Trending Topics

My journey back to health following a painful ‘a-ha’ moment

Detailing the fitness and nutrition plan used to shed 95 pounds

Sponsored by

All of us in the first responder community bring different perspectives to the job. And when it comes to wellness, yes, police officers have different health challenges and stressors than firefighters, and firefighters have different challenges than EMS providers. But at the end of the day, our mission remains the same – public safety. Making sure that we’re at the top of our game is not only critical to our own wellness but also to our ability to fulfill our mission helping others. After all, how can we possibly help those in need if we haven’t helped ourselves first? Similarly, I had to answer this question for myself before I could share these insights with you.

That “a-ha” moment

As a young(er) firefighter, I routinely worked out with my crews, and as an officer, I made sure that gym time was a priority on every shift. We didn’t focus much on functional fitness; it was more about throwing around weights and making sure we could throw the ladders and run 1.5 miles.

Fast-forward to my transition to leadership roles, specifically my time as a chief officer. As a battalion chief in Prince George’s County, Maryland, I started out as a jogger and occasionally still lifted weights. But we were busy, and I had kids of my own. There just never seemed to be enough time. With my high-carb diet, it didn’t take long for my inattention to fitness to show.

As I transitioned into a leadership role in West Virginia, fitness wasn’t as much of a focus for me – for any number of reasons, really excuses. Many of those excuses were legitimate in their own right – my kids, increased work responsibilities, lack of access to a gym, you name it. But then one day in 2007, my wife was reading the newspaper, and I asked her, “Who’s that fat*ss on the front page?” She turned the page back to look, then turned to me and replied, “That would be YOU, hun.”

I didn’t recognize myself. A-ha!

Getting on track – then back on track

It didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t going to get fixed overnight, but one thing was for sure – it wasn’t going to get better if I didn’t do something about it! This wasn’t just about fitness; clearly it was also about nutrition and overall wellness.

I started the process of researching relevant resources and changed my diet to a carb-restricted plan. With the addition of increased cardio, I quickly lost 75 pounds. Impressive, yes. However, I gained every bit of the 75 pounds back within a year. I went back to the drawing board, starting with more research.

Another “a-ha” moment for me during this research was discovering (and understanding) the micro/macro relationship of foods and their effect on the body. Being healthy is a complex process – an intricate puzzle of factors influenced by our daily decisions. For me, I recognized the negative (and dangerously addictive) impact of sugar that was certainly contributing to my yo-yo weight. Added sugar became a piece of my food intake that I was going to have to learn to nearly eliminate if I wanted to maintain my health.

The next piece of the puzzle for me was physicality. I had to find a way to make fitness part of my lifestyle. Amid the hills of West Virginia, I chose the treadmill at a local gym and followed an online fitness guru who specialized in treadmill work. I would jog for 30 to 35 minutes, then do some weightlifting – with the other days being rest days. Note: For public safety professionals, weightlifting should really be focused on functional fitness, not as much free weights.

As I balanced the fitness plan with a diet focused on less sugar, carbohydrates and carbonation but more water, and a degree of intermittent fasting, slowly the weight began to come off. When I got to a weight loss plateau, I went back to my online guru (Dr. Google). The “doc” said to simply increase the amount of cardio time. Adding 5 minutes a week to my treadmill time worked, and the weight began to come off again – another 20 pounds.

Bottom line: Get up and MOVE! Your body will adapt to what you’re doing, and laying on the couch is the surest way to degenerate quicker than you can even realize is possible.

What’s the plan?

Before we address developing a wellness plan, there are two critical points to keep in mind:

1. Every one of us is different, with different nutritional and muscular balances in our bodies. In other words, what works for me might not work at all for you.

2. Don’t go down this road alone. Do some research about the types of foods and fitness that work with your lifestyle, and find a licensed healthcare professional and/or nutritionist or trainer to help you reach your individual goals.

For me, the plan was a gym routine three days a week, with two separate days of cardio, either on the machines or on the streets (jogging). I followed the traditional methodology of spending each of the three gyms days having a large muscle/small muscle matching routine.


