Tactical Fitness: 5 Favorite Exercises

Stretching on the field.

Hey Stew, 

I have been reading your articles for years at both your site and Military.com.  Thanks for your ideas, they have really helped me with my preparation for the Army. I have kind of a hypothetic question for you. I am curious if you had only five exercises to do in a day, what would they be and how would you break them up into a weekly workout?  Just curious.

– J.D.

Jim D –

Thanks, and great question!  If I had to choose between five exercises of any type, I think I would go with an arrangement that truly works every part of my body.  I would break this into a PUSH, PULL, FULLBODY, LEGS, and CORE exercise list or combo of two or more.  

So, I would select the following:

Push & Core - TRX Atomic Pushups

The bench press is a great lift, but after a good decade now of adding in suspension training into my program, I had to give the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core exercise to the TRX Pushup. The TRX makes the pushup twice as hard, and with the added knee up in between pushup repetitions completes this hardcore core exercise.  See video

Pull - Pullups

The heavy weight exercise of the calisthenics world is the pullup! If you can master this exercise you will build the needed strength for pulling your body weight over walls and up ropes.  This is a great exercise for your grip, biceps, and upper back side of your body. Keeping an ability to do 20+ pullups in one set and do 100 reps in a single workout has always been a goal of my workouts. Grip variations make this exercise near endless as you can go wide, close, alternating, use a rope, and reverser grip to name a few variations.

Full - Dead Lift

Lifting things properly is about as functional as you can get. Practicing this exercise regularly will insure your ability to lift and carry equipment and gear when needed.  This also works the grip, legs, glutes, and lower back and works them in motion under strain. Plus, it is fun to get into heavy lifting mode during certain cycles of the year with this exercise.  See light weight version video.

Legs & Core - Front Squat

For a true leg workout, I find the front squat more useful than the back squat as it has versatility in helping to improve other lifts like hang clean, power clean, etc.  You might not be able to do as much weight as the back squat, but if moderately heavy lifting is your thing, this will work. Variations include overhead squats for more shoulder girdle and core addition.

Core – Plank

For the king of the isometric exercises, go with the plank. This is a great exercise that works the entire core (not just abs). You will challenge the shoulder girdle, spinal muscles, hips, and legs with this exercise. Build up to 5 minutes or more with dozens of variations.  See a few variations video.

Limiting any routine to just five exercises is not very realistic, but looking at this question, I would have to say these are my favorites.  Here is how I would arrange these mixed with cardio days:

Mon / Thurs

Tues / Fri



Upper body

Pull – Push / core – Pyramid PT

Followed by cardio of running or swimming

Lower / Fullbody exercises:

5 x 5

Front Squats

Dead lifts

Followed by ruck or swim with fins

Sprints / Agility


(shuttle runs / 300-400m sprints plus:

Running goal pace – focusing on mile pace workouts

Swim or bike cooldown

Max Rep PT:

100 Pullups

200 TRX push

300 seconds of plank pose


Run 2 miles– Ruck 2 miles- Swim 1000m with fins

There are many ways to arrange these five exercises.  Another common way would be to do all of them every other day versus the split routine above. Make the days in between a variety of cardio options from speed and agility days, goal mile pace running, swimming, swimming with fins, or a variety of non-impact cardio options like rowing, biking, elliptical training.

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