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Lose your excuses: Top 4 reasons first responders skip workouts

You are responsible for your level of health and fitness; it’s time to stop letting excuses stand in your way

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Excuses are like ____________ (fill in the blank). We all have them and use them ….

Are you (personally) letting excuses impede your fitness progress? As first responders, we need to ensure we are taking time – and making time – to manage our health and fitness. Completing your workouts on a consistent basis is one of the best ways for firefighters and EMT/paramedics to maintain physical and mental health.

I get it: There are a lot of stressors in our lives and what may seem like valid reasons to skip workouts. But if you are brutally honest with yourself, you will realize the excuses you are using now are probably the same ones you have always used. I have used them too.

The trick, however, is to not let the excuses continue to hold us back. I have had the privilege to work with thousands of clients over the past 25 years, a majority of whom are first responders, and have heard every excuse on why people are not working out.

Here are the most common workout excuses and some insight to overcoming them:

Workout Excuse #1: I am way too tired to work out.

Long shifts, a lack of sleep and the demands of everyday life can quickly tap your energy. This might sound contradictory, but it’s true – exercise helps you re-energize!

If you are feeling sluggish, start moving. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Your energy level is influenced by the secretion of certain hormones. Exercise triggers testosterone, serotonin and endorphin production – hormones that get you going and make you feel less tired. So instead of making you even more tired (as you might think), exercise is energizing.

If you are too tired to work out, look at improving sleep and nutrition. Food is fuel. Make sure you are eating enough good quality (high-energy) calories like fruits and vegetables and getting enough water. Water is involved in every metabolic reaction in the body and can aid in energy production. Another option is to look at scheduling your workouts earlier in the day when you do have more energy.

Workout Excuse #2: Exercise is too boring.

Exercise is rarely the most exciting activity, but it is possible to enjoy your workout routine. If you’re feeling bored with your exercise regimen, it may be time to start switching it up. Doing the same routine over and over, day after day will quickly become a monotonous, tedious chore. Find a new routine or try to focus on a new goal. As a first responder you should try to focus more on improving performance, mobility and functional strength.

For firefighters, workouts can incorporate fireground-based movements like sledges and crawls. For EMTs and medics, incorporate carrying bags back and forth and improving core strength. Find the things you like to do on the job and incorporate them into the workout.

If variety isn’t adding enough spice to your workouts, then create some motivating music playlists to help power through workouts. Try to recruit a friend or your crew to keep you company and accountable during your workouts.

Another suggestion is to multitask during your workouts. Hop on a bike or the treadmill and read a book, watch some educational videos or listen to the Better Every Shift podcast.

Lastly, workouts do not have to last all day. You can get a great workout in under 30 minutes. Look at increasing intensity, not time. Use an interval timer and/or stopwatch to minimize rest and keep you on track.

Workout Excuse #3: I need to be motivated to exercise.

Heart attacks, strokes, and cancers are the leading killer of firefighters, EMTs and medics. Following a regular exercise and nutrition program can significantly reduce your risks of these health issues! If that is not motivating for you, look around you. Your family, your crew and your community are also depending on you and your physical ability to help them. For me, I never want to tell my crew that my fitness let them down. That thought motivates me to get to the gym.

If you think you need the motivation to train, you are already half-beat. What you really need is “meta” motivation: the motivation to train even when you are not motivated. If you rely on your feelings or mood to decide whether to work out, you will struggle to maintain a consistent exercise regimen.

That said, there is a trick you can use to get yourself motivated to work out, and it is backed up by research. It’s called “the few minutes” principle.

The basic idea is that procrastinators (which we all can be, me included) often put off doing certain things because the size of the task in front of them seems too overwhelming. You then start to dread the workout and talk yourself out of it. By deciding to just go to the gym or workout area (if you work out at home) for a “few minutes,” you’ll often see the workout through to completion. So, instead of thinking about the entire workout, just think about doing 5 minutes of stretching and see where it goes from there. That is all you need.

If science does not work to motivate you, here are some other suggestions to get you moving:

  • Make a chart or keep a log to track your workouts. Workout journals and calendars can also be helpful.
  • Reward yourself for meeting your fitness goals – a reward that you really want. If you love massages, book a massage at the end of every month after you complete your target number of workouts.
  • Enter a race or competition. There are some very good charitable 5k and stairclimb events that can keep you motivated.

Workout Excuse #4: I don’t have time.

This is the most common fitness excuse of them all. First off, when you say you do not have enough time for a workout, what you are really saying is “I don’t want to make enough time for that.”

If you truly looked at your day you should be able to carve out at least 15 to 20 minutes. Think about the times you surf the web, browse social media or watch TV. Could you cut these activities and go for a run or workout instead? A 30-minute workout takes up only 2% of your day.

One thing that will help you make time is to change your mindset. Instead of looking at workouts as a waste of time, ask yourself how much of your life you waste being overweight or unfit. Instead of focusing on how tired you are, remind yourself that a workout gives you energy (as we talked about in Excuse #1) to get other tasks done, which in the long run may save you time!

Instead of trying to find time to work out, think about how you can make time. The trick is to find a block of time in your daily schedule that is consistently free of commitments. Try to make time first thing in the morning or before and/or after shifts, during your lunch hour or right after dinner. The time commitment can be minimal. Everyone has enough time for health and fitness. Workouts do not have to be hours or even an hour long. You can make great fitness progress with 20-45-minute workouts. If needed, break workouts up into different sections: Do 10 minutes of mobility work in the morning, do some bodyweight strength in the afternoon and then do some cardio in the evening. This is not ideal, but my point is that you can find the time.

And one final point about creating time. I have worked with thousands of athletes and clients, a lot of them are parents who consistently sacrifice for their kids. They sacrifice their time to cart kids to practice and friends’ houses and lessons. This devotion is admirable, but by not taking control of your health, what kind of example are you setting for your kids? The same point applies to anyone in a leadership position. Take care of yourself and set an example. It will make you a more productive and better leader.

No More Excuses!

You are responsible for your level of health and fitness. You may look at someone else and think it’s easy for them, but I assure you it is not. We all have excuses. We all have challenges.

It is time to stop letting those excuses stand in your way. Incorporate some of these strategies into your day and start making fitness progress.

Questions or feedback? Contact me at or visit Fire Rescue Fitness.


Steel P. (2010) The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done. United States: Random House of Canada.

Aaron Zamzow is a fire lieutenant for the Madison (Wisconsin) Fire Department with 20 years of experience as a fitness trainer and host of the Better Every Shift podcast. He holds a bachelor’s degree in health and wellness as well as a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certification. He is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist, an NASM certified personal trainer and an ACE-certified peer fitness trainer. Zamzow is the founder and owner of and develops programs aimed at getting fire rescue athletes fit for duty. He authored the book “Ladder 2 Workout: A Comprehensive Firefighter Workout Program that will get you ‘Fit for Duty’ in 28 days.” Connect with Zamzow on Twitter or Facebook or via email.