A reader asked me to help with a routine for the firefighter physical ability test. After some research and planning, I believe I have a routine that should be used to help you pass this test. This article is going to show what a version of the physical ability test consists of, what exercises you can use to train for each event, and how to integrate this training in with a gym routine.
This routine is also useful for anyone who wants to get in shape. Being a firefighter means you need to have functional strength for carrying ladders, people, dragging heavy objects, and lots of conditioning.
With each event, I will list several different exercises you can do in order to increase your ability to do that event. I will include exercises that you can do in the gym plus exercises that require special equipment like a heavy sandbag or a prowler sled.
Firefighter Physical Ability Test (PAT) Events
This event simulates continuous stair climbing, an activity that firefighters may perform when getting to a fire at an incident scene. For this event, you will be required to step on a rotating staircase (also known as a stepmill) at a pre-determined stepping pace for a specific period of time. You will get a 5-minute rest period after this event. The required time to remain on the stepmill is 200 seconds.
This event simulates various activities related to using ladders. You will be required to remove a ladder from a rack, carry it some distance, raise a weight of approximately 45 lbs. attached to a rope that simulates the raising of an extension ladder, lower that weight and return the ladder to the rack from which it was taken. The event ends when the ladder is back in the rack. The time limit is 35.56 seconds.
This event simulates the actions necessary to manipulate a fully charged fire hose. You will be required to pull 50 feet of hose through a U-shaped course with several turns. There will be a ceiling on the U-shaped course to prevent you from standing upright. The time limit is 20.00 seconds.
This event simulates breaking down a door to gain entry to a burning structure or an incident scene. For this event you will be required to strike a rubber pad mounted on a moveable post. You will use a 12 lb. sledgehammer to move the post a set distance. The post and structure are weighted to simulate the force you would need to exert on a door in order to gain entrance. The time limit is 13.91 seconds.
This event simulates the actions necessary to enter and search a smoke-filled structure. You will be required to crawl through a dark wooden tunnel with obstructions and turns. The tunnel is approximately 65 feet long. The tunnel is 4 feet high and 4 feet wide. At one location in the tunnel there is an obstacle on the floor and at one location there is an obstacle from the ceiling. In addition, at two locations, the tunnel is reduced from 4 to 3 feet in width. The time limit is 39.00 seconds.
Rescue Through a Doorway
This event simulates the actions necessary to drag an unconscious victim out through a doorway to get the victim to safety. You will be required to drag a 125 pound dummy approximately 30 feet, along a zigzag course to a designated area at the end of the course. In this event, there is a low ceiling over the course to prevent you from standing upright. The time limit is 36.00 seconds.
Ceiling Hook (Pike Pole)
This event simulates the use of a pike pole or ceiling hook. A pike pole or ceiling hook is a fire fighting tool used to tear down ceilings or open walls while looking for hidden fires. This event will require you to take a pike pole, tipped with an industrial hammer head, and thrust it upward at a metal plate in an 8 foot ceiling. The metal plate weighs approximately 60 lbs. And must be lifted six inches in order for the strike to count. You will then step over to the next part of the event, where a pike pole handle is suspended from a ceiling height. The pole is attached to a counter balance that weighs approximately 80 lbs. You must pull the pole down six inches in order for the pull to count. You will be required to perform one push and five pulls in a sequence. The event will require you to perform four one-minute periods of work, in which you will try to do as many push-pull sequences as possible. Each work period will be followed by a 30 second rest period. You must complete 25 full repetitions.
Being a firefighter is a demanding career and conditioning is extremely important. Having the ability to push hard and keep going no matter what is important to saving lives and moving fast. To improve conditioning, high intensity interval training and a lot of explosive type of cardio is recommended. This means hill sprints, short back to back sprints such as a 40 yard dash, sled drags, suicide runs, and prowler pushes.
When your conditioning is good, you are able to do more, work harder, and do everything longer with more endurance. With that being said, a lot of these events will advise you to run as super-sets; doing one exercise and jumping to the next with little to no rest.
