Our seasonal firefighters are coming back to work on 17 April. Soon, very soon. The expectation on my crew is that everyone show up on day one in good enough physical condition to do the job. We don’t always all meet that expectation…
So today I am going to write about what I have learned about preseason training in the last nine years I’ve been on a hotshot crew:
My first year on the crew was also my first year in fire and my preseason training program failed me entirely. I was in shape for the Army, not the hotshots. I did 12 mile ruck marches and six mile runs, push-ups, sit-ups, and flutter kicks. As a result, I was usually last on our PT hikes.
The second year was much better. I hiked up hills I knew the crew would train on, measuring my times against known benchmarks to track my progress. I carried more weight than I would have in my actual fire pack. But carrying 65 pounds on a Grand Canyon hike, while good exercise, puts a lot of strain on the knees, especially when hiking downhill.
These days, I don’t train with heavy weight at all. I periodically carry my normal pack on familiar trails to check my progress, but mostly I go fast and light on hikes and bike rides. Mountain biking is an excellent cross training activity for hotshotting. Some of the strongest hikers I’ve worked with have also been avid mountain bikers. Plus it’s fun; just don’t crash and break bones. Most of my winter hikes involve skiing back down, hopefully helping my knees last the rest of my career. I don’t run at all. Ever. Unless the crew makes me.
This year I augmented with a gym membership, taking 3 to 5 classes per week that focus on strengthening quads and glutes as well as all kinds of smaller stabilizing muscles and especially core muscles. It’s circuit training but not Crossfit and so far I haven’t experienced any injuries at the gym, just really sore muscles.
Maintaining strong legs, lungs, and core seem to be the key to physical performance on a crew and helps with injury avoidance. I’ll find out next week how well this winter’s workout program actually prepared me for the job, but I am confident I’ll be as strong as I was last year, probably stronger.
The only other key to preseason training I know of is to healthy food and drink less beer. Sometimes easier said than done.
But always a good goal.
That is all.