Linear Progression

By: Travis Rask

For the next 12 weeks, we’re going focus on the basic barbell work.  This challenging style of programming will have athletes doing the following lifts every week:

  •  Squat
  • Deadlift
  •  Press
  •  Bench Press
  •  Clean/Snatch

The nature of linear progression is progressive overload.  Athletes will be adding weight to the above lifts every training session, until they reach a stall point (which we will cover shortly).  The added weight every session will drive progress and improve strength.  Assistance work and conditioning will be programmed as well.

One-week template:

Squat / 2×5 / 1×5+
*Bench / 2×5 / 1×5+
*Chins / 3×10
Glute Ham Situp OR Ab Roller / 3×10

Conditioning – Light

*Press / 2×5 / 1×5+
*Dips (ring or bar) / 3×10
Clean or Snatch / 1-3 reps (varied)
Deadlift / 1×5+
Conditioning – Medium


Squat / 2×5 / 1×5+
*Bench / 2×5 / 1×5+
*Chins / 3×10
Glute Ham Raise OR Romanian Deadlift (RDL) / 3×10

Conditioning – Intense


*Movements marked with an asterisk are done in alternating fashion.  In the week above, bench press/chins are conducted on Mon/Fri.  The following week the frequency is reversed, with press/dips conducted on Mon/Fri, and bench/chins on Wednesday.

Squats will always be performed on Mon/Fri, and Cleans/Snatch/DL will always be performed on Wednesday.

Set/Rep/Weight Schemes

Sets for the basic barbell lifts will be organized in the following fashion**:

  •  Set 1: 5 reps
  •  Set 2: 5 reps
  •  Set 3: 5+ reps (AMRAP)*

*For the deadlift, only one AMRAP set of 5+ will be conducted.
**All assistance exercises will be as prescribed, weight chosen individually.

Athletes should use the suggested guidelines for adding weight:

  • Squat: 5lb/session
  •  Deadlift: 5lb/session
  •  Clean/Snatch: 5lb/session
  •  Bench: 2.5-5lb/session
  •  Press: 2.5-5lb/session

Example of LP in action:

Squat / #185 / 2×5 / 1×9
Bench / #135 / 2×5 / 1×10
Chins / 3×10
Ab Roller / 3×10

Press / #95 / 2×5 / 1×12
Power Clean / #155 / Heavy single
Deadlift / #225 / 1x4F
Dips / 3×10

Squat / #190 / 2×5 / 1×8
Bench / #135 / 2×5 / 1×10
Chins / 3×10
RDL / #135 / 3×10

Stall/Reset Process

While this program is only 12 weeks long, there is a possibility some athletes may reach a point where progress stalls, and they are no longer able to add weight every training session and still meet the 5 rep minimum for all prescribed sets.
When this occurs, athletes shall remove 10% from the most recent 5RM for the respective stalled movement, and work their way back up using the same loading process.  For example, in the Deadlift set for the “snapshot” above, the athlete failed at the 4th rep.  They will remove 25lbs (rounded up) and perform their next set at 200lbs.  It is likely they will achieve 10+ reps, and as they work through the reset process they will likely achieve a minimum of 5 reps the next time they reach 225lbs.  Due to the nature of the 3rd/AMRAP set in this style of programming, athletes will be able to measure progress in by noting increases in AMRAP sets as they work their weights back up.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q:    How much weight do I start with?
A:    Remove 10% from your current 5RM to establish all baseline lifts.  DO NOT START THE PROGRAM USING A TRUE 5RM, THIS WILL RESULT IN AN EARLY STALL. Using this formula, you should reach a new PR at approximately the 3rd week.  This should provide for several weeks of progression, and leave time for reset progression if needed.

Q:    How much weight do I add every session?
A:    Aim to add 5lbs to every squat, clean, and deadlift session.  The same amount can be added to the pressing movements, but at some point in time it will be very difficult to add 5lbs without stalling quickly.  This is based on personal experience and feel.  It is suggested that athletes purchase fractional plates in smaller increments.  A cheaper option of doing this is the purchase of large washers, which can be measured in taped in appropriate increments.

Q:     How do I work in cleans and snatches?
A:    Cleans and snatches will be programmed in sets of 1-3 repetitions, and will serve as a warm up for the deadlift work set.   Athletes will be given the choice of which exercise to use.

