way into the direction of the offensive speed. It relies on the naturally anatomy of the human waist bend. The power in this skill is generated from wrapping the offensive player and allowing his or her forward motion to develop the tackle. The defensive player turns the shoulder into the tackle as he or she wraps (see photo). The landing can be rough and tumble, no doubt. But the ground impact is more consistent and keeps the head and neck more protected. 

Pete Carroll pioneered this tackling shift as Seahawks' Head Coach years ago but only a few folks seriously followed suit. But now the hype around concussions and research on their link to CTE have left the door ajar for an overhaul in this skill for the football field. I don't see any other way forward if we're going to continue with football as America's favorite sport and protect the athletes we so dearly love as heroes.  

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What can the 1936 Olympic Team teach us?

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What can the 1936 Olympic Team teach us?

A Century Old Lesson in Functional and Cross-Training

I'm obsessed with true tales of human grit and glorious victory these days. This holiday season has had me engrossed with Boys in the Boat, the Disney-esque narrative of the 1936 US Olympic crew's gold medal charge in the midst of a Hitler-run Berlin (think Million Dollar Arm meets Iron Will). My mom gave it to me a year ago and it sat on my bedside table. Now I'm propagating it's message far and wide. 

Turns out that 2016's buzzing trend, functional training, is an age old idea we're reinventing. We learn this from, among others, 1936 Olympic team member Joe Rantz whose life is profiled in the story. A century ago, Rantz and his Olympic teammates from Washington State embodied the functional training mantra. Their frontier youths as fishermen and farmers set them up for their inhuman stamina in a crew shell.

Rantz's personal journey reminds us of the single most important lesson for elite, professional, and occupational athletes alike: cross-training diverse physical pursuits and pastimes optimizes our bodies and minds, no matter what level of athlete.  Physical hardship across multiple activities, mediums, and/or sports develops the whole body instead of isolating requirements for a single pursuit. Functional training is an extension of cross-training that prepares the body for real movement requirements it faces.

Hauling lumber in exchange for his daily meals by the age of 10, and living on his own at 15, Joe's prowess as a rower in one of the most grueling sports was fueled in part by a childhood of hearty physical work that prepped him for 3000 meters of sheer pain during any race. Ten years of salmon poaching, hunting, chopping, constructing, and hauling honed muscle mass and motor skills. They taught a kind of stamina impossible to build from single-sport or one-dimensional training. The Washington crews trained with functional activities like working the two-man bow saw on a giant tree trunk to mimic motions in the crew shell. 

University of Washington athletes demonstrating their own take on functional training.

University of Washington athletes demonstrating their own take on functional training.

For the past 10 years there's been a growing prevalence of sport specialization early in adolescence. An obsession with getting the edge over the next kid has fueled increasingly intensive childhood training regimens in one sport. This narrows the activity base, squeezes out diverse physical activity, and makes whole body development more challenging. On Long Island, where I live and Fitfighter is headquartered, lacrosse is the obvious example of this trend. Year-round private and travel leagues outside of school environments are perceived to be all but required here if a young athlete wants a shot as a college recruit. 

But that trend is being questioned now. With the help of sports celebs like Abby Wambach (US Women's Soccer World Cup Champion) and Urban Meyer (Ohio State Football Head Coach) we're finally paying attention to the notion of 360 degree training like that of Joe Rantz and the boys of the Berlin Olympics. Wambach is adamant that it was her basketball training, not soccer itself, that made her the best header ever to play soccer. Urban Meyer recruits four times as many multi-sport athletes as football-only athletes, and Pete Carroll always asks what hobbies his players have, what else they do in their lives outside of football. 

Research on early specialization in young athletes shows that injury rates increase in one-sport athletes. Moreover, there is no indication that early specialization provides any advantage over having a diversity of activities until much later. In fact, a majority of top athletes did NOT specialize until later in their careers. As school-aged kids, many were recess junkies and multi-sport competitors like the rest of us.

For occupational athletes such as firefighters, military, and law enforcement, Joe Rantz' lesson is directly applicable: physical training should be diverse in design, relevant to our work, and ranging in intensity. It should develop the whole body for the special athletic demands of our occupations. 

So my charge to all of you, in a toast to 2016: get out there and spice it up!! Pay tribute to those who have come before us, overcome all odds, and shown us how its done. Gather your troops, train as a team, pat each other on the back, ride a single-speed bike, pick up an oar, climb a mountain, run a road race, find new tools to inspire you, move your body in fresh ways. Overcome the inertia. Really fight for it. 

Cheers to the New Year!

See Training tab for ideas to jumpstart your own cross-training program. 

