Firefighters Get an Immersive Weigh-in at Auburn

Besides swim training for their championship Tigers, Auburn University has found some creative uses for their Endless Pools. They’re now using them to help keep local firefighters in shape.

To get an accurate measure of their team members’ fitness, Alabama’s Montgomery Fire/Rescue Department goes beyond the standard Body Mass Index (BMI) which factors weight relative to height. BMI can be misleading for athletes, who have a disproportionate amount of healthy lean muscle. Wisely, the Department instead measures Body Fat Percentage (BFP), and for that, they turn to the Original Endless Pool in the Human Performance Lab at Auburn's Montgomery campus.

The Endless Pools swimming machine at Auburn University is used for more than swim training
A Montgomery Fire Department recruit gets a high-accuracy weigh-in in Auburn University's Original Endless Pool.
Photo credit: Montgomery Adviser

Auburn’s team conducts underwater, or hydrostatic, weighing, widely considered the ‘gold standard’ of body composition measurement. It works off the principle that muscle is denser than fat. So if two bodies of the same weight are immersed in water, the one with a higher percentage of fat will displace more water than one with less fat.

To determine body fat with hydrostatic weighing, Auburn scientists need three numbers: the firefighter’s weight on dry land, his or her weight when completely immersed in water, and the density of the water. They then use a complex (to this blogger, anyway) equation to accurately calculate BFP.

The strict fitness requirements help to keep the team in fire-fighting shape. “We have a very low occurrence of injuries, and that is partially due to the physical fitness requirements,” District Chief J.K. Petrey of Montgomery Fire Rescue told the Montgomery Adviser. “It is a very strenuous job.”

Auburn’s other Endless Pool, an Elite model, helps to keep the Tigers in fighting shape. Their head swim coach, former Olympian Brett Hawke, credits the Elite with having “greatly improved my ability to create challenging workouts." And that’s vital as they strive to maintain their outstanding track record: 13 combined NCAA titles, 23 combined SEC titles, 32 Olympic medals, and 2,243 All-America honors.

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