BACKGROUND: Cardiorespiratory fitness and muscular strength is crucial to firefighter preparedness. Although performance variables are important for occupational task, little is known on the impact of wellness programming on improving these variables. PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to understand the impact that embedded fitness programming has on performance variables in rural southeastern firefighters. METHODS: Sixty-five career firefighters from two rural southeastern fire departments (FD) in Georgia participated in this this study. FD 1 had an established wellness program (n = 46, age: 36.1 ± 9.0 yr) and FD 2 acted as a control, with no established wellness program (n=19, age: 30.7 ±10.7 yr). FD 1 undergoes daily personal training and weekly team training programming with certified exercise professionals. Both FD performed a test battery consisting of 1RM bench press, isometric mid-thigh pull, isometric plank, pushups to fatigue, sit and reach, vertical jump, and VO2max test, conducted in a laboratory setting. Independent samples t-tests were run (α = 0.05) to compare FD results on all variables of interest. RESULTS: Significant differences were seen between the two FD in the following variables: Pushup test (FD 1: 30.4 ± 9.2 reps, FD 2: 21.0 ± 13.5; p < 0.01); Sit and Reach test (FD 1: 27.5 ± 8.5 in, FD 2: 11.9 ± 3.3; p < 0.01); VO2max test (FD 1: 43.8 ± 7.6 ml/kg/min, FD 2: 34.5 ± 7.6; p < 0.01). No differences existed between FD in the 1RM bench press (p = 0.36), isometric mid-thigh pull (p = 0.20), isometric plank (p = 0.49), or vertical jump (p = 0.76). CONCLUSIONS: While not universal, it appears that the embedded fitness program improves performance variables compared to a control fire department for rural firefighters. Most importantly, VO2max performance, which has been highlighted by firefighter organizations as crucial to occupational success, was improved in FD 1 compared to FD 2, indicating that an embedded program may help cardiovascular performance in this population. The submitted work was conducted without funding.

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