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John Hofman, CSCS, MS
John Hofman is one of the leading experts in the field of Firefighter Health and Wellness. As the strength and conditioning coach for the Sacramento Fire Department, Hofman oversees the Wellness Center, coordinates the department’s medical and fitness assessments, develops recruit fitness training, pre-employment medical and fitness evaluations, and assists the department’s 20 certified Peer Fitness Trainers. In addition, he also works as the strength and conditioning coach for the California Regional Fire Academy, Sierra Fire Technology Program, as well as numerous other fire departments in Northern California. In 2012, Hofman was appointed the Health and Wellness Coordinator of the Firefighter Cancer Foundation.
1. What tactical population do you currently work with?
2. How did you get started in the TSAC (Tactical Strength and Conditioning) field?
It was basically luck. I was studying towards my Master’s of Science degree in Kinesiology and came across a job posting on the web for a Health and Wellness Coordinator for the Sacramento City Fire Department. Over 800 applicants applied for the position and I was 1 of 4 final candidates. After the interview I was offered the job and everything changed. The first two years I spent numerous hours getting to know the firefighters and what their jobs entailed. Up to that point, all I ever had worked with were athletes so I did not know a lot about firefighting, and there was a lot to learn….everything from heart disease, injury prevention, and psychological factors all play a pivotal role in our health and wellness program.
3. What resources do you utilize for continuing education? Are there any sources you would recommend staying away from?
There are a number of areas that I focus on, but overall I would probably say anything that has to do with movement dysfunction, movement screening, and injury prevention. Over the past two years I have spent a lot of hours studying the different movement concepts. For example, the Janda Approach was one course I took and most recently a Craig Leibenson Movement Dysfunction course. I also keep two 5-ring binders where I have them categorized by the human body and each morning I read something new, whether it is from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Strength and Conditioning Journal (SCJ), or the latest research on PubMed, I will write it into my journals so I can reference it later.
I am very cautious of those who proclaim “this is the only way” or anything that creates a closed-minded environment. I feel that things change and in the end it all works. We as coaches should just apply the circle to the circle and the square to the square, without trying to reinvent the wheel. Don’t worry who gets credit, worry about helping your firefighters.
4. If you where hiring someone in your field, what would you look for?
I would definitely expect them to have their Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®) and their NSCA-TSAC certification. The USAW club coach or sports performance certification would also be beneficial. I would expect that they have some type of experience working within an athletic setting where they learn to develop their coaching style. They also must be a great communicator.
Communication is key and when working with firefighters you must be able to take complex ideas and break them down so other can understand them.
5. Please describe the regular duties included in your position?
Each morning at 7 am I will oversee the physical training (PT) program at the fire academy. Once PT is completed, I move on to those firefighters who are injured or assigned to light duty where I will work on getting them stronger to return to full status. This specific component of our program works in conjunction with their physical therapy. After that, I will spend a little time going through emails, going to meetings, or visiting station houses. Finally, at 5:30 pm I will oversee the part time fire academy at the local college. I usually do not get home until 8:00 or 8:30 pm every night.
6. What are the two most important things you have learned; that you wish you knew when you were starting your career?
I wish I knew more about the fire service when I first started. Most people want to classify firefighters as athletes, but to train them as athletes would be doing them a disservice because you have such a large population that you cannot just focus on performance training. You must also understand that no one calls 9-1-1 on a good day so you have to have a high level of empathy. That leads me to the second thing – I wish I had a larger tool box, meaning more experience in different training modalities. It is very helpful to have experience with different methods of training because you may need to help a 50-year-old firefighter suffering from back pain while at the same time increase another firefighter’s performance. Having experience with different training stimuli is helpful. The more you know, the better prepared you will be to help them.
7. What recommendations would you give someone who is looking to start a career in TSAC?
BE PATIENT! It takes time … you must gain their trust and respect. Ask a lot of questions and get to know them. Spend time doing ride-a-longs and going to drills. Try to experience what it is like to be in their shoes, and most of all listen. You are trying to help them, not show them how much you know.
8. What do you believe are the top three physical requirements for this population that must be addressed in a proper TSAC program?
Glute strength, lateral core strength, and thoracic mobility.
9. What steps do you go through when writing a program for the population you work with?
I have a questionnaire I have them fill out. I need them to be honest about their time commitment and goals. Firefighters have lives outside the fire house so understanding their time commitments is very important. We cannot just assume they can commit 2 hours every day to exercise.
10. What are some critical factors in getting tactical athletes to buy into a strength and conditioning program?
“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care” — T. Roosevelt. At the end of the day, my job is simple … I am just here to help our firefighters out, and as one chief stated, “It’s just nice to know someone is looking out for us.”