Fit to Fight Fire


Ryan Blackmon has made it a mission to help firefighters and others get fit for life.

Written by Rosalind Fournier

You could say Ryan Blackmon has firefighting in his blood. He comes from a family of firefighters, and though he studied business in college, he quickly sensed that wasn’t the life for him. Instead, he felt called the call of duty to become a firefighter himself—and he knew as soon as his first time out that he had found his passion.

To do the job to the best of his ability, Blackmon wanted to get in better shape than he already was. He started studying strategic strength training and aerobic conditioning, tweaking the process until “it just started working,” Blackmon says. “I was happy with how I felt and was able to do a couple of Spartan races, and BoneFrog events and GORUCK events (the latter two are known for incorporating Navy SEAL and Special Forces-style training). I wanted to use that fitness to be better at every part of my job.”

Blackmon says the physical requirements of firefighting are rigorous in more ways than people even realize. “The demands are numerous when we go in a structure fire,” he says. “We have to have superior aerobic capacity, we have to be strong, and we have to be resilient to keep from getting injured. We may be dragging something or someone from a house, or carrying unusual objects, with less than optimal body positioning. We also carry heavy objects up and down ladders, drag hoses…and we may do it for three or four hours. So the conditioning really has to be on point, or your performance will suffer. We want to make sure we’re durable and build that up in our training.”

He also worried about the physical toll the work takes on firefighters over the course of their careers. “Firefighters have 25 years and we can retire,” Blackmon says. “Most of us put in more time than that. If you do the math, somebody like me who went to college first is going to be an old firefighter a lot longer than I was a young firefighter.

“So I want to build that durability so that I’m healthy for my entire career and afterwards, not beaten down and dealing with a ton of health issues.”

Blackmon says fire departments have come a long way in recent years in efforts to emphasize physical conditioning, but he still felt there was a need for something more. Last year he began thinking about taking what he’d learned about conditioning for himself and using it to help others. He decided to start APEX Firefighter Performance, which offers fitness training for firefighters as well as other individuals who want to reach their own fitness goals.

Calera firefighter Ryan Blackmon (right) prepares to enter a burning home, with fellow firefighter Ricky Pennington just behind him.

For fire departments, he does group assessments and then guides firefighters through different tiers of training depending on their current level of fitness. For individuals—most of whom are also firefighters or aspire to be, but also others from any walk of life who just want to get stronger and healthier—Blackmon offers customized programming through 12 weeks of training.

“I’m working with a firefighter lieutenant right now who is just starting to get back into shape, wanting to better their performance and be better at their job, so they’re doing foundational-level training,” he says.

“Then I also work with guys or women who are very experienced in training, and their training looks more like an Olympic athlete preparing for competition. So you have to adjust based on where they are. It ranges across the board, just like the general population. One size doesn’t fit all.”

Blackmon says the satisfaction for him comes in seeing others progress in their own fitness journeys. “My goal when I started this company was to show people that it’s not as complicated as the magazines or books make it out to be,” he says. “Fitness can be really simple. I want to show them how to love training and use it to better their lives, so when someone tells me they enjoy it, they’re improving, and they’re motivated, that makes me happy. I want other people to be happy and healthy and live a better life, and I want firefighters to be as strong, tough and durable as possible so they can perform at their best on the fireground and help other people, too.” 

 

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