Q:    How much weight should I use for assistance work?
A:    Assistance work is ancillary, and should be conducted ONLY after the main lifts have been completed. Use a manageable weight.

Q:     This program is taxing.  I’m sleepy and sore all the time.
A:    Ensure you’re getting LOTS of sleep, food, and stretching.  EAT! Now is not the time to obsess over whether you look as good as Zyzz.

Q:    How can I work this program around my work schedule?
A:    Do the best you can to make all barbell work.  If you miss a conditioning WOD by moving a squat session from Friday to Saturday, fine.  The cornerstone of this training are the basic lifts.

Q:    I’m doing all those things, and I’m still tired.  What should I do now?
A:    If you’re well fed and rested, and still tired, you should consider dropping ancillary work.  This can be achieved by removing a conditioning workout or two, and some assistance work if needed.  The basic barbell work shall NOT be removed.

Q:    Are there any good reference materials for barbell work or linear progression programming?
A:    Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, 3rd Edition by Mark Rippetoe is an outstanding resource and a worthwhile addition to any firefighters library.  You can also reference the Greyskull LP (GSLP) program this is modeled after by visiting

Q:    I’m still not getting this program, and have a subject question not listed in this article.  What do I do now?
A:    Post a comment below.  I will monitor comments regularly, and answer any additional questions as they arise.

Enjoy the Program!

SCBA Emergency Procedures

The video below is the beginning of a discussion of SCBA Emergency Procedures and Stress Inoculation Training. Competency with our equipment leads to confidence; confidence leads to a greater capacity to thrive when we find ourselves in high stress, time compressed scenarios on the fireground. Work these basic SCBA Emergency Procedures into your regular SCBA Checks and Personal Training.

Who I Am Today

By: Trevor Bertram

After following Fire Service Warrior for almost two years, I found a piece that made me reflect on my journey with FSW. Jason Jefferies’ “What FSW has done for me” brought on thoughts of what a strong, supportive community of like-minded people can help you accomplish. This same community helped lead me in a life-changing journey only a few short years ago.

December 31st, 2010, I stepped onto a scale for the first time in over 6 months; the reading took me by surprise. What I saw on the screen literally took my breath away—265 pounds. A number that I never thought I would associate with myself. In my mind I knew that the majority of this weight was fat and I was well on my way to becoming another fire service statistic. Here I was an 18 year-old firefighter ready for a career of making a difference in my community, hardly able to sustain a minute of hard work around my house, let alone the fire ground. Today, almost two years later, I am more prepared for myself, my brothers, and my community as a result of much of the efforts put forth in the FSW community.

I knew after seeing the scale something had to change, and that change had to start within. I knew no one could fix this issue and weakness besides me.  It started on January 1st, 2011; I set out on my first run since high school sports. I laced my shoes up, lined up with the brisk, cold Kentucky wind to my back, and hit the road. After a few blocks, I struggled to continue. I immediately felt a huge disappointment that I couldn’t even make it around the block. At the point where I was forced to stop, I could still see my house that I just had departed with such hope of a new day. I knew then that this was the start of a long and hard journey that would change my life. Little did I know, my journey would change not only me, but those around me.

Shortly after beginning this long journey, I searched for resources to assist me, and one day I stumbled across a Facebook page that would later help me in changing my life. It was early spring 2011, and I was barely making progress on lengthening my cardiovascular endurance. I had made vast improvements and could even jog a mile, but I was not ready to effectively function on the fire ground.

While on break during a weekend class at the fire house, I found a page called Fire Service Warrior. At first I wasn’t sure what I was looking at since it was new to me, and somewhat intimidating. Until I went to the website, I did not understand the entire FSW concept. On the FSW website I found examples of the tradition, dedication, motivation, and sacrifice given by all of the contributors.  Each of these concepts I cherish in the fire service. The more and more I dug into this website, the more and more I found that there were people out there with the same goal as mine. Each of the members of this community worked towards excellence each day.

I spent the rest of this day and some of the following days reading this newfound website until my eyes would grow sore. One thing that really struck me in the first day on this site was the FSW Ethos. There were statements in the FSW Ethos that struck me deep to my core. Many of these ideas had been shown to me as I grew up in the fire service.

