Muscular Strength and Muscular Endurance


Muscular strength and muscular endurance are essential components of wildland firefighting. According to Dr. Brian Sharkey in his book, “Fitness and Work Capacity, 3rd Edition,” Some jobs require more muscular fitness than others. Our studies have shown that muscular fitness is highly related to performance of the tasks involved in wildland firefighting. Firefighters with more strength and muscular endurance are better able to carry the loads and use the tools than those with lower levels.” Muscle strength is a primary factor in work capacity when heavy lifting is involved, when using heavy tools, or when heavy loads must be moved. When repetitious lifting is utilized such as using hand tools, muscular endurance plays an important role in work capacity.

Some of the known benefits of establishing a good fitness program that incorporates muscular strength and endurance activities are as follows:

  • Promotes positive changes in bone density
  • Promotes positive changes in body composition (increase in lean muscle tissue, decrease in body fat)
  • Plays an important role in injury prevention
  • Improves job and sports performance
  • Increases lean body mass
  • Increases metabolism which can lead to a healthy body weight through the increased caloric use
  • Increases the body’s balance and coordination
  • Maintains the muscle mass needed to burn fat.

Muscle fitness can be developed and maintained using calisthenics, free weights, weight machines, or a combination of all three. When developing a muscular strength and muscular endurance program, it is important to factor in variety in order to maintain interest and utilize the muscles in different ways. Recuperation time between muscle workouts is also important in order to minimize injuries and overuse.

Muscle strength is achieved when you are able to lift loads in excess of 70% of your maximal strength as many times as possible (more weight and fewer reps). In order to develop a muscle strength routine, start by selecting a weight that you can lift 6-12 repetitions. Once you are able to lift that weight for 12 reps for 3 sets, increase the weight. Of course, muscle strength training is most important during the pre-season phase and should be transitioned to muscle endurance for fire season.

There are alternate options to include to add variety and avoid boredom to your program. These include splitting upper body and lower body weight workouts, increasing sets, changing exercises, and using circuit training.

Muscle endurance is developed when you are able to lift up to 70% of your one rep maximum, repeatedly (less weight and higher reps). In order to develop a muscle endurance routine, start by selecting a weight (up to 70% of max rep) that you can lift 12-20 repetitions. Once you are able to lift that weight 20 reps for 3 sets, increase the weight. You can also use your body weight with 12 reps or more per set to the point of muscular failure. As you approach fire season, training should focus on muscle endurance to ensure specificity and work hardening.

Knee anatomy video (wmv file)

Knee stretching and strengthening video (wmv file)

Guidelines for Weight Training

  • Always warm-up and stretch prior to weight training
  • Use the ‘buddy system’ and have a partner when using weights
  • Breathe out on exertion when lifting – don’t hold your breath
  • Utilize opposing muscle groups as to provide muscle balance
  • Allow appropriate recovery time – at least 48 hours rest between weight workouts
  • Keep a log of your workouts
button What is Fitness
button Getting Started
button Essential Components
button Aerobic Fitness
button Muscle Strength
button Core Training
button Flexibility
button Common Injuries
button Mental Fitness/ Preparation
button Firefighter Nutrition
button Wildland Fitness Assessment Battery
button Home Grown Fitness
button Q & A
button Resources
button Appendices
button BLM Fire and Aviation Fitness Challenge
button FireFit Task Group