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Patient Care

Adding CPR to Your Workouts

cpr chest compressions exercise

Emergency medical services is a physically demanding profession. We must frequently squat, lift, reach, twist and sometimes contort into unnatural positions. It’s no secret that exercise is beneficial in helping us do these things with less chance of injury. While any routine exercise is beneficial, it is important to evaluate what you are preparing yourself for with an exercise program and tailor your program around those desired outcomes.

This principle, known as specificity of training, is routinely used in a sports setting. For example, if a workout is being designed for a football player, that workout isn’t likely to include hitting golf balls on the driving range or doing batting drills with the baseball team. More likely to be found are exercises that stress and mimic the motions and movements required on the football field. Don’t get me wrong; cross-training can provide good variety and prevent burnout, but most workout programs are designed with the principle of specificity in mind.

Certainly there are many things one can do when designing an EMS exercise program to mimic the physical demands of the job, but one thing I would propose adding to your own workout regimen is CPR. Recently I began adding multiple repetitions of chest compressions to my own workouts. In doing so I’ve considered a few likely or potential benefits. These include:

  1. Improved strength and endurance, allowing for better ability to perform compressions at a correct depth and rate over a longer time. The importance of correct depth and rate as they relate to survival outcomes has already been established.1,2 Furthermore, a 2011 study found that over five minutes of continuous chest compressions, the percentage of correct compressions dropped from 78.8% in the first minute to 28% in the fifth minute.3 It seems logical, then, that by increasing our strength and endurance, we will improve our compression quality and chances of patient survival during the real deal.
  2. Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but if you practice something correctly long enough, you’ll develop muscle memory and be more likely to perform it correctly when forced to recall the skill quickly. Practicing good compressions during your workout can only make you better at them when it counts.
  3. Performing chest compressions correctly utilizes back, abdominal, hip and thigh musculature. Not only will we improve our ability to perform CPR effectively and efficiently, but strengthening these core muscle groups will assist in other areas of the job, such as lifting and moving patients.

A good workout regimen should involve a variety of exercises, including a blend of both aerobic and strengthening exercises. This variety helps reduce injury risk, improve the overall quality of training and prevent boredom with the workout routine. It is important to keep the concept of specificity in mind when designing your workouts. While there are many ways EMS providers can train for job-specific tasks, if you’re not already performing chest compressions as part of your workout, it may be something to consider adding.


  1. Idris AH, Guffey D, Pepe PE, et al.; Resuscitation Outcomes Consortium investigators. Chest compression rates and survival following out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Crit Care Med, 2015 Apr; 43(4): 840–8.
  2. Idris AH, Guffey D, Aufderheide TP, et al.; Resuscitation Outcomes Consortium investigators. Relationship between chest compression rates and outcomes from cardiac arrest. Circulation, 2012 Jun 19; 125(24): 3,004–12.
  3. Ock SM, Kim YM, Chung JH, Kim SH. Influence of physical fitness on the performance of 5-minute continuous chest compression. Eur J Emerg Med, 2011 Oct; 18(5): 251–6.

Brian Potter, MS, ATC, EMT, OTC, completed his BS in athletic training at West Virginia Wesleyan College and his MS in health and physical education at Marshall University. He is currently employed providing sports medicine services with Tygart Valley Orthopedics in Elkins, WV. He remains active in EMS as the squad training officer for Upshur County EMS; is a West Virginia EMS instructor; and served on the American Heart Association’s EMS advisory panel in June of 2012. Reach him at

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