In the emergency services, safety and performance must be top-level. Many factors play a role in physical performance, but focusing on back health is the key to a long and active career. The true professionals pay attention not only to strength and endurance but also incorporate joint health into their training. Working in the emergency services is tough. This means that the training program must be versatile and take into consideration the special requirements of the job. Big muscles are of little use if you are not able to perform when needed.
In the emergency services, a certain level of fitness and physical performance is required throughout your career. This requirement stays the same despite advances in technology. Fortunately, physical strength and endurance are strongly tied into being healthy.
Work in the emergency services is characterized by repeatedly bending over, pushing, pulling and lifting objects and people, usually done in uncomfortable and stressful positions. All this adds up to a whole lot of wear and tear on the body. You might well ask if normal workplace ergonomic guidelines and practices are enough to compensate for the challenges provided on the job.
The impact of physical performance on your career
The greatest threat to work performance is illness or prolonged pain. A diagnosed disease is usually treatable, but undefined pain can gradually render you unable to work. Knee pain first stops you from running and eventually even from walking. Back pain might cause you to quit cycling and stop squatting, for fear of hurting yourself more. Not moving comes with a cost, but it does not have to be this way.
Several institutions are interested in developing well-being at the workplace. Using different practices, it is possible, for example, to reduce the stress placed on the back. A good number of early retirements and periods off from work are due to musculoskeletal disorders. From a functional perspective, there is no clear dividing line between work time and leisure time, especially if the work requirements demand a regular training schedule when not on the job.
The body adapts to the demands imposed on it. Faulty loading mechanisms, once learned, are repeated over and over outside the workplace, during daily routines and when engaging in hobbies. This makes it even more important to train your body correctly. Proper body mechanics and performance correlate, no matter what demands are placed on the body in the work environment. Safe and proper body mechanics should be a priority, and the sooner you incorporate them, the better your workplace performance will be.
Physical performance is a part of workplace safety
Work performance and the ability to perform well physically are the sum of three parts. The first is consistency. Consistency includes the ability to maintain a healthy balance of workload and total load. Total load means the physical and mental stress that comes from both everyday life and work. The training program needs to take all this into consideration.
The second part is: Do not injure yourself. The ability to move pain-free closely correlates with being injury-free. Pain is usually the single most limiting factor when it comes to the ability to perform. The root cause in back- and knee pain is usually found in improper loading mechanisms and lifestyle. As physical performance coaches, our primary focus is providing you with the tools, insights and models to manage the first two parts of this equation. Training periodization, neurological “tricks” to activate the proper position and avoiding monotonous movement patterns are some of the tools a capable coach should be able to provide.
The third and final part of a life-long ability to perform is quick access to effective treatment in case of injury. Early treatment is cost-effective and should enable pain-free movement in a short period of time. This helps cope with the physical and mental stresses at work and at home, which in turn helps with workplace well-being.
A healthy back throughout your career
A good starting point is realizing what is important when it comes to musculoskeletal health and well-being. You should ask yourself, how should I best program a single exercise, a longer training cycle and several decades ahead?
The main function of the back as a unit should be the ability to provide stability to the mid-section and keep the torso immobile. If lifting heavy things is the only concern, stiff is better than mobile. Mobility should come from the hips, ankles and thoracic spine.
The ability to control the position of the back is dependent on many factors. Mobility, strength, balance and visual performance are the most relevant. Some of the movement patterns are programmed deep in our cerebellum. Good movement pattern control and body awareness are the keys to a long and healthy career.
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