Do Firefighter Physical Fitness Training like J.J. Watt

We get a good number of firemen in here at Fringe HQ buying gear. I spoke with one a few weeks back and enjoyed discussing firefighter physical fitness training with him. The idea for this blog was born.

I love my firemen and have limitless respect for them. I knew many growing up as a child in Chicago. They were fathers of my classmates in grammar school. A handful of cities seem to symbolize the iconic role that firefighting plays in our daily lives: New York City, Boston, Chicago and others.

The firefighting love affair with Chicago got noticed by Hollywood and resulted in arguably the best firefighting movie ever- Backdraft (FYI a sequel is on the way). After all, wasn’t there some BIG fire in Chicago way back when anyways? When a city inspires the story, you know it will lead to TV shows too, like Chicago Fire, that has been running since 2012.

firemen fighting blaze

I got to thinking, “What is firefighter physical fitness training like?” I made a phone call.

I have a longtime friend up in Chicago who has served for 15 years on the Chicago Fire Department. We talked by phone the other day so I could do some legwork on the blog.

I learned a lot. The most notable thing I learned about is the candidate physical abilities test, or C.P.A.T. For a number of reasons, CPAT is administered by a third party. You can read up on CPAT info here. More on CPAT later.

In doing my research, I found this humbling and heartening video. NFL defensive lineman and Houston Texan, J.J. Watt going back home to Pewaukee, Wisconsin to train with his hometown firefighters. Watt’s dad was a firefighter there for many years, so the video hits you in the feels, with the abundant respect and empathy it oozes. Check it out.  

As you can see, firefighter physical fitness training is HUGE. If J.J. Watt labors and struggles, you can only imagine the difficulty for the rest of us. But if you train right for the CPAT, anyone can achieve it with willpower, discipline and dedication.

The fitness aspect of firefighting can't be understated. Consider this

"According to the United States Fire Administration, 1,000 firefighter line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) have occurred in the United States between 2005 and 2014. Of those, “stress and overexertion” (defined by the United States Fire Administration (USFA) as cardiaccerebrovascular, and climatic thermal exposure in nature) were blamed for 513 or 51.3% of these deaths (See table 1). This statistic is alarming and illustrates the dire need for us as firefighters to place primary focus on improving our personal physical fitness."

Firefighter physical fitness training not only saves the lives of the public at large, but their own lives as well. That's where and why the CPAT comes into play.

fireman with hose
Here's a breakdown of the CPAT events. Sometimes in addition to the 8 CPAT events the Consolidated Physical Ability Test (PAT)/Biddle is also used. This testing mimics realistic conditions, including roof walk and attic crawl simulations. If you're looking for more CPAT info, here's background info on how CPAT was developed along with an online resource library.

Functional fitness is paramount for firemen. When training firemen refer to the Big 8. These training exercises "improve your ability to execute basic fireground tasks": push, pull, carry, lift, drag, core, capacity, and flexibility.

Keeping the Big 8 in mind, here's some of the best info I could find on training, almost exclusively taken from firefighter websites and written by firemen. 


If you want some specific CPAT training guidance, reading this might be a good start.

Here's some helpful info to help you build a firefighting functional fitness program.

This one might be my favorite. A 12-week training program developed by a firefighter and shared by the guys at Breaking Muscle.

555 Fitness looks like a great website, by, for and about firefighters and their fitness. 

Last but not least, if you're in Austin, TX and considering firefighting or are on track for the CPAT, here's local Austin CPAT info.

If you're ready to hit your training hard and do it right like J.J. Watt, you might also want to watch these 2 vids. Good pro tips here. 

Prepping for and beating CPAT.

I had a great conversation last week with a local box owner. We discussed his clients, many of which are SWAT team guys here in Austin. We were talking about the challenges of the job, and the owner shared with me what the SWAT guys say are their biggest hurdle- aerobic endurance. 

The owner said that it's always lack of aerobic endurance that gets you, whether it's firefighting, law enforcement and/or the military. This also seems to be frequently true when it comes to sports, especially MMA. 

So, definitely do not ignore strength endurance as part of your training. I do it now once a week as part of my 12-week program that my coworker Nick is putting me through. I'll tell you what. Conditioning days SUCK. The more it sucks, the better it is for you. 

In closing, myself and everyone here at Fringe, pay our respect to all the men and women firefighters out there, who risk their lives to save us, protect us and keep us safe from harm. We can't thank you enough for what you do. We're just happy that we can provide helpful assistance that makes you the best at what you do. If you don't know already, there's a standing 5% discount for all firemen when you shop with us. It's our small way of saying thanks.

Be safe, be fit and be strong out there!

fireman's prayer

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