There was one part of the Ethos that stood out and made me examine myself as a firefighter and as a human. This element was: “Fire Service Warriors acknowledge that to reduce the risk of Cardiac Compromise they will maintain an elite level of fitness.” This statement brought things into perspective. I knew I was headed down a path that was leading to bad health very fast, but this made me realize that I was headed to becoming a statistic.

With this newfound website, I knew I had something to help motivate myself to function at my full potential as a firefighter. This community pushed me forward and gave me the same kick in the rear I received when I saw that 265 on that scale. But the new always wears off, and old habits can prevail. My story doesn’t end there with some miraculous change. Within a few weeks I was back to the unmotivated person I was before. I was not a warrior from the beginning. I was a young, overweight firefighter that had found an awesome website. This website had brought a lot to my attention, but I only took pieces of it straight to my heart. I hadn’t realized yet that half committing myself to this cause would not get me anywhere.

As the months passed, I still jogged around the block a time or two a day and about once a week I would feel frisky enough to ride my bicycle a mile or two. I felt that I was doing something good for my body, but I had also lost the motivation from FSW. The most disappointing part was that I had fallen back into mediocrity and lost the desire to follow the website. Before I knew it, it was mid-summer 2011.

By that time I was able to do what I was comfortable with and I could tell I was making small progress. I could even tell I was becoming stronger on the fire ground, but still wasn’t where I needed to be. One evening I wandered back to the main site of Fire Service Warrior. Again, it had been months since I had been on there and many things had changed, but at its core it was exactly the same.

The second time was the charm, so to speak. I did the same thing I had done the first time, I started with reading the Ethos. Shortly after the Ethos, I dug through articles that I had missed since my last visit. This time around something different occurred in my mind. It was like something or someone had slapped me across the face. I realized that there had been a place from the beginning full of people with exactly the same heart I had for this service.

As the days and week passed I kept a close eye on the FSW main site and the Facebook page. I was reading the articles as they came out and applying the tricks and tips to my life. As the days went by I was finding myself more and more dedicated to my physical fitness and my knowledge of the fire service and fitness because of the things I was finding on this website.

By the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, I was following the FSW WODs. Sure, I was scaling them and usually finishing them feeling like I may die, but with the motivation from those on this website I was accomplishing more than I ever had before. As spring of this year came around, I attended FDIC for the first time; this in itself was an experience beyond words. At FDIC, with the motivation of fellow warriors, I completed my first 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb alongside many of the members of this community.

As the months passed after FDIC, I continued working out every day, trying to follow the FSW WOD at least 3 days a week. In this time period I also completed my first Murph WOD, finishing in 59:59. In July of this year, I took on a mission to really hone in on becoming the best me possible. I started following the FSW WOD every day, using the motivation from fellow warriors to push myself farther than ever before.

As of today, when I step onto the scale the reading does not take my breath away like it did in January of 2011. With the help and motivation of fellow warriors, I have completed three Murphs with a PR of sub-40 minutes, completed two 9-11 Stair Climbs, and I have run a 5K. Sure those aren’t impressive stats, but without FSW I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I am a healthier person because of the help and encouragement I have received from the FSW community. Striving to become a better me has prepared me with the necessary physical and mental tools to see that I make it home to my family after each shift. This endeavor has also affected my life outside of the fire service with my fiancé. With the tools provided on the main site, together we have shaped a paleo diet and do CrossFit-style workouts that ensure we are both physically and mentally prepared for our life together. I plan to continue applying the mindset of the FSW Ethos to all aspects of my life to ensure I do not find myself where I was before.

To this day, the Fire Service Warrior Ethos hangs in my locker at the fire house. As I continue to grow as a firefighter, warrior, and person, I want to thank all the fellow warriors who have motivated, inspired, questioned, and pushed me over the last two years. Without the members of this community standing beside me there is a probability that I would have become another tragic fire service statistic. To the members of the FSW community who have helped and supported me over the last two years, I will be forever grateful. And, in an attempt to express my gratitude I will help fellow firefighters who stumble upon this community in the same way I did.


Trevor Bertram is a second generation Fireman with the Monticello (KY) Fire department.


