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Preparing for the Academy

Preparing for the Academy

Battalion Chief Paul Lepore

Mental Conditioning

It is extremely stressful to prepare for a manipulative exam knowing that if you don’t perform you will lose your job. Everyone in the academy has to perform to the minimum standards. There are NO exceptions. Being able to perform under pressure is critical. Remember, the training staff is there to help you be successful. The department has invested time and believes in you. It’s up to you to perform. Academic

You will be exposed to information about a myriad of different topics while in the academy. You are expected to know every piece of information that has been presented. You will be tested on it weekly, sometimes daily. This is one of the reasons we encourage you to take fire science and EMT courses prior to getting hired on the fire department. The more background a candidate brings to the table, the greater the chances of success.

The academy is extremely fast-paced. Those who did not have previous experience to draw from definitely have a more difficult time. Learn how to study before you enter the academy. Find a place where you can sit down and get away from the world and immerse yourself in the books. Set it up beforehand; don’t wait until you start the academy to figure out where you are going to study.

Form study groups early. Take a look around and try to identify who appears to be focused on making it through. There is no doubt that there is a benefit to having someone to bounce questions off. He or she may interpret the reading material differently than you and key into something you may have misinterpreted. In addition, he or she will pick you up when you are struggling, and vice versa.

Take fire science courses prior to entering the academy. The more background and exposure you have to the fire service, the better you will fare. Remember each night you will be assigned a ton of reading. You are physically exhausted after being on the grinder all day long. It is difficult to maintain concentration to sit and study for a written exam the next day. The more information you have before entering the academy, the easier the material is to digest in a shorter time frame.

Physical Conditioning

Many candidates believe that simply passing the physical agility exam means that they are physically prepared for the job. The physical agility test is not even close to the exertion you will go through in the academy. If you barely pass the agility test, you are in trouble. Each day you will go home sore, bruised and strained. Due to the fast pace of the training academy, your body does not have a chance to recover from one day to the next. Many fire departments require that their entry-level recruit firefighters complete the physical EACH DAY as a part of their morning physical fitness routing. The recruit who barely passed the exam to get hired will be in big trouble as the academy progresses. The academy is not the time for a recruit to get in top physical condition, rather it is the time to weed out those who are not prepared.

The better your physical condition, the greater the chance your body can adapt to the rigorous training. It is imperative to be in the best shape possible. If you aren’t, you are going to get hurt, make mistakes, or worse yet hurt someone else.

How to Get in Shape

This special section is written by Stew Smith, CSCS, former Navy SEAL and fitness author of six published books and more than 35 ebooks and test prep guides on military, law enforcement, and firefighter training.

When you arrive at the academy, you will be placed in a stressful environment and expected to excel in firefighter education, close quarter living, team work, and daily physical fitness events. Though each department differs in testing exercises and measuring criteria, most NEW firefighter personnel will be tested in challenging and physically demanding events. Most will use the CPAT – Candidate Physical Assessment Test. For those who properly prepare themselves, the academy PT can be just another workout – a stress reliever even!

Why show up at your academy unprepared for the physical fitness standards that you KNOW you will be tested on? You would be surprised but many people are physically unprepared for life in the military, fire and rescue, and other public service professions when they arrive. Why make life any more stressful than it already is? If you show up fit and able to pass your CPAT or other firefighter test easily, the fitness part of the academy will be a STRESS releaser – not a STRESS INCREASER.

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You have to run at the academy – so run now! Refer to my Six Week Running Plan for ideas to increase endurance and speed. And you have to do pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and lift heavy objects while climbing stairs – so practice doing those things as well.

EVEN if you are not going into a fire academy, this type of functional training is beneficial to building endurance and muscle stamina and long lasting strength. Here are the exercises of all the Candidate Physical Assessment Tests (CPAT) and helpful tips to increase your overall score on test day:

Helpful Tips to Master the CPAT

Stair Climb

Goal: In full gear, pace yourself at 60 steps per minute for three minutes.

Exercise to Practice: Running, stair stepping, leg PT, run and leg PT workouts, leg press, leg extension, leg curl, and of course running stairs.

