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The journey begins with a single step

Here are some tips to help you overcome self-imposed barriers to your fitness

"I do not have time to work out," "I don't know where to start" and "I get bored" are common excuses for not improving one's health and wellness. Responders often avoid starting a fitness and wellness routine for all these excuses plus the "I am too tired" or "There is no place for us to work out while on duty" excuses.

Although some of these excuses are legitimate and specific to a career in EMS, they are still just excuses.

WAIT! I know what many of you are thinking at this point, so please read on!

In public safety, we often put our patients and our families first and ourselves second. We come to work sick and even injured in the name of the job. This behavior cannot continue; we need to be a little selfish and start putting ourselves first.

Think of it this way: Your body is the ultimate tool. You are the most valuable piece of equipment on the truck, and without you, the entire system comes to a screeching halt.

So it only makes sense to focus on your fitness, health and wellness as a priority.

So let's focus on this question: How do you start a routine? Allow me to digress a moment.

While routines are necessary, they can also be boring. Sure, it helps a lot of folks to download a fitness program and follow it step by step. It keeps you accountable and on track. But at some point, you will get off track and/or bored.

If you need this type of structure, then keep at it, and you will succeed. But what if you need more?

Exercise should be fun, challenging and, above all else, empowering. You should feel good about what you are doing for your health and wellness. Just as you are proud of your abilities on the street — which you earned through hard work, by the way — be proud of every small goal achieved toward your health.

Here are a few ways to power through the obstacles to working out:

  • Put the most unflattering picture of yourself on the refrigerator. Look at this picture every day as a positive reminder that this is not how you want to look and feel anymore.
  • Another trick is the tried-and-true "skinny jeans test." Every week, try to get those jeans on, and the harder you work each week and the better you eat, the sooner they will fit.
  • Keeping an online journal is a great tool as well. Journaling your fitness and nutrition endeavors online in a community of likeminded folks not only keeps you accountable but also can provide valuable feedback and group pressure.

So how do you take the first step? I am an athlete, but I was not born one, nor was I one in high school or college. I am not the biggest, fastest or strongest, but after years of consistent training, experimenting and trying new things, I found out that there was an athlete inside me.

Lately I have been into the minimalist footwear trend: running in the five-finger shoes. I have been running trails, playing soccer and doing field exercises and drills in these shoes for a while with good success, albeit a steep learning curve for my body.

Two weeks ago I was trail running (more like a sprint, to be honest) and I hit my poor pinky toe on a root or rock. So now I cannot exercise like I want to, and I'm in pain. Sounds like the perfect excuse for not exercising, right? Wrong!

Instead of letting this slow me down, I simply adapted and overcame the barrier. Instead of a run or hike, I can ride a bike. Instead of field exercises, I can swim (which is not in my comfort zone), I can kayak, or I can use an elliptical trainer for my cardio. I can still hit the gym and lift weights; I just have to modify the functional training I usually do.

So how can you overcome the self-imposed barriers to your fitness?

1. Get in the habit of stretching every day while on duty. We have an entire video dedicated to stretching on the back of your rig. Good flexibility means you feel better, and if you feel good, you are more apt to get moving.

2. Purchase an exercise band. Resistance bands are inexpensive and allow you to create a gym anywhere, anytime. By doing some simple resistance exercises at home or even on duty means you are improving muscular strength, muscular endurance and balance and you are burning calories. Check out the four video segments we have on resistance band training, starting with pulling exercises.

3. Have fun. Great ways to pass the time between calls are to toss around a Frisbee, bounce a reaction ball between you and your partner and walk around the driveway or parking lot. Come in early or stay after your shift, and use the fitness room to get in some cardio.

4. Create a contest. Why not challenge another crew or shift to a contest? Biggest weight loser, most miles walked... The choices are endless, and the benefits are huge. Get HR or management involved with the contest as they have resources to help the process along.

5. Join (or start) a wellness committee. Getting yourself and others involved not only helps to keep you motivated and on track but also helps get others started on their fitness goals.

The bottom line is that I could have — and still can — make excuses for not exercising, and so can you. But every day I look at that "before" picture on the fridge.

I also know that when I do not exercise or eat well I feel lethargic, sluggish, fatigued and moody. I do not like feeling that way, so I choose to feel good, which involves staying true to my path of fitness and wellness.

So go ahead and take that first step, it does not matter what direction you go, as long as you start moving toward your health and wellness. Or as my favorite slogan says: "Just do it."

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