TABATA Training

Editors Note: This is a re-posted article from April 2012 to provide easily referenced information on Tabata work. It comes to us from Kelsey Romshek. Kelsey is a CrossFit L1 Trainer, NSCA-CPT and he is a Firefighter/EMT-B, in Lincoln Nebraska. He also works as a trainer at CrossFit Lincoln.

As Firefighters, we have to be fit, and we have to be strong.  We wear over 70+ pounds of gear each time we go to work at an alarm.  Our hydraulic tools weigh 40+ pounds.  We have to move medical patients, rescue victims, and downed firefighters.   That said, we have to be able to move our bodies efficiently, as well as be able to apply force to move external objects.  This is where the CrossFit training program comes into play for Firefighters.

As Chris has pointed out, CrossFit is simply “Constantly varied, functional movements, performed at high intensity.”  How does CrossFit do this?  By incorporating a good balance of three things: metabolic conditioning, gymnastics, and weight lifting.  For quick reference, metabolic conditioning is considered to be a repetitive, full body movement that causes a rise is cardiorespiratory output such as running, rowing, or jump roping; gymnastics is simply moving the body through space;  and weight lifting is applying force to move an external object.

In February, Travis Rask wrote a great article about the back squat.  I couldn’t agree more with what Travis wrote about the back squat and the importance of lifting and training heavy for our profession.   But what about the guys in the fire houses that don’t have access to that equipment?  What about when guys take off on a vacation to the beaches of Cancun, or the mountains of Colorado? How can they maintain what they’ve trained so hard for?  That’s where Tabata workouts can be another tool for you to use in your quest to refine your “Physical Readiness” as a Fire Service Warrior.

Tabata training was developed by a Japanese researcher named Dr. Izumi Tabata who was working with Olympic speed skaters.  In his study, he found that a control group using his training method of 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest, for eight intervals, saw greater VO2 Max improvement than the other group that trained with 60 minute sessions.  How does this apply to fire fighters instead of Olympic speed skaters?  How does this apply to Travis’ previous article and developing strength?

Strength is considered to be an anaerobic function, meaning that most strength movements, or work sets areperformed within 10-20 seconds.  Aerobic functions are considered to be movements, or work sets lasting longer than three minutes.  As firefighters, we perform movements that require strength and need to be powerful, however we must continue doing them until the fire is out and overhaul and salvage are all done.  It has been scientifically shown that if you only focus on aerobic training your body will improve on aerobic training only, with a detrimental effect to anaerobic training, however with high intensity anaerobic conditioning, both improve.  Tabata workouts mix these functions as we perform movements at high intensity, for 20 seconds, recover for 10 seconds, yet repeat for an overall work period of four minutes.  In CrossFit, high intensity is defined in terms of power output, or the amount of work (force x distance x repetitions) performed per unit of time.  For Tabata workouts, our time factor is set at 20 seconds, with our variables of intensity being weight (force) and repetitions.  We can choose any movements or exercises to do in a Tabata workout.

One common Tabata workout seen in CrossFit is “Tabata Something Else” in which you do four different body weight exercises: Pull Ups, Push Ups, Sit Ups, and Squats.  One body weight exercise is performed for eight sets, and then you move on to the next for a total of 32 intervals of work.  This is roughly a 16 minute full body anaerobic and aerobic workout!

Keep in mind, any exercise or combination of exercises can be used.  Other common Tabata exercises often found on CrossFit Football’s website ( such as Tabata Sledge Hammer Swings and Tabata Slam Balls are all firefighter specific movements found in forcible entry or ventilation techniques.  Use whatever equipment you have available to you, whether that’s simply your body weight for squats, pushups, or pull ups, or perhaps tractor tire for tire flips.  Be creative and as Chris said in a previous post, “You are a full grown adult with free will; you can do anything you want.  Educate yourself, know your goals, and make the choice for yourself. “

Tabata workouts are a great choice if you have limited equipment at your station, you are at a busy station and have limited time to work out, you are traveling on vacation and have little access to equipment, you need something different in your programming, or if you’re just coming off a lazy weekend and need a good burn.  I know budget is an important issue across the country within the fire service, and Tabata workouts are an easy way to be creative with what little resources we may have in the time being.  For additional ideas for body weight workouts, or workouts involving limited equipment, check out and download the free pdf file for 19 pages worth of WODs.