After some research, the weights and time limits used can vary between different departments so be sure to check out your department’s physical abilities test to understand what to test for.
For the step mill endurance test, you should have a place with a step mill. Use the step mill for 5 minutes every day you go train so you can get the blood flowing through your body and to simply get better at walking up steps.
In order to have better endurance with the step mill, you are going to have to run or walk up steps, use a step mill, run up hills, push a prowler, or do mountain climbers. This test will test your mind more than your body.
Doing one 30 minute session of your cardio during the week on a step mill will give you better endurance for this event.
I contacted a few firefighters and people aspiring to become a firefighter and I was told the ladder event is one of the more important events to do well on. For this event you are going to have to be able to un-rack a big ladder, carry it, raise a weight of ~45 pounds, lower it, run back and re-rack the ladder. There is a time limit set as well.
Training for this event is going to be tricky, you are going to have to be able to do some overhead pressing, carrying weight quickly, and pushing and pulling some weight. When I see videos of this event, I see that overhead pressing, lat pull downs, core work, and farmer’s walks for training. Balancing a ladder when running is something you will have to learn, but I can get you the ability to be conditioned enough.
- Barbell or dumbbell overhead press
- Farmer’s walks
- Lat pull downs (close or wide grip)
- Pull ups or chin ups
- Sandbag sprints *
- Prowler pushes *
- Kettlebell swings *
- Medicine ball work *
These exercises are the same type of movements that are needed to complete this event. The exercises with a * requires special equipment. Kettlebell and medicine ball work helps build your core muscles and will help you be more explosive.
When you think of this event, think about pulling and tug of war. Lots of rows and conditioning is key here. Your back is going to have to be strong and you’re going to need to be able to pull a heavy hose through a U-Shaped course with multiple turns.
You are going to need good pulling strength and endurance as well as conditioning to not gas out while doing this. Some test show you running with the hose, either way you are going to have to build up strength and conditioning.
- Bent over barbell rows
- 1 arm dumbbell rows
- Seated rows (close grip or 1 arm)
- Prowler pulls (arm over arm or row style)
- 1 Arm dumbbell snatch
- Running Backwards
- Row Machine
Depending on your department, there are different versions of the forcible entry test. Some have a sledgehammer you have to hit into a movable post and some have you hit a tire with a sledgehammer. Find out exactly what you have to do for this event so you are not blindsided by something you’ve never attempted before.
For this, power, endurance, and strength to use a sledgehammer is going to be essential. The forcible entry is using a sledgehammer to break down a door so you can enter. This involves a lot of core strength as well as full body strength and agility.
The most ideal exercise to train for this event is to get a large tire from a tire shop (think tractor tire) and get a heavy sledgehammer. I’ve seen requirements ranging from 8 to 12 pound sledgehammers, so using a heavier hammer never hurts. Swing the sledgehammer into the tire as many times as possible for a certain set time. I would suggest starting at 30 second times swinging as many times as you possibly can with as much force as possible.
Check out this video of Derek Poundstone doing sledgehammer work. At 34 seconds he will start the sledgehammer training.
- Medicine Ball Throws (both as high as you can in the air, and slamming into the ground)
- Side bends
- Reverse hypers
- Decline bench situps (add in throwing a medicine ball at the top for an extra challenge)
- Lat Pull Downs
These exercises focus a lot on core and power so use as much force as possible for these exercises. Keep your heart rate high and work on conditioning here. You’re not using heavy weight so try to produce as much power possible to move the weight and build the endurance to keep doing it. Any type of core and ab work here is beneficial so if you have any exercises you enjoy doing, be sure to add them in.
The search event simulates actions necessary for a search and rescue. Depending on the department your obstacles will be different, but you will have to stoop, bend, and possibly crawl through the course to complete this. To train for this event, you will be using mostly football type drills and bodyweight exercises so you are more agile.