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A Collaboration Model for the Ages

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A Collaboration Model for the Ages

This weekend in sunny Chandler, Arizona, a fitness collaboration 10 years in the making came together. I thought I’d share my reflections from this exciting success. Triplex Training performance center, Fitfighter equipment and celebrity firefighter Matt Long fused collective energy and commitment into a model for change worth spreading far and wide. Here’s what I learned from this experience about what makes partnerships impactful. 

1. Find Shared Commitment in Separate Entities

We converged from three different angles — Triplex a performance training center outside Phoenix, Fitfighter a fitness equipment and program supplier from Long Island New York, and Matt Long a retired FDNY fireman and motivational speaker. We found that we shared a common commitment: to prepare you for what really happens out there. Whatever hits you next in your life.

We found that joining forces, our whole is greater than the sum of our parts. 

A mutual friend connected me with Matt Long when I was looking for a partner to spread Fitfighter Training's message around the world. A 17-year veteran of the FDNY, Matt suffered a should-have-been-fatal bike accident, returned to life as an Ironman, and now preaches the power of will and importance of fitness for life to groups around the country. Our shared interests connected us.  

Matt had met Kyle Herrig, owner of Triplex Training, in 2007 in a time of desperation during a slow recovery. He was looking for someone to believe what he wanted to believe — that not only would he walk again, but he would run. Matt moved to Arizona, where Kyle helped him return to life as a much more than a runner: an Ironman.

This summer, shortly before the 10 year anniversary of Matt's accident, we started to talk about building a collaboration with Kyle and Triplex. Matt wanted to return to Arizona to say thank you. He knew that Triplex and Fitfighter had something special in common. So we brought the troops together.

2. Design a Destination Event  

We dreamed up a 2-day event for five Phoenix area fire departments and the general public. Each of our entities added its unique value to the events — eight circuits featured a new world class facility at Triplex, Fitfighter Steelhose equipment, and Matt’s story of the will to survive against the most extreme of odds.

With a workshop-style intro, we relayed three simple principles for training fire ground movements. We emphasized training in three dimensions, using functional movements in a controlled fitness setting to prepare for whatever goes on outside the gym. 

Fire hose suicides, search operations, weighted burpies, hose carries, truck-height jumps, and ceiling breach repetitions rounded out a 10-minute intensive circuit timed by a boxing bell with 15 short seconds in between. Much like the fireground, we left little time to think. We’re training the body to be ready, and to react.

In the end, Fire Chiefs, line officers, and crews are armed with a introductory playbook to bring back to their departments: three simple principles to govern training on eight fire ground maneuvers. The public got a taste of what it means to be the ultimate occupational athlete (TM): the firefighter. 

3. Sustain the Momentum

Let’s replicate this type of collaboration in the future!! Our industry is filled with momentum to connect professionals, training centers, equipment providers, motivators, and leaders of major institutions including the fire service and the military. We can use this demonstration-based model to bring together new disciples for our message. Finally, connecting the masses to our public service professions fosters support, appreciation, and interest for their extraordinary work. 

Smart collaborations generate tremendous value for our clients, our athletes, and our public institutions who rely on superior fitness training to protect themselves and our communities. Ideas and innovation grow from bringing competitors, friends, and industry experts together. There is room for all of us.

Finally, stories like Matt’s spawn humility. They inspire all of us to dig deeper, reach farther, and demand more from ourselves and those we serve in our industry. As fitness professionals, we should hold them close, remind ourselves of them often, and share them incessantly. 

Here’s to our next big showdown! Stand by for more.

 

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Part 4: Bigger Isn't Better

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Part 4: Bigger Isn't Better

The Sports Science of Firefighting: A 5 Part Series

It seemed like a good weekend to share Part 4 of 5 on the sports science of firefighting, since we had a house fire in Huntington Bay yesterday and a situational drill this morning out at Yaphank Training Academy. Been a big weekend for my small Long Island department! 


Today's story: Bigger Isn't Better. Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer.... most of us have heard of these tennis stars and enjoyed them on Primetime US Open. How about Ryan Harrison. Heard of him? Likely not. Does he look like the tennis beast of the 21st century? Negative. But this guy clocks one of the fastest tennis serves on the planet. Check it out in SloMo:  

The intriguing thing about Ryan Harrison is that he's normal guy sized. At 6'2", 185 lbs, he's not an ultra-man squashing the tennis ball like an ant. He just deploys one of the most technically accurate and torque-filled motions in the business. What matters is not his size and muscle mass. Instead, the timing with which his racquet snaps at the ball, the speed of his footwork, and the movement of his hips and shoulders unleash his power and momentum that fuel the ball's speed and acceleration. I SloMoed this for you so that you can actually see it!!

Moral of the story? Bigger isn't always better. 