Be aware, that while Tabata training improves your aerobic and anaerobic conditioning, its still important within your fitness programming to lift heavy weight to challenge and improve the tensile strength of the actual muscle fibers and connective tissue, as well as an increase in bone density, balance and coordination while under a load.  Since we move heavy external objects as fire fighters, we must train with heavy external objects.  Tabata training is merely another tool to use in your arsenal in your quest to become a physically prepared Fire Service Warrior.

The Back Squat: King of Lifts

By: Travis Rask

Approximately one year ago today I broke my foot while training on duty. For several years I had followed a steady diet of CrossFit. While I was very satisfied with my progress form a naïve and deconditioned mess 3 years prior, there was one major problem with my physical fitness repertoire: I was weak. Piss poor weak.

Sure, I could bench my own body weight and hit a 1.5 body weight squat, but I knew the potential for more was there. I knew my fireground work capacity would benefit from a strength based focus and some extra muscle mass. Unfortunately, I shot gunned a little too much of the “Cool-aid” and was drunkenly belligerent in my opinions and fixation on being lean and quick at the expense of strength and power.

Broken bones and extra time at home can either lead to two things: complacency or opportunity. I chose to turn my setback into an opportunity to improve my fireground capacity by getting stronger.

Enter Linear Progression

During my years of combing the CrossFit message boards, I had come across a thread in which someone said back squats and deadlifts are great for not only injury prevention, but also injury rehabilitation. Considering the fact I had a broken 5th metatarsal and was able to bear weight in a stationary position, I thought I’d give some strength work ago.

I cracked open my copy of Starting Strength: 2nd Edition by Mark Rippetoe, and learned the timeless story of Milo of Croton, the Greek Wrestler who built his strength by carrying the same calf every day, from infancy to adulthood. The weight became progressively heavier, and Milo became progressively stronger.

The basis of Rippetoe’s programming is the same: lifters utilize a core group of 5 compound movements, and add weight every time they perform them:

Back Squat: 3×5 (Monday, Wednesday, Friday)
Deadlift: 1×5 (Wednesday)
Clean: 5×3 (Wednesday)
Bench Press: 3×5 (Monday/Friday, Wednesday*)
Press: 3×5 (Wednesday, Monday/Friday*)

*Press/Bench Press alternate between 1-2 sessions every week

This is the impetus for growth, and it works very well.

The Back Squat: The Centerpiece of Strength Progression

At the core of the Starting Strength program is the back squat. A commonly misunderstood and underutilized movement, the back squat is the most comprehensive exercise available to a lifter. According to Rippetoe, the squat “is the single most useful exercise in the weight room, and the most valuable tool for building strength, power and size.” [SS page 8].

When proper form is utilized, the full depth back squat works almost every muscle in the body. It builds the quads, hamstrings, and hips. It solidifies the core. It strengthens the back. It thrashes the lungs. And most importantly, it hardens the mind. You can walk a way from a heavy dead lift or a clean, and you can rack a heavy military press. These are difficult and valuable movements in their own right, but they pale in comparison to the mental and physical beating that awaits the mind and body when you put a heavy load on your shoulders and take a step back towards the hell that is a heavy set of squats.

As Rippetoe states, there is no equivalent:

“There is simply no other exercise, and certainly no machine, that produces the level of central nervous system activity, improved balance and coordination, skeletal loading and bone density enhancement, muscular simulation and growth, connective tissue stress and strength, psychological demand and toughness, and overall systemic conditioning than a correctly performed full squat. In the absence of an injury that prevents their being performed at all, everyone that lifts weights should learn to squat, correctly.” [SS, page 12]

Hard Work and Practical Results

I followed the Starting Strength program for 12 weeks. My linear progression ended very positively across the board. Most notably, my 5-rep work sets in the squat improved from 135lbs to 315lbs. My broken foot healed quickly. I’m not a doctor, and this article is not peer reviewed – but I am 100% confident it healed faster due a little sweat equity in the gym.

I moved on to several advanced linear progression programs before settling into 531 this month. In the past year, my back squat has improved from a tested 1RM of 245lbs to 385lbs. My other lifts have experienced similar improvements.

