Recently I received an email from a firefighter who was looking for a way to blend the physical training that I have written about specifically for rugby players into a program for the men and women that are on call to assist the rest of us in often our darkest hours. While this program was specifically designed for a firefighter, I certainly believe that it can be used by other members of the service community such as ambulance personnel, paramedics, nurses, doctors, police, and military personnel.

I have tried to balance the fire service shifts with the training that I would recommend for someone to improve across the full spectrum of physical abilities. As such, I have tried to fit in both recovery days and full days off to account for the 24-hour shifts that are often performed, and to ensure recovery before performing higher neural activities. There is a recognized order for training, in which to be able to express and train speed and power, a person needs to be fully rested and free of fatigue. So you train the highest neural demanding activities first. From there, you move to more mechanical, muscular-based activities such as strength, size, and lactate training. Finally, in the hierarchical order of training, you finish a cycle with metabolic/aerobic type circuit training and conditioning. This should ensure that you will be able to train over an extended period of time and make consistent gains. Having done some programming work with the Australian Defence Force many years ago, I think this style of programming will allow anyone to cover all training facets for not only personal but also job-specific task training.

This program has taken into account 24-hour shifts over a four-week schedule. As you can see, each week has varying work demands, so the training program reflects this. For this program, the following aspects are reflected in the programming process:

  • Neural Demands — Speed and Power
  • Mechanical Demands — Strength and Size
  • Metabolic Demands — Circuits and Aerobic

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Training Day 1  — Neural Focus (AM), Mechanical/Lactate (PM)

AM Session: Speed, accelerations over a distance of 10-30 meters using unresisted sprinting, Prowler pushes, or sled pulls, followed by (or interspersed with) medicine ball ballistic throws, lower body plyometrics, modified Olympic style movements, weight training movements which have a low load, and high-velocity movement speed.

PM Session: Strength training using heavier loads for repetitions lower than six, followed by hypertrophy movements using repetitions usually double that of the strength training. For example:

  • Front Squats, 4x6
  • Leg Press, 4x12
  • Bench Press, 4x4
  • Low Incline Dumbbell Bench Press, 4x8

I personally prefer to program strength work with barbells and hypertrophy work with dumbbells, kettlebells, machines, and cables, and finish the session with lactate intervals on a bike or rower. If you are a regular runner, you can use a variety of running drills featuring down-and-up movements as well, with shuttles as an extra component.

Training Day 2 — Metabolic Aerobic/Circuit Training

In a previous article, I discussed a number of circuits that can be used on this training day. You can also use a strength endurance training regimen with a larger number of repetitions (over 15-20) on a number of exercises as a giant set, or just stick to the circuits and finish each session with some type of aerobic training. This aerobic training can be running, swimming, cycling, boxing, wrestling, or indoor, off-feet conditioning such as bikes, rowers, or the elliptical.

Recovery Days

Yoga, stretching, movements in a swimming pool, spa, sauna, contrast baths (hot and colds), cryo chambers, infrared saunas, and massage. Basically whatever will allow you to relax and aid recovery of the trained muscles.

If you wanted to use this program and did not have the severity of the shift work, you could restructure it slightly, as follows in multiple examples:

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If you are not encumbered with the stress of shift work, you could also follow a specific four-day per week, double day programming. This would be similar to the example listed below, which is a program that I will be using with certain members of my team during the next off-season physical preparation block.

Four-Day Split Double Day

First Session — AM


Speed: If you have access, this starts out to five meters and 10 meters, both with a sled, Prowler, Run Rocket, or whatever you have access to. If not, continue with this:

Primary Power Exercise:

Weighted Power Movements

3x3–5 with 60%-70%       

  • Cleans, Snatch, or Pulls from Floor/Hang/Blocks
  • Hip Thrusts with Bands or Bar
  • Jump Squats or Quarter Squats in Rack

3x10 Meters   

  • Prowler Push (High or Low Handles)
  • Weighted Sled Sprint/March

Medicine Ball Movements


  • Scoop Toss
  • Reverse Toss
  • Chest Press
  • Woodchop throw

Unweighted Lower Body Plyometric Movements


  • Box Jumps/Hops
  • Depth Jumps
  • Repeat Long Jumps/Hops
  • Repeat Hurdle Jumps/Hops
  • Borzov Hops
  • Alternating Bench Blasts
  • Knees-to-Feet

