Wildland Firefighter Pre-Season Training Program
This program is designed for seasonal or temporary wildland firefighters in order to build your legs and lungs in preparation for fire season and the steep, rocky environment in which you will operate. This is a 6-week long program and makes the assumption that athletes will be training 4-5 days/week, yielding 30 total training sessions – 3 of which are total rest. At the end of every other week, starting on Week 2, you will perform a long Field Session, culminating in a 4 hour non-stop event. During these weeks, we recommend you train Monday through Thursday, take Friday off, then do the Field Session on Saturday.
The program is build around the following exercises and activities:
DOT Drill – The DOT drill is a basic-level plyometric drill used in collegiate and high school weight rooms across the country. It serves as a great warm up. Also, it helps build ankle and knee joint strength, key for hiking and rucking over uneven terrain.
Leg Blasters (and Mini Leg Blasters)– Leg Blasters are an intense, body weight only, lower body complex of exercises which builds incredible leg strength and lactate tolerance. Also, we’ve found it key to building eccentric leg strength. During a fire, you’ll be climbing plenty of steep hills, but you’ll also be hiking down them. Coming down forces your legs to work eccentrically, and can lead to crippling soreness in the early weeks. Leg Blasters will help you prepare accordingly. Just because Leg Blasters use only body weight, don’t discount their effectiveness in
building strength. In my gym, we did a 6-week cycle heavy in Leg Blasters and subsequently tested front squat max lifts shortly afterward. The max effort front squat for nearly all my athletes increased. These things are incredible.
Note: Midway into the training program you’ll be doing full Leg Blasters with just 30 seconds rest in between. Thirty seconds rest is just that, 30 seconds, not a second more. Don’t milk the rest! (Sorry about the fire in your legs…)
Step Ups – Step ups are a basic, butt-kicking single-mode exercise used to build sport-specific climbing leg strength and cardio in a controlled, gym environment. During this program, expect to do thousands of step ups with a 45# pack, boots, and your assigned tool – even if it’s a chain saw. This is the primary exercise we’ll use to get your legs and lungs ready for long shifts in hilly backcountry. Stepups with your tool will sport-specifically help prepare your arms and grip.
Sandbag Getup – We’ve found that core strength is a huge determinate of performance. Even more important, a strong midsection protects vulnerable limbs. We’re using this exercise to make you not only strong, but durable. The Sandbag Get-up is an old school, basic exercise which builds core strength like no other, plus it makes you breathe like a mother. Expect to do hundreds of these with a 40 or 60# (women) and 60 or 80# (men) sandbag.
Calf Raise Intervals – One of the first muscles to fatigue when hiking steep hills is the calf muscles. We use the intervals to help strengthen your calves. Calf Raise Intervals are 20 seconds continuous, rapid calf raises, unloaded, for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds in a holding “rest” position up on your toes (it’s really not a “rest.”), then another 20 seconds of calve raises, followed by another 10 seconds of holding “rest” in the up position.
Grip Strength and Endurance – Lugging around and using equipment for hours takes a toll on your grip. We aim to mitigate the performance loss, suck factor, and danger presented by fatigued grip by training it often. Strength isn’t enough. You’ll be doing multiple long days and need your grip to recover everyday. Farmer’s carry will build both strength and endurance.
Upper Body Strength and Endurance – No one day is given entirely to upper body, but it is the focus for Sessions 2, 7, 12, 17, 22, and 27. You’ll need strength for durability against overuse injuries and endurance to keep you efficient on the line. We work your upper body in this plan, but the focus is on your legs. In the mountains, everything begins and ends with the legs.
Rucking – “Rucking” is the military term for walking/hiking/running with a pack. You’ll be doing miles of rucking during the season, and nothing will prepare you for rucking like rucking. You’ll do a short ruck once per week on this program in a 45# pack, boots, and carrying a your assigned hand tool or chain saw. The Field Session ruck will be longer – up to 3 hours total of rucking – it will also be in a 45# pack, helmet, boots, and carrying your assigned hand tool or saw. We’ve kept the total volume of rucking down, but continually amp up the intensity. When possible, ruck over broken, uneven, hilly terrain.