From a work and wellness perspective, I have benefited greatly from a strength based programming model centered on the back squat. Prior to beginning Starting Strength last year, I could always count on suffering a pretty bad back tweak every 6 months ago. In fact, during the December prior to my foot injury my back was so badly tweaked I couldn’t even dead lift 135lbs. I have sustained no back injuries (or any other injuries) since, even en lieu of lifting heavy three times per week for an entire year. I would wager my back and core are stronger than ever!

The heavier aspects of my fireground work have improved greatly as well. I can slam a 28’ ladder on pavement with ease. My hose handling and comfort is much improved.

My conditioning has not suffered as much as I thought it would. I can’t crack out a 35:00 “Murph” like I did at 170lbs, but my work capacity in heavier WODs (a much better representation of our fireground workload in my humble opinion) is much improved. For example, last week I did a quick 21-15-9 of KBS (1.5 pood) and Calorie Row at an 85% pace. I finished in 4:00, and all my rounds were unbroken. Not a blistering time, but certainly not bad either. I believe the strength prescription has made hard work easier.

Looking back over the past year, I can say without hesitation my decision to focus on Strength (six-pack gods be damned) and most notably the Squat has been the most positive decision of my fitness programming since discovering CrossFit four years ago.

In the next segment of this article I will review the mechanics of the back squat and some suggestions based on my recent experience.

When You Always Remember You Never Forget

By: Brian Brush

On the morning of December 13th 2011, I stood on the roof of a hotel 23 stories above Ground Zero in New York City. I was with a small group from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb Committee. We had just finished climbing 110 flights of stairs to honor those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center which once stood on the ground we over looked. The night before Ron Sarnicki, Executive Director of the NFFF presented the FDNY Counseling Services Unit with a donation of over $150,000 from the 2011 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb Campaign.

I remember walking out of the stairwell to the roof that morning and feeling a chill as the wind quickly cooled my sweat-soaked shirt. I remember the sun coming up, looking over the memorial, staring up at the freedom tower and hearing the constant mechanical noises which all so perfectly exhibited progress and tribute. I remember how I felt that morning, standing in that setting, knowing that my work as a member of a team helped raise the money which was presented the night before. I remember being proud that I had kept my promise to never forget. I remember feeling that I had made a difference. I remember that the experience of those moments had a profound effect and yet it did not prepare me for the confirmation I was about to receive.

Two hours later in a classroom at the FDNY Training Center I sat just across a table from Fire Commissioner Cassano as he described in heartfelt detail how important the Counseling Unit was to his department. He directly attributed their services to saving lives, saving marriages and even saving families of survivors. He also explained to us that after 10 years the unit was scheduled to be closed due to funding shortages.  Instead, our donation would allow the unit to remain open another year. The Commissioner of the FDNY personally thanked and left each one of us with, “I promise that you are continuing to make a difference in our survivors’ lives”

A year later I think back to that trip to New York. I think of the climb in Lucas Oil Stadium last April at FDIC where the entire exhibition floor fell silent for Amazing Grace and the initial ascent of over 200 climbers.  I also think of the phone call we received at our station in July when Joe Minogue (FDNY Ret. now with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation) let us know that without the support of the stair climbs the FDNY Counseling Unit would not have been able to travel to Colorado and help provide counseling to the Aurora Fire Department dealing with the response to the tragic theater shooting.  I think of the night in August when 25 members of the late Lt. Kevin Dowdell (Rescue 4 – 9/11/2001) had dinner at our station with the rig that Kevin answered his last alarm on. I think of how I felt seeing nearly 2,000 people climbing stairs in front of me at Red Rocks Amphitheater on 9/11.

I was not in New York City on 9/11/2001, I do not work for the FDNY and I did not loose co-workers or family in any of the attacks on that dreadful day. Should that change anything?

As I continue to experience years like the last 365 days have been; 9/11 is no longer a date or an event. It is something that I have so many memories, thoughts and connections to that it is part of me. It has taught me that you may have “Never Forget” on a shirt or a sticker but unless it is written on your heart and displayed in your actions it is just 11 letters and ink.

For 2013 I would ask you to think about your promise to Never Forget. If you think that the years have put too much time and distance between you, the 343, and over 2600 other Americans taken on that day I would ask that you step back up for them. It is becoming just a “Day of Remembrance” on calendars and in people’s minds. Charities and services like the FDNY Counseling Services Unit are going dry, children are coming of age that weren’t old enough to understand or even born when we watched those towers fall.