In athletic pursuits, and industrial professions, often it is stamina, mental toughness, flexibility, stability under weight-load, and body awareness, over merely strength, that combine to create the best performers. This rule is paramount to firefighting. Under an average of 60 lbs of weight (and that's just wearable gear and O2 tank), the biggest guys suffer. Hauling charged hose line up 2 flights of stairs and around a corner, staying low on hands and needs, prove onerous for muscle men.

I might be biased standing at 5'3" 130 lbs, but you should take inspiration from that! When you're not able to solve challenges with muscle, you must get smarter, more efficient, and more stable. 

Nothing speaks efficiency like The Fridge Delivery

Have you ever had an appliance dropped off by a tiny delivery person with a shoulder harness? Take a gander at these guys: 

These guys aren't defensive linemen. They employ the strongest muscles in their body, balance, a simple harness, and the rules of physics and leverage to pick up weight and travel distance with it. I once met an appliance delivery guy in Colorado who was amped about losing 40 lbs once he took the job. Good for you man! 

No better example of small-man power than The Karate Chop

My final example of the "bigger isn't better" mantra is the concrete karate chop.  The same concept applies here. This guy is not heftier than your average joe, but his power to perform a specific task knows know bounds when he combines technique, focus, body positioning, and timing. 

To the firefighter, size isn't what matters 

Consider what we do as firefighters -- hoist ladders, haul hose line up stairs, drag limp victims out windows or along a hallway, pop open sealed doors. None of these activities is perfectly balanced or prepared. Weight is loaded onto the body off-center. Actions happen quickly and sometimes without much warning. The ability to load and carry weight efficiently, move effectively under pressure, and maintain a strong mind is what develops powerful firefighters. Not size and big muscles. Here's one technique for a fast-moving victim carry that demonstrates these principles: 

Another set of GIFs showcases the same for raising a ladder, hoisting a ventilation and overhaul tool, tackling a flight of stairs on air, and performing search team maneuvers. When you watch a truck team on the fireground, it quickly becomes clear that bigger isn't better. Sure, height helps with ladders and pike poles, and muscular strength helps to hold forcible entry tools and stabilize hose lines.

But stamina comes from smart management of your body and the weight it's carrying. And that opens the door to anyone, of any size, who's committed to training it! 

 

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Part 3. Repetitive Motion Injury - The Silent Devil

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Part 3. Repetitive Motion Injury - The Silent Devil

The Sports Science of Firefighting: A 5 Part Series. 

PART 3: Firefighting's silent devil is repetitive motion injury, which occurs over time and is difficult to diagnose until it's late in the game. The good news: with strong, progressive, skills-based training programs, these injuries can be reduced or prevented altogether.  

My most recent injuries include a busted biceps tendon in my shoulder (read: run in with a tree onskis), strained calf muscle (post summer triathlon), and that nagging hip pain I get with long distance running (wish it would go away). While these injuries have caused me similar discomfort, turns out each of them have unique treatments and preventions, ranging from shoulder surgery to Active Release Technique (ART)to yoga and foam rolling recovery

Let’s explore the difference, and why it matters to us as we train for the fire ground....

Ask any other athlete like me to describe a time they got hurt or injured, and often they’ll describe falling, tackling, cutting, twisting an ankle, tearing an ACL, getting a "sweet cut", breaking a wrist. Immediate pain, blood, or deformity makes these "traumatic episodes" obvious and recognizable. But they may also talk about what’s been “bothering” them. This silent devil is injury over long periods of time from repetitive motion, or “overuse injury.” Dr. Michael Alaia, Assistant Professor for Orthopedic Surgery at NYU Langone Hospital for Joint Diseases, asserts that overuse injury "can account for about half of all injuries in sports and occupations that require significant strenuous activity (read: firefighting).” He continued that “rapid increases in training level — for example, someone who runs 2 miles a day trying to do a [half marathon]— as well as an imbalance between training level and recovery time, are... the main reasons that people develop overuse injuries.”

Fire ground maneuver requires firefighters to go from zero to sixty — hauling hose, breaching doors, pushing, pulling, venting, climbing, heaving — over and over and over. Professional athletes do the same — thrashing their muscles, ligaments, and tendons again and again when they play their sport. But firefighters play their sport loaded with 60 lbs of weight in gear and tools, and they definitely don’t indulge in the perfect warm up (ever). Weight load exacerbates and magnifies common repetitive motion injuries such as tendonitis, IT band syndrome, rotator cuff strain, and stress fractures. This makes firefighters especially prone to overuse problems, and makes fireground-specific training critical to long term health. 

