In the words of John Hofman, Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Sacramento Fire Department, “TRX has changed the way we go about our fitness.” Firefighting requires endurance, strength, and flexibility; it’s a full body job that draws on a tremendous amount of core strength for every task, from carrying a hose to hauling an SCBA. This is why when Hofman was introduced to the TRX Suspension Trainer, at the Perform Better Summit, by TRX Head of Human Performance, Chris Frankel he was sold, “TRX seems to be the most practical solution for teaching proper body mechanics as well as core activation.”
The way Hofman sees it, his job is to help his firemen achieve functional fitness. This means being able to perform when the call comes in; a deceptively simple mantra that requires an acute and nuanced understanding of the demands of firefighting. This is a kind of knowledge that he, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with a Master’s degree in Kinesiology and 10 years of experience on the US Olympic Sprint Kayaking Team, feels he could really only understand after enmeshing himself in the firefighter culture for years. When he made the shift from athlete to coach he was tasked with re-teaching the notion fitness to firefighters who were used to traditional weightlifting programs, “A lot of the guys didn’t really understand what core strength was, they were trained on classic bench press and nautilus machines.”Hofman says, “For me, the hardest part of the transition was understanding what firefighters did and understanding their culture so that I could develop programming that they would respond to.”
Hofman explains that firefighting is a job where you are constantly overloaded posteriorly; you have a ton of weight on your back. The natural physiological response is for your shoulders to internally rotate and your anterior wall to collapse, causing you to lean forward and putting a ton of pressure on your back. This is why back injuries are the most common on the job injury firefighters incur. Hofman combats this with programming that develops a strong core for stability and durability. His favorite exercise for building lower core strength this is the TRX Body Saw, he says it really engages the pelvis and lower abdominal region to support the lower back.
He agrees that high-intensity has its place, but, there is no point in overdoing it because, “more is not necessarily better; you don’t need to be lying on the ground puking.” He prescribes education and balance. “If you’re at work and you’re doing a high intensity circuit keep it to 15 minutes instead of 30 minutes because, hey, you still have a job to do.” He says, “We teach them about program design. If they are working two days on (a 48 hour shift) and, four days off, kill it on your days off and make work your light days.”
His focus is to re-teach the notion of training to exhaustion, “When on your job do you actually go to fatigue? Never, because if you did, you’re putting yourself at risk; you’d have to go to rehab.”
Hofman says that his athletes typically try to offset back issues with an overwhelming amount of pull-ups, which causes them to get overdeveloped in the upper traps. This in effect pulls their shoulder blades up and over, creating slouched, rounded posture, and doesn’t exactly address the problem they are trying to counter act. To combat this he prescribes TRX Rows, to develop the lower traps (between the shoulder blades) pulling the shoulders back down, as well as building their thoracic and hip mobility with a progression of TRX Overhead Squats.
In general, Hofman says that getting firefighters to workout is not a challenge, the challenge is getting them to do it in a way that makes them more durable, functionally fit athletes who are ready to perform when the call comes in. To get a taste for Hofman’s firefighter TRX workouts, check out the video above.
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