Primary Strength Movement: Deadlift, Trap Bar Deadlift, Squat Variations

Primary Hamstring Movement: RDL Variations, Nordics, Reverse Hyper, Glute Ham Raise, Hip Thrust

These two movements follow the following sets and reps pattern:

  • Week 1: 3x3, 80%, INOL = 0.45
  • Week 2: 4x4, 80%, INOL = 0.80
  • Week 3: 5x5, 80%, INOL = 1.25
  • Week 4: 6x6, 80%, INOL = 1.80
  • Week 5: 2x6, 60%, Unload
  • Week 6: 3x3, 85%, INOL = 0.60
  • Week 7: 4x4, 85%, INOL = 1.07
  • Week 8: 5x5, 85%, INOL = 1.67
  • Week 9: 2x6, 60%, Unload
  • Week 10: 3x3, 90%, INOL = 0.90
  • Week 11: 4x4, 90%, INOL = 1.60
  • Week 12: 2x2, 95%, INOL = 0.80

Second Session — PM

This can be done as a circuit if you wish, but you must get the reps, so go heavy to light.

  • Rack from Knee Snatch Grip High Pulls
  • Bulgarian Sprinter’s Squat
  • Secondary Hamstring Movements
  • Week 1: 3x6RM
  • Week 2: 4x8RM
  • Week 3: 5x10RM
  • Week 4: 6x12RM
  • Week 5: NO PM Session
  • Week 6: 3x6RM
  • Week 7: 4x8RM
  • Week 8: 5x10RM
  • Week 9: NO PM Session
  • Week 10: 3x6RM
  • Week 11: 4x8RM
  • Week 12: 2x4RM

First Session — AM



  • Push Press superset with Weighted Chins
  • Incline Bench Press superset with Pendlay Row
  • Football Bar Close Grip Floor Press superset with Barbell Curls


  • Bench Press superset with Reverse Grip Barbell Row
  • Military Press superset with Weighted Pull-Ups
  • Dips superset with Football Bar Hammer Curls
  • Week 1: 3x3, 80%, INOL = 0.45
  • Week 2: 4x4, 80%, INOL = 0.80
  • Week 3: 5x5, 80%, INOL = 1.25
  • Week 4: 6x6, 80%, INOL = 1.80
  • Week 5: 2x6, 60%, Unload
  • Week 6: 3x3, 85%, INOL = 0.60
  • Week 7: 4x4, 85%, INOL = 1.07
  • Week 8: 5x5, 85%, INOL = 1.67
  • Week 9: 2x6, 60%, Unload
  • Week 10: 3x3, 90%, INOL = 0.90
  • Week 11: 4x4 ,90%, INOL = 1.60
  • Week 12: 2x2, 95%, INOL = 0.80

Second Session - PM


  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press superset with Cable Face Pulls
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press superset with Incline Dumbbell Row
  • Dumbbell Rolling Triceps Extension superset with Dumbbell Twist Curls


  • Dumbbell Low Incline Bench Press superset with Incline Dumbbell T-Raise
  • Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press superset with Pulldowns to Chest
  • Dumbbell Tate Press superset with Dumbbell Hammer Curls
  • Week 1: 3 x 6RM
  • Week 2: 4 x 8RM
  • Week 3: 5 x 10RM
  • Week 4: 6 x 12RM
  • Week 5: NO PM session
  • Week 6: 3 x 6RM
  • Week 7: 4 x 8RM
  • Week 8: 5 x 10RM
  • Week 9: NO PM session
  • Week 10: 3 x 6RM
  • Week 11: 4 x 8RM
  • Week 12: 2 x 4RM

My personal preference is to use barbells for strength, and dumbbells, kettlebells, and machines of all varieties for size and strength endurance depending on what I have available at the club I am working at. I also like to use slightly higher reps on single-leg work and hamstring work, as well as when using the dumbbells, kettlebells, and machines. I hope there is something within these words that strikes a chord and stimulates discussion or a different line of thought.