Below are just a few of the ways you can help with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb Campaign. From buying a t-shirt as a Christmas present, finding a climb near you next year or contacting Billy Hinton to get the information on how you can organize a climb. The stair climbs are not the only way to honor 9/11, it is in fact one of thousands within the fire service and beyond. I just speak to it because it has been my path which has brought rewarding and humbling moments with every step.

9/11 on 12/13 may just look like bad math but I hope it serves as point for you to reconsider that pledge we all made. I hope to see you on the stairs next year, but I can’t wait until then. I’ll be getting my 110 in for the 343 this morning, a Thursday in December, because when we always remember we will Never Forget.

Colorado 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb Shirt –

National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Fundraiser Stair Climb Shirt –

National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Stair Climb Homepage –

2012 FDIC Climb

Why We Climb

Form and Function of the Back Squat





By: Travis Rask – Travis Rask works for Snohomish County Fire District 7 in Clearview, WA. He is a fourth generation firefighter and a member of the Puget Sound FOOLS.

In the previous article titled, “The Back Squat: King of Lifts” I gave a general summary of my experience with a heavy lifting routine centered around barbell squats, and its relevance and value to my fire service career. Today, we’re going to discuss general form and function considerations.

First and foremost: I’m not an expert.  I am a firefighter who is passionate about my career, which has benefited greatly from wide variety of strength and conditioning programs.  The hard work performed in the past year has made many functions of my assigned position more manageable.

The journey is never complete, and there are always new weaknesses to be discovered and mitigated. That being said, I am 100% confident of one thing:  my career has benefited, and will continue to benefit from a strength-based routine centered around basic heavy movements such as the back squat, the deadlift, the press, and the bench press and supplemented by intense conditioning.

Furthermore, there are many different opinions on how the work is performed.  Over the past year, I have vetted out the methods of Louie Simmons, Jim Wendler, Mark Rippetoe, Charles Poliquin, Dave Tate and many others.  Many of the form considerations in this article were drawn from Mark Rippetoe, author of Starting Strength and owner of the namesake website

Finally, mastery basic barbell movements require much more than what can be covered in a single article.  For further information, I highly suggest purchasing the 3rd  edition of Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training.


As noted above – barbell movements such as the squat require a great deal of time, effort, practice and coaching to master.  For the purpose of today’s article, I’m going to break the squat up into 3 parts:

  • The rack position
  • The descent
  • The ascent

 The Rack position

Always start your squat sessions with an empty bar, racked at a height equal with the middle of the sternum.  I prefer to use the low bar racking position, which places the barbell just below the spine of the scapula, on top of the posterior deltoids.

To determine the position, place your palms on the bar with your elbows back and elevated behind you (pictured) Run the bar along your upper back until you feel the “wedge” between your deltoids and traps.  This is your rack position in the low bar back squat (see enrichment 1).

The low bar position.

 As noted in Starting Strength, Rippetoe prefers the back position because it, “shortens the lever arm formed by the weight of the bar transmitted down the back to the hips, producing less torque a the low back and consequently a safer exercise”[1].

The rack position should be tight.  The base of your palms and thumbs should run over the bar, with the wrists tight and the elbows back.  This essentially forms a position similar to a “headlock”, which reduces compression on the elbows and wrists.

With proper bar positioning, you’re ready to step back and prepare to squat.  I highly suggest economizing your movements by taking as few steps back as possible into your starting position.  This will make a difference when the weights are increased.

 Ready to roll.

 With your head down and eyes focused 5-7 feet ahead, place your heels directly below your hips, with your toes pointed outward at a 30-degree angle (approx).   You’re almost ready to descend – but not before two more critical components.

Proper foot angle can be aided by marking the floor.

 First, you will need to secure your core.  This is done by taking a deep diaphragm breath and holding it.  This creates intra-abdominal pressure and helps secure your spine (I would suggest further encapsulating this pressure with a belt as your reach higher weights).

Second, arch your back and back your hips out (see enrichment 2).  This will help facilitate proper hip drive, which is the centerpiece of the squat and will be discussed in subsequent sections. 

