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Fitness and Facts



Strength Exercise


Strength is defined as the maximal force that a specific muscle or muscle group can generate. Strength training can help maintain a high level of absolute strength (i.e., the ability to lift external objects), strength relative to your body weight, and muscular endurance (i.e., the ability to sustain high levels of muscular work for extended periods of time). This will help decrease your risk of sudden acute injury and overuse injuries due to repetitive activities. Conversely, low levels of strength have been shown to contribute to a high incidence of sprains, strains, and back injuries found among some firefighters.


Priority should always be given to maintaining proper form throughout a full range of motion, not to the amount of weight lifted. The additional strength gains from aggressive lifting will quickly be lost if poor technique results in injury. When beginning a program, or adding a new exercise, proper form with manageable light weights must be mastered. The effects of these exercises can be assessed during the recovery days, and help determine an appropriate level of progression.

Muscles adapt to the specific workload to which they are subjected. The workload is a function not only of the amount of weight lifted, but also the number of repetitions, speed of movement, number of sets, and amount of recovery time between sets.
Maximal strength is determined by the largest amount of weight that can be lifted unassisted with proper form one time, or one repetition maximum (1RM). This should only be attempted by experienced lifters with spotters available. A safer alternative is a measurement of an 8-repetition maximum (8RM), which is the amount of weight that a person can successfully lift eight times without assistance, but not nine times.


A five minute warm-up of light cardiovascular exercise will increase blood flow to the muscles and reduce the risk of injury. Stretching the muscles before lifting and between sets is also advised. A similar cool down following exercise will aid recovery.


While standing, keep feet flat on the floor, knees slightly bent and toes pointed slightly outward. The head should be level and eyes looking straight ahead. When doing exercises on a bench, five points of contact (i.e., head, shoulder girdle area, and buttocks on the bench, and feet flat on the floor) should be maintained. When lifting a weight from the ground, use the legs and keep the back straight.

Proper breathing technique can help lifting performance and reduce the risk of injury. Lifters should exhale as the weight passes through the "sticking point" (i.e., the most difficult part of the lift) and inhale during the recovery phase. By exhaling when the weight passes through the sticking point and not before, intra-thoracic pressure is momentarily increased, which can help stabilize the lower back.


A spotter is someone who assists the lifter in the execution of an exercise. A spotter can also be helpful in analyzing form and providing motivation. Spotters can also assist in getting the weights from the floor to the starting position and taking the weights from the lifter when the set is done. A spotter is required in any lift where the weight is lifted overhead or over the face. Additionally, heavy lifting or new or unfamiliar exercises also require a spotter. The lifter and the spotter should communicate clearly as to the nature and goals of the set. The spotter should also ensure that the area surrounding the lifter remains safe from other exercises and equipment. When spotting dumbbell exercises, assistance, when needed, should always be given above the elbow joint, and for some exercises, on the dumbbell. Specific spotting positions will be shown for each exercise, when appropriate.


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