A Complete Guide to EMS Fitness and Health

Over the last few months, we’ve received dozens of emails from readers who are specifically interested in finding out our opinion on whether nor not they will be able to physically make it in EMS. They’re concerned that they’re too small, too big, too out of shape, or have had too many injuries.

Let’s face it; an EMT never runs anywhere unless they want to risk being fired due to instigating chaos on scene. However, overall physical fitness pays a major role in EMS careers in more ways than one. In this article, we’ll take a look at the role that fitness plays in the life of an EMS as well as a few EMS fitness tips to help you maximize your career longevity.

Why is Fitness Important in EMS?

Firstly, one of the leading reasons we see people leave EMS earlier than we see professionals make a switch in other careers is sheer exhaustion and repeated injuries. While life in the field can be stressful and emotionally challenging for some, it’s almost always physically demanding for every EMS professional. Long shift hours, high call volumes, and improper lifting of heavy loads lead to fatigue, as well as knee and back problems, which are very common among EMTs. While top-notch physical endurance may not be a necessity to perform well in the field day in an day out, a decent level of fitness, good core strength, and the ability to lift heavy loads properly are essential to ensuring that you reduce your chances of injury in order to extend your EMS career.

Staying Physically Fit

EMS Fitness and HealthAnother very common complaint among EMTs is that many of them feel that long shift hours, frequent down time, and meals on the fly lead them to gain weight. You’re never going to be able to guarantee that a day spent in the field will keep you physically active and challenged, so the best way to combat weight loss and carry more energy into your job in EMS is to maintain a regular physical fitness regimen. You don’t need to spend hours a day in the gym, but maintaining a consistent level of fitness helps to increase your energy levels, even when you’re not working out. It also boosts your metabolism for several hours afterwards which can help mitigate against weight gain or even help you shed a few pounds if you watch your dietary intake properly.

If you have limited time in your schedule, focus your fitness efforts on building core strength and using a routine which allows you to get the most from the time you put into it. Programs like Crossfit, which is a “boot camp” style routine, can keep intensity levels high and focus on training all of the major muscle groups, including your core. These types of regimens can help you burn a significant number of calories in a short span of time.

Building a Strong Core

A strong core is the key to developing a good lifting technique. However, that’s not the end of the story. EMS professionals who want to reduce their risk of long-term, lifting-related injuries should also focus on training some of the other major muscle groups which assist in a good lift. This means that to develop the strength necessary to mitigate against back and knee injuries common in this career, adding in some strength training which focuses on shoulders, lower back, glutes, and quads can go a long way. You don’t need to use excessive weight when performing these exercises. You can employ a moderate amount of weight and use a high number of repetitions to develop the strength needed. However, spending at least one day a week performing exercises which develop these muscle groups can be very effective.

Here’s a sample weight routine which would address these key muscle groups.

(Note: Before performing any exercise routine, be sure to consult a physician. Furthermore, weight training should be preceded by a good warm-up and stretching routine.)

Swiss ball crunches: 2 sets of 25 repetitions
Squats: 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions, moderate weight
Back extensions: 2 sets of 25 repetitions
Dumbbell shoulder presses: 2 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions, light to moderate weight
Plank: 2 sets of 60 seconds
Deadlifts: 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions, moderate weight
Pull-ups (assisted if necessary): 3 sets to exhaustion

A routine such as this one, when performed one to two times a week can build key strength in the major areas of the body which are prone to injury from heavy and repeated lifting.

Develop Proper Lifting Techniques

Perhaps no area of EMS fitness is more important than knowing how to lift heavy loads correctly. Here are the key steps to a proper lifting technique.

1. Know where you’re going with the load you’re going to carry. Think through and discuss with your partner, if applicable, how you’re going to move the load and where you will end up. It’s also key to communicate when you will commence with the lift using a count such as “One, two, three, up”, with the lifting motion commencing on the “up”.

2. Get as close to the object you’re lifting, most likely a gurney or body board, as possible. With a gurney, you might even place your feet just slightly beneath it. The key is to eliminate any arching of the back during the lift, and getting close aids with this.

3. With your back as straight as possible, lower your upper body using your hips and knees. Ideally, you would begin with one knee on the ground, however, this isn’t always possible in all situations, such as with a gurney where the grip points are off the ground.

4. Tighten your core, press your heels and the balls of your feet straight down into the ground, and lift by activating your glutes, hamstrings, and quads. Continue that pressing down motion as you let the weight of the load draw down against your shoulders. Attempt to keep your arms and elbows straight and parallel to your upper body throughout this motion.

5. Once the load is lifted, maintain a straight posture and keep the load as close to your body as possible. This position will ensure that your shoulders remain in line with your hips and take small, shuffling steps as you move the load.

Other EMS Fitness and Health Tips

*Take responsibility for your own fitness and health. With no formal fitness requirements in place, the EMS industry requires that you take charge of your own health and fitness. It’s your responsibility to maintain your health no only to ensure your safety and career longevity, but your patients also deserve that you are the best responder you can possibly be.

*Carry along your own food. Many EMS responders complain of no time to eat between calls and often when there is time to eat, it’s a fast food meal on the fly. Get into the practice of carrying your own cooler along on your shift and stock it with nutrient dense and convenient foods and snacks to ensure that your energy levels remain topped off.

*Get into the stretching habit. It might sound a bit new-agey, but frequent stretching before and during your shift can help to reduce the odds of on-the-job injuries. It can also help to enhance and increase blood flow to muscles and tissues during times when you may otherwise be stagnant, which can help sustain overall body energy levels.

*Hydrate often. Drinking plenty of fluids, especially during the summer months, will help reduce fatigue and, some research has shown, lessen the chances of muscular strains.

*Develop good sleep habits. If you’re not already making the time to get a full and restful night (or day) of sleep, start immediately. Lack of proper rest leads to fatigue, however, your body is also using that time to physically recover from long and intense physical exertion. It’s absolutely critical that you develop good sleep habits to ensure that you’re the most effective responder you can be.

Now it’s your turn. What suggestions do you have for a sound EMS fitness and health routine?

2 Responses to “A Complete Guide to EMS Fitness and Health”

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  1. Ken says:

    Interesting training video On "Core Strengthening Back Injury Prevention": http://youtu.be/1mru33xLcDE