Observe the difference in hip/lower back position relative to the bar.  Proper hip/back arch (right) places the bar over the center of the foot, which in turn will facilitate proper hip drive.

The Descent

With your breath held, lower your body, beginning with your hips.  This should feel almost like you’re sitting.  It should not begin with the bending of the knees, which displaces the role of the hips in providing the engine for the movement.

As you descend, the weight should be centered over the foot (as it should the entire movement).  The knees should remain in alignment with the toes, and should move forward in position over the toes (after the hips dropping) during the beginning of the descent, where they should remain until the ascent carries them back up to the starting position.  Think “knees out”!

The depth of the squat should be slightly below parallel or lower.  This is measured at the crease between the hips and the upper thigh, NOT the mid thigh or knee.  As noted by Rippetoe, “Any squat that is not deep is a partial squat, and partial squats stress only the knee and quadriceps without stressing the glutes, the abductors, or hamstrings”[2].  There are many opinions on depth, which can be argued ad infinitum.  Ask yourself this: When you’re humping hose down zero visibility hallways, what position are you in?  This should clear any concerns regarding the translation value of proper depth.

The positive indicator of an adequate squat is depth, measured at the crease of the hip

As you reach the bottom of the squat you will “bounce” into through a process of counterbalancing between you posterior chain, your hips and your thighs, which in turn leads to hip drive and the ascent.

 The Ascent

As you hit the “bounce” at the bottom of the squat, come out by simply driving your butt straight up in the air.  The movement of the hips should be up, and not forward.  If done correctly, your knees, chest and bar should follow correctly as well.  As said by Rippetoe, “Just drive your hips out of the bottom and the rest will take care of itself” [3].

User demonstration of hip drive and general squat form.

Further considerations on equipment and general form.

When you get to the top, take a few deep breaths and start again.  Rinse, wash, repeat.


As noted before, the back squat has been a positive addition to my strength and conditioning regimen.  The information today is highly compressed and provides only a fraction of the knowledge provided in the suggested reading.

This concludes part 2 of the 3 part series on the back squat and general strength and conditioning.  In part 3 we will discuss assistance work and general conditioning/metcons I have found useful and sport specific to the combat modalities of firefighting.


[1] Rippetoe, Mark: Low bar position.  Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training.  2nd Edition. Page 19. Wichita Falls, TX: The Aasgard Company, 2007.


[2] Rippetoe, Mark: Squat depth. Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training.  2nd Edition. Page 10-11. Wichita Falls, TX: The Aasgard Company, 2007.


[3] Rippetoe, Mark: Hip drive. Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training.  2nd Edition. Page 17. Wichita Falls, TX: The Aasgard Company, 2007.




[1]Starting Strength Platform:  The Bar Position.


[2] Starting Strength Platform:  Lower Back Position Control.


FSWFitness Warm Up

Every FSW WOD begins with the prescribed warm up. With FSWFoundations being delivered this week and many new visitors to the site we felt it was important to fully explain and demonstrate the warm up. For those of you pressed for time or just starting to engage in a fitness program you will see improvement in your fitness just performing the warm up alone everyday.

Hose Workouts

We often get questions about modifying workouts that start with 3 words “We don’t have….” We don’t have rings, we don’t have ropes, we don’t have a gym. For this reason we put together a quick video at CrossFit Ken Caryl with owner Paul Longfellow to show you some workouts with something you all should have at work, HOSE.

One warning disclosure – Do not climb a hose or rope beyond a height you are willing to fall from. Operate within your comfort or with a crash pad at all times.


Clean it Up

By: Brian Brush

Since I started following the CrossFit model of functional fitness I have seen improvement in my strength and work capacity, however I have found that this is only half of the true value. For the last 4 years I have been fortunate enough to work at a fire company with two certified instructors and academy fitness program coordinators. The level of understanding and application of functional fitness to fire ground specific duties that they have shared has been one of the biggest factors in elevating my training and performance. Today I would like to pass on an example of the direct connection by discussing and demonstrating using the clean to move equipment from the ground up on to your shoulder.

Please watch and share these videos in the order they are presented. Start with the instructional video and skill development of the medicine ball clean and progress to workouts that incorporate the tools of our craft.

Medicine Ball Cleans

Ladder Cleans

Ladder Power Cleans with a flip by Chuck Olson