Rescue Through a Doorway
This event requires you to drag an object that is 100+ pounds depending on department approximately 30 feet along a zigzag course to a designated area at the end of the course. A lot of walking backwards, dragging, pulling, and conditioning are required for this event.
An ideal exercise would be to pull a heavy bag or a sandbag that weighs 100+ pounds because this would simulate an unconscious victim. The second best exercise would be to do sled pulls with 100+ pounds. This is going to require some endurance with your quads, back, as well as strength to hold onto the person.
- Front squats
- Goblet squats
- Barbell shrugs
- Reverse hypers
- Sled pulls
- Heavy bag pulls
- Farmers walks
- Sprinting (holding medicine ball or a 100 pound plate if you have it)
- Running backwards with a weight vest on
Ceiling Hook (Pike Pole)
This event seems to vary greatly, but I will use the use a weighted pike pole and knock a plate that is over your head and weighs 60 pounds at least 6 inches in order to pass.
- 1 Arm standing dumbbell overhead press
- Military press
- Overhead Squats
- Front lateral raises
- Seated overhead press (1 arm dumbbell or barbell)
- Medicine ball throws (up into air)
How can I add this into my gym time?
So you like going to the gym and smashing some weight, but you also want to train to be a firefighter or would like to have more usable strength and conditioning. If this sounds like you, I have the solution.
If you do a standard 3 day workout and you want to add in this type of training, there are three options I would recommend; Adding a 4th ‘event’ day, turning one of the 3 days into an ‘event’ day, or adding in some ‘event’ work every time you go to the gym.
Whatever you choose will be fine, but be sure you can fit it in your schedule and you have enough time to recover between training sessions. I would suggest training like a strongman and have a separate event day. On the event day you will circuit these events and train like you are actually completing them. This is going to train your nervous system for the demand, give your cardiovascular system the stress it needs to improve conditioning, and help you build strength.
Sample Workout Schedule
- Day 1 – OFF
- Day 2 – Gym Workout
- Day 3 – OFF
- Day 4 – Gym Workout
- Day 5 – OFF
- Day 6 – Event Day
- Day 7 – OFF
If you are interested in doing something like this, I would invite you to check out my 2 day workout and then adding an event day for your third day.
Since the 2 day workout has a lot of the exercises needed to do well in this test, the event day is not as bad as you would suspect.
Do the step mill or stair master if you do not have a step mill for a 5 minute warm up every time you go to the gym.
Event Day Sample
For the event day, you should have a couple of exercises for each event. These exercises are not as taxing as heavy squats or deadlifts and will not tax your nervous system to the point of over training. If you find that 2 exercises per event isn’t enough and would like to add more, feel free to do so.
Sample Event Day
- Prowler push (1 lap down and back) superset with medicine ball throws (5 throws up, 5 throws down) for 3 sets
- Prowler pulls (1 lap down and back) superset with a 1 arm dumbbell snatch for 3 sets
- Decline bench situps (20 reps) superset with reverse hypers (10 reps) for 3 sets
- Mountain climbers (20 reps) superset with suicide drill for 3 sets
- Running backwards (1 lap down and back) superset with goblet squats (10 reps) for 3 sets
- Front lateral raises (12 reps) superset with medicine ball throws (5 throws up, 5 throws down) for 3 sets
There is a lot of conditioning work here and it is going to put you through your paces but if you stick with this and push hard you will make it. If you start to gas out before you complete one of the sets or can’t seem to finish the whole event day, try to go from 3 sets of everything down to 1 and work your way up.
Your event day is supposed to be fun, yet challenging and give your body a different experience other than bench, squat, deadlift, and curls. Choose exercises you want to do and run with them, this is why I gave so many choices for each event. This is going to get you more athletic and able to do whatever you need to do physically. This is also a great thing for people who simply want to lose weight and tone up as well.
If you are a firefighter, please feel free to comment below on tips that you used to help pass the test. Feel free to leave any comments or questions below and be sure to subscribe to the blog to get future updates!