Hose Drag

Goal: Run with hose for 100 feet, then pull the hose an additional 50 feet.

Exercise to Practice: Just about every exercise will help you with this event. Running, leg weight training, upper / lower back strength, biceps, shoulders, forearm / hand grip exercises need to be done to help you with this event. Using a rope or rolled towel and drape over a pull-up bar is a great way to do pull-ups to increase hand grip and forearm grip strength.

Equipment Carry

Goal: Carry 30+lbs of tools 80 feet.

Exercise to Practice: Once again, running, upper body exercises that affect the legs, biceps, shoulders, upper back, muscles of the forearm and grip will assist in preparation of performing this test. Practice carrying heavy duffle bags or heavy dumbbells 100ft at a time.

Ladder Raise and Extension

Goal: Lift a 24ft ladder to vertical position.

Exercise to Practice: Dead Lift, squats, lunges, military press, triceps extensions, power clean, lower back exercises, upper back exercises will all help you with providing the strength to do this event. Multi-joint dumbbell exercises will help with this full-body exercise challenge.

Forcible Entry

Goal: Use 10lb sledge hammer to break down a door.

Exercise to Practice: Any torso exercise from abdominal crunches, twists, lower back exercises, upper back exercises, shoulder, pull-ups, forearm and hand grip. Multi-joint exercises with heavy dumbbells with assist with this preparation. Using a barbell over your shoulders and twisting 90 degrees to the left and 90 degrees to the right for 10-20 times will help you build torso strength to help create more power in the sledge.


Goal: In dark tunnel with obstacles, crawl on hands and knees.

Exercise to Practice: Any exercise of the torso that will enable you to low crawl. Twists, crunches, lower back and upper back, shoulders, chest exercises will all help with this. Bear crawls, Donkey kicks, hips, abs, lower back will help prepare for the Search event on low crawl. But more importantly – pay attention to your surroundings and FEEL your way around the tunnel to exit.


Goal: Remove a 165lb person 70ft total distance.

Exercise to Practice: Every muscle in the body is used for this event. Your muscle endurance will be tested as you drag using your legs, lower back, torso, arms, grip muscles. Pull-ups, leg press, squats, lunges, dead lifts, multi-joint dumbbells and running or stair stepping are great exercises to prepare for this body drag.

Ceiling Breach and Pull

Goal: Using a pike pole, push and push ceiling down.

Exercise to Practice: Military press, pull-ups, pushdowns, triceps extensions, bicep curls, squats will work the muscles required to pass this test. A great exercise to use for this event is to get a barbell (30-45lbs) hold it vertically and extend your arms over your head 10-20 times to simulate the push and pull of the Pike Pole.

Note: This is just a general description of the CPAT. There are points available and deducted along the way for good / badly performed events done within a time limit.

+If You are a Beginner+

Do not try to do too much (like the above exercises) at first, especially if you have not been active in many months and you have more than twenty pounds of weight to lose. First you should start with a weight loss plan that incorporates proper nutrition, increased physical activity, and hydration by drinking at least 100 ounces of water per day.

Available free for FireLink members, download this FREE Beginner Plan to assist with weight loss and getting back into fitness.

Get Flexible FIRST

Increasing your flexibility is a must! Not only will you decrease your chances of injury, but you will be faster and more mobile in many events of the CPAT. The workout above is also a daily stretching program that will help you better recover from the daily grind and challenging workouts. Stretching will help you break up the lactic acid that builds in your muscles. One tip – hold each stretch you do for 4-5 deep inhales and exhales. The inhales should be 3 or more seconds long – followed by a full exhale. This will also help you get oxygen to the muscles adding an increased effect to lactic acid release.

For those with back injuries in the past, the most important stretches for you are: Thigh stretch, hamstring stretches, lower back stretch throughout the day. For a more thorough lower back plan routine, download the Lower Back Stretching Plan.

Following this advice will help you prepare for the fire academy. For more detailed workout and fitness plans, visit the Fitness by Stew Smith, CSCS, section in the FireLink Training Center.