Training for the Firefighter Physical Ability Test

I just received an email from a prospective new client who mentioned she wants an FMS (Functional Movement Screen) to see what, if any, imbalances she has and correct them as she’s training to become a firefighter. I love that she’s keen to build her body on a base of sound functional movement before adding strength. I suspect I’m going to really enjoy working with her.

As I was replying, I thought of an email that I had written to another client who decided, after he’d been training with me for a while, that he would like to do the test at some point and wondered if I could help. I took a look at the test and realized that for the most part, the training that he was already doing with me would prepare him very nicely. I wrote a detailed email explaining why I think that.

In responding to this new prospective client, I dug up that old email and copied it directly into the email to her so that she could get an idea of what she should be doing to train for the test, and why. I have no doubt that she’s been working hard, but I wonder if she’s training as well as she could be. I’ll find out when I see her for an FMS next week.

Then it occurred to me that others may also be interested in how to train for the firefighter test, and so, here is that email, with links added to each of the test descriptions (for the City of Ottawa physical ability test):

“I think most of what you’re doing now will help to prepare you, but a couple of additions to your training might be good:

Stair climb. The obvious one would be elliptical with a vest, but honestly I think the split squat or sl [single leg] squats combined with deadlifts are going to get this for you. but we can progress you on your next program to a walking lunge instead of split squats/sl squats.

Hose drag. Let’s add sled drags to your program for this. As long as the gym is not busy, we can do this easily. It is a great metabolic exercise anyhow and relevant to what you want to accomplish. We can load it up with multiple 45 lb plates.

Equipment carry is basically a farmers walk. I’m also happy to add those to your program – along with the sled drag that would be a great finisher.

Ladder raise and extension. I actually think the overhead kb walks you’re doing are a great exercise for the ladder extension test. We can push you more on this. We can go to full overhead instead of the elbow bent version. Starting with a press to get it up there. Turkish getups with a walk would also be great for this.

Forcible entry. I bet you’d kill at that right now with all the rotation strengthening you’ve done – particularly the chops/lifts and ½ kneeling anti-rotation presses. On days when it’s not raining, we can add rotational med ball tosses to just nail this. Remind me of that next time in case I forget! If you are doing any sledgehammer work on the big tire you bought, that would also be good, but be careful with that. I’m not a fan of it generally as I think a lot can go wrong – mallet comes back and hits you in the head or mallet goes flying off the handle and hits someone else – but I know lots of coaches who use it, so I’m probably being overly cautious – but if you do them, just be careful.


Anti-rotation press (Pallof press)



Search. I think you’ll be fine on that. You’ve got the movement skill with the bear crawls, and the core/upper body strength in the pushups. How did you do on that part in the Spartan race?

Rescue.  Duck walks with the sled is basically this exact move. I suspect the TRX straps will replicate it nicely. Again – if there’s space at the gym we can do it after your workout. In fact, if you want to maximize your time with me, consider arriving 15 minutes early to do your warmup then. We can then have a full hour of strength and conditioning, which will leave time for this kind of stuff.

Ceiling breach and pull. I also think you’ll find you are there on this one. The overhead walks, and the pullups, and the rotational core stuff will have you nailing this. Are you doing overhead presses with your KB classes? If not, we’ll add KB presses. If yes, I don’t think I’d change anything to prepare you for this. Except it would be wise to practice the fine movements at some point prior to taking the test. I would anticipate that being one exercise in a 1 month at most phase.

All that to say – I would bet if you took the test tomorrow you’d do very well. But a bit of sled work and rotational med ball tosses would be a good addition to make sure of it.”

Elsbeth Vaino trains athletes in Ottawa, Canada.

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