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Exercise Science Students Learn Physical Demands of Police, Fire Jobs

photo of students on firefighter training course
Mark Abel (third from left) provides guidance as students take turns completing the firefighter training course.

Students who want to become exercise scientists or high-performance coaches with collegiate and professional teams often take courses with Dr. Mark Abel during their studies at the University of Kentucky.

Recently, Abel’s students got a glimpse of physically demanding careers outside of the sports and fitness realm. They took part in training simulations at the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice and Lexington Fire Department. They wore monitors showing how the exertion impacted them physiologically as they completed tasks first-responders are often called to do.

“For many students in the class, it was their first time attempting to carry a 165-pound victim to safety or to try running up a set of stairs with the burden of heavy equipment on their backs,” Abel said. “We were able to return to the classroom and talk about how the physical fitness of men and women in these jobs correlates to their occupational performance.”

Abel is no stranger to this type of study. He has been anassociate professor in the UK College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotionfor 14 years and focuses his research and service efforts on first responders. He draws on his experiences as a former firefighter when working with firefighters, police officers and urban SWAT units. Currently, scholars working with Abel are identifying the appropriate training strategies to prepare firefighters for the physical challenges of the job.

photo of student walking down stairs at firefighter training course
A student descends the stairs inside a firefighter training facility. She carries a computer to collect data on students’ performance on the course.

“This research will assist fire departments in hiring qualified personnel and guide practitioners in developing appropriate training programs to enhance occupational performance,” Abel said.“First responders place themselves in harm’s way to protect our families, so collaborating with these groups to enhance their safety provides us with an opportunity to give back to them.”

The agencies Abel partners with are often tasked with handling critical missions. Still, there are opportunities for lighter moments. One such chance cameduring the Scott Firefighter World Challenge XXVI, held in Louisville. Abel used connections to get access for one of his graduate students to conduct behind-the-scenes research at the competition, where firefighters were put through a gauntlet of tests. The event, which aired on ESPN 3, annually brings together some of the world’s most powerful firefighters to compete.

Event organizers captured video of Abel running the challenge course.

Abel is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and a Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator (TSAC-F). He was presented with the NSCA’s 2016 TSAC Practitioner of the Year award. To learn more about enrolling in programs in the Department of Kinesiology and Heath Promotion, visit https://education.uky.edu/khp/.