Additionally, risk is compounded for overuse injury, says Dr. Allison Arensman, Orthopedic Surgeon at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. She notes that “there are...jobs [and] behaviors that put people at risk — sudden increase or new activity, poorly designed [or not ideal] work environment or equipment — but  there also seem to be people who are anatomically predisposed to such injuries or maybe even just more sensitive to the symptoms.” Dr. Alaia agrees, describing this risk as a perfect storm of "extrinsic and intrinsic factors." He says that an athlete's internal anatomy, “such as alignment and arch height”, and conditions external to the body, such as sports mechanics and training intensity, combine to cause damage to tissues. 

This all sounds depressing, but there’s great news! Dr. Alaia reminds us that “the best ways to prevent overuse injuries are readily identifiable and can easily be altered. Making small changes in equipment, sport mechanics, and training regimen can go a long way.” He cautions that starting or shifting any regimen should be gradual. In addition, the body must be trained for specific skills that you want it to accomplish — advancing charged firehose, crouching and crawling during search team operations, carrying a victim down a flight of stairs, stabilizing a 50 lb hydraulic extrication tool… you can fill in the rest. 

That’s where we come onto the scene. We’ve done the heavy lifting (pun intended and proud of it!) for you. We’ve broken down the fire ground into 8 simple maneuver areas and studied the key physiological risks within them. And we designed basic training to prepare you for this work. Our Steelhoses and circuits provide a one-stop shop to train skills-based movement with graduated weight-load.

Whatever your program, most important is to get out in front of risks and injuries before they man-handle you and your team. This way you can focus on fighting the fire and not your body!

Recommended Sports Medicine Reference for Overuse Injuries: American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM)

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Part 2. "You are what you make yourself into."

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Part 2. "You are what you make yourself into."

The Sports Science of Firefighting: A 5 Part Series. 

PART 2. "High performance isn’t, ultimately, about running faster, throwing harder, or leaping farther. It’s about something much simpler: getting better at getting better." --James Suroweicki

In his New Yorker page-turner about “the performance revolution” in sports over the last half century, James Suroweicki argues for infusing the sports science analogy into all professions and activities. He tells the story of an NBA forward in the '70s who went from a college superstar to a near drop-out in the pros. Being giant and athletic carried him through minor league play, but athleticism alone couldn’t cut the mustard against the rest of the best in the nation.

That’s when he met Pete Newell, who eventually became the go-to man in basketball for skill-specific training.  An evolution over the next 3 decades arrives Suroweicki at a simple conclusion: 50 years ago, the thought was that you are what you are — gifted or not. But "today in sports, you are what you make yourself into." 

In 2015, athletes from high school age onward carve themselves into sport-specific machines with the help of strength coaches, sprint specialists, nutritionists, play coordinators, engineers, and so on. Nano-seconds matter (think Olympic Downhill) and inches separate winning and losing (think Superbowl). There are pros and cons to this movement. The cynical version is that this pressure for perfection is putting unfathomable burden on kids from too young an age. As a former kid-gymnast turned collegiate athlete, and future parent, I get it. But the flip side is that this human quest to be "better all the time" teaches people important life lessons about hard work, competition, risk, and success. Now, it's not just the born-gifted guys who hold the trophies. It's anyone who steps up to the plate with a brain, a work ethic, and a team.

And it defines how as firefighters we should approach the most blessed burden of all: the opportunity to save lives. 

My belated run-in with this article was timely. It affirmed my message about firefighter fitness training: your power to perform in that fateful moment comes from how you prepared in all the moments before. Fighting fire is the ultimate sport — it’s a fierce, timeless contest between industrial athletes, loaded with 50 lbs on their back alone, with another 50 lbs of tools in hand, on a vertical, concrete field, against a relentless, tireless, and uncontrollable opponent. Unlike most athletes who focus on a narrow set of skills with a single tool (except, perhaps, pentathletes), firefighters must be masters of many crafts on a playing field that constantly changes. 

They haul long lengths of water-charged hose, stabilize off-balance weight while operating hydraulic extrication tools, crawl in low-motion positions (all but blacked out), and climb endless sets of stairs. They position 4 story ladders, hammer repeatedly into roofing materials, carry human victims out of windows, work in search and rescue units, and move in buddy teams to advance hose line. All this while communicating, managing, and organizing through the chaos. 

As firefighters, not only is it smart to train, tweak, and improve our physical performance as athletes do — it's our duty. Our job is to keep ourselves alive, keep other people alive, and put out fires. Those objectives are inextricably tied to our superior physical health and abilities.  And forget the people we’re saving and the property we’re salvaging for a sec — we owe it to each other to be as fit as we possibly can. Because at the end of the day, in that moment of truth, we have to  look each other in the eye and truly believe: 

I got your back and you got mine. I’ll save your life and you’ll save mine. 

For those who toss the word around too lightly, that’s what “brotherhood” really means. It means a commitment to be better all the time for each other and for our profession.

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