How Do You Pre-PARE For the PARE?- Part 3 of 3
Our candidate has determined that he or she needs to get stronger and and has sufficient time to dedicate for it, it is now necessary to organize the training. How much time should one allot to build the strength base? The weaker one is to start, the more time one should take, with 6-8 weeks being quite sub-optimal. Consider 3 months as a minimum, and 4 is even better. There are a number of well structured strength training programs available if one spends some time looking online. Perhaps the most straight-forward and simplest to implement is Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength. It is highly accessible, very simple, and effective. Especially for beginners. Weekly training should be 3 sessions and can possibly reduce to 2 sessions when starting to add in 1-2 conditioning sessions per week. Train the squat every session, alternate the press and bench press sessions, and deadlift each session for the first few weeks after which the power clean is added to alternate with the deadlift sessions. Rest 4-5 minutes between sets. The ideal sets/reps structure to train for strength is 3 sets of 5 reps on all the lifts with the exception of the power clean which is best trained using 5 sets of 2-3 reps. The goal is to get stronger which means the plan is to consistently increase the weight on the bar for all the lifts. This is best done by patiently adding 5-10 pounds of weight to each lift (5lbs on upper body lifts, 5-10lbs on lower body lifts) over a lengthy period of time and keeping consistent and proper technique. If one is not sure of the proper technique for the lifts the most valuable investment one could make is to find a competent coach who can teach them. This coach will also be invaluable as progress will get more challenging and adjustments to the exercise frequency and rep ranges will be necessary in order to maintain progress. This training is deliberately kept simple (only 6 exercises once chin-ups are added, and adding weight every session) which is not to say it will be easy. If getting stronger were easy then everybody would be strong and this article would be unnecessary. In any case, life is better stronger and 3-4 months is really not an unreasonable amount of time to exchange in order to not be weak especially when the strength gained will persist for a long time.
By focusing on the development of strength first the body’s recovery resources are able to work on getting stronger without competing against a high endurance demand. Doing primarily endurance training will improve endurance performance but will not improve maximal strength conversely increasing maximal strength will even improve endurance to some extent. Now, as the potential test date approaches (4-6 weeks out) it becomes necessary to begin more specific conditioning and practice of the events of the test itself. The wise candidate who has taken the time to build a significant base of strength can now apply that strength in the context of the tasks and energy demands of the physical test. It is helpful to study the testing procedures in order to plan for effective high-intensity sessions that should mimic elements of the test. These could include weighted carries, sandbag work, shuttle runs, running stairs, vaulting/jumping, sled pushing/pulling, burpees, etc. aiming for 5-10 minutes of hard effort output (as suggested in Part 1). The majority of these tests are typically in the 5-10 minute range. Occasional longer endurance training can also be beneficial as candidates that pass and are accepted will be expected to perform longer endurance runs and these should not be left completely unfamiliar. In fact, if the wise candidate has planned ahead and dedicated sufficient time to build strength early on then a program can be later implemented to optimally balance all the necessary qualities like strength, stamina, and endurance arriving at test day and later training/employment as a highly fit responder.
The author has 9 years experience as a volunteer firefighter and 13 years as a career firefighter, having competed in numerous recruitment competitions himself and maintained a high level of job-related fitness. In addition, he has prepared other candidates for various recruitments and subsequent fitness for duty. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a FREE No Sweat Intro if you need help preparing for a recruitment competition.