• Mouthguards Can Have Benefits for Firefighters
    Mouthguards provide a nontraditional method for mimicking self-contained breathing apparatuses during training.
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  • Mouthguards firefightersThere is something to be said for specificity of training when planning strength and conditioning workouts for a firefighter. That being said, we have all seen the concept of specificity being taken to the extreme and creating an unsafe environment for the tactical athlete.

    I think we can all agree that heavy Olympic lifts done in full firefighting gear may not be the best choice to reduce the risk of injury.

    Occasionally, there are some benefits to stimulating aspects of the training environment to make workouts more effective. Previous research has indicted that wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) decreases performance, and increases heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen consumption by one third compared to walking on a treadmill in duty uniforms only.

    One direct application of this concept is the use of a mouthguard for a firefighter’s conditioning workout.
    The use of mouthguards has been thoroughly studied, are considered fairly safe for athletes of various fitness levels, and are currently used and accepted in a variety of sports.  Does a mouthguard exactly replicate the feeling of using a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA)? If you have ever tried both devices (SCBA and mouthguard), the answer is absolutely not.

    Regardless of the difference between a SCBA and a mouthguard, a few facts remain consistent. While wearing a SCBA, breathing must be more controlled as there is a limited amount of air available. The relative fitness, and especially the level of exertion of the wearer, often results in variations of the actual usable time that the SCBA can provide air, often reducing the working time by 25% to 50%.
    Once your firefighters have established a base level of fitness, wearing a customized mouthguard during a conditioning workout can produce several benefits. 
    Tactical athletes will have to pay more attention to their breathing patterns when working out, hopefully resulting in increased awareness and control of their respiratory rate. Recent research has suggested that wearing an individualized mouthguard on the lower jaw when exercising can decrease serum cortisol levels post workout. Decreased serum cortisol indicates less stress following strenuous activity, which can lead to a faster recovery after intense muscle exertion.

    So what is the theory behind a mouthguard causing these favorable changes post workout? Mouthguards change the alignment of the lower jaw, possibly increasing cerebral blood flow to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is an area of the brain that controls the stress response. Enhanced blood flow to the hypothalamus can reduce the amount of cortisol that is released.

    These findings can have important implications for firefighters who could benefit from a faster recovery time if they get called out immediately after a workout. One of the firefighters that trains at the NSCA commented that she sometimes, “feels weak and fatigued the next day after working [out] at a high level” and attributed that to the lack of recovery time that comes inherently with the job. Increased cerebral blood flow and assistance with recovery is important any time of the day for a firefighter, especially since they are required to go from resting to working at maximum capacity within five minutes without having an adequate warm-up period.
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    1. Dudgeon, W., Buchanan, L., Strickland, A., Garner, P. Mouthpiece Use Reduces Post Exercise Serum Cortisol Levels. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. April 25, 2012.
    2. Testing Physical Fitness; Davis and Santa Maria, Fire Command, April 1975.

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