We’ve roughly divided rucking into three different mile pace categories that we will assign to ruck days:
- Slow pace: 18-20 minute miles
- Moderate pace: 16-18 minute miles
- Threshold pace: 15-16 minute miles
Sledgehammer Swings – We use these as a progressed warm-up in Sessions 2, 7, 12, 17, 22, and 27 and in working circuits during Field Sessions. We recommend a 8-10# sledgehammer. Developing the core, hip, grip, and arm strength, coordination, and endurance to swing a tool is best done by swinging a tool. Hitting a tire or log with a 10# sledgehammer will do all of the above plus it’ll get your heart beating. Wear gloves.
These field sessions are meant to be done on a Saturday after a total rest day on Friday. They progress from a two-hour session to a four-hour session and are meant to be non-stop. If you can do it with a buddy or entire squad, that’s ideal – misery loves company.
Field sessions are broken into two categories: rucking and working circuits. While rucking, you may take nutrition and refuel as necessary. For the working circuits, you’ll repeat similar AMRAPs (As Many Rounds As Possible) that are non-stop, meaning no breaks for nutrition. Ensure you are good to go heading into the working circuits.
Following is an example of how Session 10 (the first Field Session) should flow:
0730: Set up Step-up Benches for first working circuit and Sandbags for second working circuit, measure 400m distance, and gear up.
0800: Begin ruck in boots, pack, and handtool or saw.
0800-0830: Ruck for 30 minutes, covering as much terrain as you can at a moderate pace, returning to your training facility.
0830: Immediately drop your gear and begin first working circuit. 0900: Finish first working circuit and gear up.
0900-0930: Ruck out and back.
0930: Immediately drop your gear and begin second working circuit. 1000: Finish second working circuit, clean up gear, and go home.
- 25# Dumbbells – men, 15# dumbbells – women
- 45# Dumbbells for Farmer’s Carry
- 45# Barbell with two 10# plates.
- 80# and 60# Sandbag for men, and 60# and 40# Sandbag for women). Watch this to build one – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8j6yE8LbQTg
- 16-19” Box, bench, stool or whatever for step ups
- Watch with second hand or countdown timer (Timex Ironman is best)
- Pull-up and Dip Bars
- 5# Ankle weight for Jane Fondas
- 8-10# Sledgehammer and a tire or log to hit with it.
- 2.5# Plate for Shoulder Hand Jobs
- 5’ long 1” PVC pipe for Shoulder Dislocates and Lat + Pec Stretch
I’m a seasonal firefighter and don’t have all the specific gear, what should I do?
A 45# pack is a 45# pack. Use weights, sand, pea gravel, or anything else to fill a pack to 45#.You may not have a pulaski, but you can substitute it with a tool of similar dimension. Adapt and overcome with solutions to substitute for missing gear.
How long should the training sessions take?
Most sessions will last 60-90 minutes – except for the field events, which range from 2-4 hours. Step-up heavy Sessions 11, 16, 21, and 26 will take approximately 90-120 min. If your ruck pace is at the slow end of our moderate pace on Sessions 3, 8, 13 and 18, your time will be 75-90 minutes. Rucking sessions 23 and 28 may take 60-75 minutes, depending on your ruck pace.
Go to http://mtntactical.com/category/exercises/ for a list of exercises and video demonstration.
Why are there two numbers next to a lift?
If the two numbers are before the lift, it’s the number of reps female and male athletes will do. Female rep numbers come first. For example, 7/10x Dips means female athletes do 7x Dips and males do 10x.
If the two numbers come after the lift, it’s the loading female and male athletes will use. For example, Farmer’s Carry (35/45#) means that females will carry 35# dumbbells in each hand and males will carry 45# dumbbells in each hand. “#” means “pounds.”
Why does rucking pace always get faster at the end?
Because it’s harder to go faster fatigued. We not only want you move at a more intense pace as the cycle goes on, but we also want to build your mental fitness. It’s simply mentally harder to go faster when your tired, but your body can handle it.
Can I see an example of the training?
Click the “Sample Training” Tag to see the entire first week of the training plan.