More Steps for Uniform Fitness

By Bryan Fass

Anyone who has worked in public safety long enough realizes that simple little perks like napping, reading, studying, watching TV, etc. are all standard and normal practices between calls. I've been as guilty of this as the rest of you — my gear bag was packed full of books and journals and I did my fair share of napping.

But the one thing that made me different was I would stretch between calls, sometimes even at the hospital while waiting. The looks and eye rolls I got were amusing and sad at the same time. Amusing because my fellow responders just did not get it, sad because only an injury will cause them to get it! That, my friend, is a mindset we need to change.

Public safety and EMS are mostly reactionary. We do a phenomenal job of responding to and managing the problem after it has occurred. Medicine is no different — let's fix the problem after the damage is done and for that matter just take a pill and make it all better. Responders, there is no magic pill to make it better. Our job is tough and requires strenuous lifting and working in very odd positions. From an exercise science and injury prevention perspective, the only way to prevent injury is to create a stable and functional frame to work from.

Neutral spine is a concept that is near and dear to me. As I explain to all my clients, regardless of what your fitness or rehabilitation goals are, the closer we can get your body to neutral the more efficiently and easily it functions. So what is neutral? Simply stated it is a position of maximum efficiency and proper joint positioning, a position where the bony structure of the body is lined up to maximize force production while absorbing damaging strain and impact. Check out the images at the end of this article.  

When we live in neutral, our joints have little excessive load and our muscles are not doing jobs that they were never intended to do. But, and there is always a but, take a look at your co workers and see if anyone actually meets the 'plumb line' criteria.

There are generally a few predictable patterns in the body that will lead to a faulty postural pattern and a loss of neutral spine positioning. Now, this is some seriously complicated kinesiology and biomechanics so I will use the KISS principle. Our careers, education, sedentary positions and improper exercise, to name a few, have caused this problem. But there is a fix — and one you can do so while on duty. Simply use your down time to work out:

  • Try a game of wall ball for cardiovascular fitness 
  • Use a reaction ball to increase agility
  • Do step ups on the step plate to build hip strength, walk laps around the station or parking lot
  • Use the grab bars on your truck to tether resistance bands on for strengthening exercises

These are all simple and easy things you can do anywhere, anytime.

Meanwhile, to correct faulty posture and poor mechanics, we need to understand a few simple things:

1) Pull twice as much as you push
The muscles in the front of our body get progressively short and tight over time, and our seated postures and poor exercise choices contribute to this. Performing pushing exercises like bench press and shoulder press simply make this imbalance worse. We need to stretch the anterior muscles to allow the posterior muscles which have become long and weak to function properly. Only then can we move properly and hope to restore optimal posture.

2) When you stretch, you should stretch the muscle on the opposite side of the body from the one that's sore
Yes, you read that correctly. Same concept as #1 — if the hamstring is tight and sore, it is most likely tight because the hip flexor group is short and tight. The hamstring is in effect fighting back against your poor posture, so in many cases where you feel the discomfort is not always where the problem lies. We still need to stretch the hamstring but after you've addressed its opponent. Just like a MI responders, the arm/jaw and chest pain are the symptom of a larger problem. When you stretch, please hold it for a full minute and breathe through the entire minute to allow maximal tissue elongation.

3) When you exercise, make sure that a machine is not controlling your movements
When we join a gym or are in the market to purchase equipment for the station, the very first thing we look for is a machine. I am sorry to inform you that most machines contribute strongly to the postural deficits and muscular imbalances we suffer from. Life is fluid, the body is designed to move freely through a varied range of motion. We are not designed to contort ourselves into machines that force us to move a specific way. Have you ever noticed most of the exercise equipment requires you to sit down and most are pushing movements? Stand up to exercise, it’s natural and actually burns more calories.

Be fit, stay safe!



About the author

Bryan Fass, ATC, LAT, CSCS, EMT-P (ret.), has dedicated over a decade to changing the culture of EMS from one of pain, injury, and disease to one of ergonomic excellence and provider wellness. He has leveraged his 15-year career in sports medicine, athletic training, spine rehabilitation, strength and conditioning and as a paramedic to become an expert on prehospital patient handling/equipment handling and fire-EMS fitness. His company, Fit Responder, works nationally with departments to reduce injuries and improve fitness for first responders. Contact Bryan at

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