  • Chest (large muscle), 3 sets each press, incline, decline 15, 12, 8 reps
  • Biceps (small muscle), 3 sets dumbbell, cable/bar curl, hammer curls same reps


  • Treadmill/Elliptical, 30 to 40 minutes
  • 20 minutes core work


  • Back (large muscle), 3 sets each, pull down, rows, back extensions – same reps
  • Triceps (small muscle), 3 sets tricep extensions, cables, dips reps as tolerated


  • Treadmill/Elliptical, 30 to 40 minutes
  • 20 minutes core work


  • Legs (large muscle), 3 sets squats, extensions, curls, 10 reps each
  • Shoulder (small muscle), 3 sets press, fly, front raise, 10 reps each

There is much more you can add to the process when you consider functional fitness. For firefighters, this might mean integrating ropes, ladders, sledgehammers, large saws and the weight of PPE; for police, it might mean climbing and tactical outfitting; and for EMS providers, it might look like cot-lifting and gear toting.

Building vs. maintaining

Once you’ve found your system and experienced success, you will transition from a weight loss or toning/sculpting mode into a maintenance mode. In other words, once you reach your healthy weight or size, it’s time to adjust the plan to stay there.

As I transitioned from a “building” to a maintenance program, the time in the gym shifted to combining cardio and weightlifting, with some weights and reps increasing while others decreased.

Now, 17 years since my first a-ha moment with the newspaper, I am 95 pounds lighter. My goal as a chief was never to be the “muscle man” that I once tried to be as a firefighter, but rather to be the chief whom those new recruits couldn’t outdo! Now let’s be clear, they might outdo me, but I was at least giving them a run for their money!

A-ha moments beyond fitness and nutrition

Over the course of my four years in high school, 19 of my classmates died in drunk-driving incidents – NINETEEN! This was enough to shy me away from alcohol – and I thank God every day that was my choice. Not only is the intoxicating factor of alcohol potentially detrimental to your overall health, but the gut health and weight implications are huge as well.

Then there’s that pesky issue of sleep. The many studies on sleep deprivation and how our own facilities compound the problem leave little room for debate: High performance, muscle recovery, mind recovery and mental acuity all depend on the rest you get when you sleep. I recently started using the “Do Not Disturb” feature on my phone. I’m retired. Do I really need those midnight push notifications about the latest news and information? No. While you might not be able to turn them off, there are ways to adjust your settings so you only get certain notifications at certain times or only certain phone numbers can ring through during your DND time – for emergencies only.

Mental toughness and moral focus round out the personal success tetrahedron I’ve shared with you before. No matter your profession, it’s OK to not be OK. The key is to do something about it. We can’t allow our members to find themselves alone in this battle. We need to provide the sources and support they need, whether through peer support teams, EAP or even just creating a culture of conversation after calls.

Your totality of health

First responder wellness is not simply about exercise and nutrition. There is clearly much more that goes into our success than the food we eat or how much we can lift. It’s about finding a stable plan that works for you – the thing that you’ll actually do to ensure that you can show up every day ready to perform. As one example, I lay witness to the testament of totality of health, which includes a sound mind, sound body and sound health. And let’s remember that a good night’s sleep is a critical piece of bringing it all together.

Chief Marc S. Bashoor joined the Lexipol team in 2018, serving as the FireRescue1 and Fire Chief executive editor and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board. With 40 years in emergency services, Chief Bashoor previously served as public safety director in Highlands County, Florida; as chief of the Prince George’s County (Maryland) Fire/EMS Department; and as emergency manager in Mineral County, West Virginia. Chief Bashoor assisted the NFPA with fire service missions in Brazil and China, and has presented at many industry conferences and trade shows. He has contributed to several industry publications. He is a National Pro-board certified Fire Officer IV, Fire Instructor III and Fire Instructor. Connect with Chief Bashoor at on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Do you have a leadership tip or incident you’d like to discuss? Send the chief an email.