PT Progression Series: Building a Better Workout with Supersets

A Marine does pull-ups to celebrate the Marine Corps' birthday.
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Devin D. Goodall, precision measurement equipment technician, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 24, Marine Aircraft Group 24, knocks out his final pull-up during a motivational Marine Corps birthday event on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Nov. 7, 2019. MAG-24 challenged its Marines to complete 244 pull-ups in an hour, one for each year the Marine Corps has existed. (Lance Cpl. Jacob Wilson/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

The PT Progression Series is a series of answers about how to get better at pull-ups, push-ups and sit-ups for fitness testing, as well as boot camp and police or fire academies.

Part 2 of the PT Progression Series is the superset.

The Superset

Similar to the PT Pyramid, the superset -- a circuit with a set number of repetitions and a range of sets for which to shoot during a workout -- is considered a foundation workout. The goal is to increase the weekly total volume of your repetitions in pull-ups, push-ups and sit-ups in order to improve on calisthenics fitness tests.

Using the PT pyramid and superset will enable you to build your muscular endurance by increasing your daily volume in smaller, sub max-rep sets. Eventually you may fail at the predetermined number of these sets, but that is fine. Keep pushing and resort to knee push-ups for push-ups, crunches for sit-ups or the flexed arm hang for pull-ups, if necessary.

For instance, to ace the pull-ups, push-ups and sit-ups test, you can make a superset like this:

Repeat 10--15 times.

  • Pull-ups 50% of your max reps (so if you can do 10 pull-ups, only do five per set)
  • Push-ups 10-15 (if your current max is at least 40, do roughly 25% of max per set)
  • Sit-ups 10. Focus on your goal pace. Do 10 sit-ups in 15 seconds if you want a total score of 80 sit-ups in two minutes.
  • No rest. You rest muscle groups by doing other exercises.

Another option:

Repeat 5-10 times.

  • Push-ups 10
  • Sit-ups 10
  • Wide push-ups 10
  • Crunches 10
  • Triceps push-ups 10
  • Plank pose for 30 seconds
  • Pull-ups: 50% of your current max-rep test score

Add a new progression. Add running in each set by running anywhere from 100 yards to a quarter-mile. Consider it "resting with running." This way, you can work on transitioning from the PT to running portions of the test, which is a big issue for many PFT takers and makes running more challenging if most of your blood is trapped in the upper body before you start the 1.5-, two- or three-mile timed runs.

Only do the superset every other day at the most. You can do the PT pyramid, superset and max-rep workout PT progressions all once a week if you wish. But you only want to work with this higher level of volume for pull-ups, push-ups and sit-ups every other day. Do not do them on three consecutive days, like many people mistakenly do. You will see negative results eventually if you do daily PT workouts of the same muscle group.

Any time you are doing 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 reps of abdominal exercises, consider that an upper-body day that you need 48 hours to recover fully before repeating that workout.

Complete PT Progression Series

PT Progression Series #1: PT Pyramid: Do this workout every other day. No workout is good to do daily for long periods of time. It is best to do this foundation workout only three days a week.

PT Progression #2: Superset: This is another sub max-effort foundation workout to increase volume of your PT exercises. It is recommended to add this type of workout and replace a pyramid workout once a week so you only total these upper-body workouts only three times a week. Learn how to design a superset effectively.

PT Progression #3: Max-Rep Set Workout: Once you have mastered the PT pyramid and the superset and can handle workouts with a volume of 100 pull-ups and 200 push-ups, then it is time to test your newfound strength. This workout will increase your muscle stamina and endurance, which is really the goal of mastering PT tests. Find out how to push your numbers even higher.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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