Resistance Bands

Resistance bands are a great tool to mimic what we do on the fireground. (Photos by author.)
Resistance bands are a great tool to mimic what we do on the fireground. (Photos by author.)

Training is what separates the firefighter from the general public. It is our persistent pursuit for continued development that allows us to do the things that we do. At the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) International, you’ll find the greatest instructors in the world as they share their experiences and knowledge in a way that will transform how you perform and think as a firefighter. It is my privilege and honor to be able to bring my experience and expertise to FDIC 2017 with firefighter functional movement training, and I want to share some of that with those of you who are unable to attend.


Firefighter functional movement training is a complete training system designed specifically for firefighters by firefighters. As the lead peer fitness trainer of the Milwaukee (WI) Fire Department, I have had the privilege to help create a long lasting, sustainable health and wellness program. In addition to that, it has been a pleasure to be a part in moving the culture of firefighting toward health and wellness; combined efforts have helped reduce injury claims by 57 percent and helped save the city of Milwaukee $1.3 million. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in a process that has helped in the success and training of more than 30 departments.

What does it mean to be firefighter functional? Being functional is essential to increasing performance and reducing the risk of injury. But what does it mean to be functional? How can you develop programming so that you are functional? To answer these questions, you have to start by defining your function. Then it is from there that we can begin to formulate quality programming that will meet the demands that we have. With firefighter functional movement training, the goal is to learn how to use the T.A.C.T.I.C training priorities to identify the functions and demands we have as firefighters. For a program to reduce injury risk and increase performance, it must have its roots in the function-which is the very purpose of using the T.A.C.T.I.C training priorities. This acronym serves as a rapid and effective means to assess any program and see if it truly fits firefighting. While there are numerous elements for T.A.C.T.I.C training, for today’s article I am going to focus on the I in this acronym-irregular implement.

Resistance band hip-assisted reverse lunge.

Irregular Implement

Firefighting equipment is normal and dynamic in nature. The things we are using are not symmetrical and consistent in shape and design. While ergonomics has done incredible things to make equipment easier to manage, everything we are interacting with possesses unique characteristics. In firefighting, the equipment we use is irregular in nature. The fact that our equipment is irregular, coupled with how it relates to our chaotic environment, requires us to be able to react safely and efficiently. This is our function. Being able to move irregular equipment in a reactive fashion safely is essential to reducing injury and improving performance. This is why resistance bands are one of the best irregular implements that you can use because you can use them to train to be functional with explosiveness and stabilization while being affordable.

Resistance Bands for Explosiveness

Resistance bands are a great tool to mimic what we do on the fireground. The ability to react with proper stabilization is essential for firefighting because of the equipment we use and the chaotic environment we work within. When it comes to lifting a ladder overhead, you are putting a piece of equipment into motion far away from your center of gravity and then proceeding to put your body underneath it. From a fitness perspective, this is an incredibly dynamic function. But how can you train for it? With resistance bands!

The beautiful thing about resistance bands is that they teach you to move explosively. When the band is in its rested state, there is minimal tension. When you lengthen it out, the tension increases. Consequently, you need to move quickly and rapidly to lengthen your resistance band in a way that trains you to be strongest at the end of the motion. This ascending strength curve is unique to resistance bands. It teaches you to begin the motion with explosiveness to finish the motion strongly. When you are raising a ladder, do you want to be strongest at the end of the motion or at the mid-range (which is what is trained when using traditional means of lifting)? The end of the motion! The stronger you are at the end range, the faster you will raise that ladder and the less effort it will take because you started putting that ladder into motion quickly at the beginning.

Resistance Bands for Stabilization

Now that you are raising this ladder overhead, you need to be able to control it while protecting your body. While many firefighters can do this, they do it while increasing risk of injury to their shoulders and spine because of poor stability. The ladder may be overhead, but it is done by sacrificing their posture and making compensatory movements. These inefficient habits, done while under duress while encumbered in turnout gear, puts you at an elevated risk for injury.

Resistance bands help you learn how to stabilize, because when you put them into motion they continue to move. This again is characteristic to the tension that occurs when you lengthen it out. When it is elongated, the band wants to return to its starting position. This is where that tension comes from. However, as you continue to train with resistance bands, you’ll learn how to control a dynamic load with proper stabilization to make sure that you are being efficient. So, what is proper stabilization?

Stabilization is the ability to secure your joints into place intentionally. For firefighters, the most import series of joints to stabilize are the ones attached to your spine. To do this, you must use and activate the muscles that are attached to the spine. When these muscles are activated, you align your spine like a column. With resistance bands, you get excellent external cueing about the alignment of your spine when you use it for an overhead press to mimic raising a ladder because of how your body is within it. To perform an overhead press with a resistance band, you step inside the circle of the resistance band so that you are inside the loop. This way, when you extend the resistance band, you are inside of it, causing the resistance band to create a line through your spine, which will then indicate whether you are operating properly as a column or not. In this position, you are reminded to activate those muscles attached to the spine-most notably your glutes, abdominals, and scapula-to make sure that you are in healthy position to perform this function.

A clean to overhead press.

AN AffordablE TOOL

Resistance bands are an incredibly affordable tool that will train you to be functional. In today’s economic climate, fire departments struggle to find the funding to support how they envision a health and wellness program. With the high cost of treadmills, weightlifting equipment, and elliptical machines, many departments think that a health and wellness program is beyond their reach because of the monetary limitations they are experiencing. There are tremendous benefits to using the equipment listed above; however, you can experience those same benefits with resistance bands at a fraction of the cost.

When it comes to using your financial resources, your department needs to be responsible. It needs to provide the greatest return on investment possible. As previously stated, there are incredible benefits to the expensive traditional equipment, but the issue is that, when the lights go off in your firehouse gym, that equipment stays there. This is not an efficient investment. Resistance bands are incredible and affordable, and even more incredible is the education that is behind that that makes them truly train you and your department to be functional.

It’s not the equipment that makes the firefighter, it’s the education and application of that equipment! Firefighter functional movement training teaches you the science behind resistance bands as well as specific applications to ensure that you improve how you move and perform in a way that will increase your safety tremendously. The best thing about the education you will gain is that it stays with you and will carry over into how you perform your job. It will make you functional in a way that investing in expensive equipment won’t.

Training is what separates firefighters from nonfirefighters. It’s the endless pursuit to find the most optimal and efficient way to perform our duties and tasks. By taking this same approach and same mentality to improving health, you and your department will be developing countless benefits that continue beyond your shift. Resistance bands are an unparalleled way to develop explosiveness and stabilization while being affordable as you learn to implement and use firefighter functional movement training.

To learn more about firefighter functional movement training, contact me at

Current Issue

April 2017
Volume 12, Issue 4