Ask Stew: Mixing Weights with PT

Commander performs barbell rows.
Capt. Nate Zermeno, commander of the 720th Ordnance Company, completes barbell rows during the EOD 133 Memorial Workout. (Sgt. DJ Borden/16th Sustainment Brigade)

All too often, people add calisthenics at higher and higher repetitions into their workout week, along with weight training, without realizing this is causing upper-body burnout. Here’s how to arrange weights and calisthenics to avoid burnout:

Stew, I came across your article when researching how to get better at pull-ups.

I think I could jump into your PT progression series and start with the PT pyramid on Monday and Wednesday and maybe for now do a super-set PT on Friday, until I get a good foundation and try for the max-rep PT, when I feel I can add that in.

My question is: If I am doing a PT pyramid on Monday and Wednesday, and then a PT super set on Friday, should I mix in weighted workouts on Tuesday and Thursday, or just one day? Maybe Saturday? Or will I be overdoing it by trying to do weights on certain days in addition to the three days of heavy calisthenics during the week? Basically, I want to get better at doing a bunch of pull-ups, push-ups and sit-ups (and I like your progression series), but I don't want to give up being able to do weights like bench press and military press, etc., as well ...

You can mix in weights but not the same muscle groups that involve pull-ups, push-ups and dips. This is kind of volume of calisthenics that needs a day in between for recovery. Otherwise you will be doing upper-body exercises 5-6 times a week.

If you still want to lift, add in bench press, pulldowns, rows, military press and other auxiliary lifts on the same day as the pyramid or super set.  Call it a two-a-day program or use the pyramid and super set as a warmup to the lifts during that same day or workout.

Lifting weights (heavier) is for strength and power. Calisthenics start off as a strength exercise for your first few repetitions, but if you want to do hundreds of repetitions in a workout, this strength exercise has to become an endurance exercise. Your calisthenics goal is focused more on muscle stamina than pure strength.

Here is the way we would arrange a week of calisthenics and weight training:

Monday: PT pyramid mixed with a run or swim in the morning. If you have time and energy to complete the following weight-room set after the above, go ahead or just do the lift portion in the evening or at lunch.

If you want to lift legs on the days in between, that is fine. Don’t skip leg day.

Pull-up/push-up/run pyramid: 

1 pullup, run 30 meters, 2 push-ups, run 30 meters 

2 pull-ups, 4 push-ups, run 30 meters 

3 pull-ups, 6 push-ups, run 30 meters 

4 pull-ups, 8 push-ups, run 30 meters 

5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, run 30 meters = pyramid sets 1–5

Rest with abs 2 minutes

Pull-up/push-up pyramid 6–10 (same as above but 6-10 and 12-20), but fireman carry or farmer walk between pull-ups and push-ups

Rest with abs 2 minutes (plank pose)

PT pyramid 10–6 (same as above -- in reverse), but bear crawl or farmer walk between pull-ups and push-ups

Rest with abs 2 minutes

PT Pyramid 5–1 (same as above -- in reverse), but bear-crawl or farmer walk between pull-ups and push-ups

Run or swim 20-30 minutes if time allows.

Weight room later

  • Repeat 4 times
  • (2 push/2 pull/2 full-body exercise/cardio circuit)
  • Tabata interval -- five minutes (20-second sprint/10 seconds slow) --- bike/elliptical/row
  • pulldowns 10, 10 (wide, regular grips)
  • biceps curl/military press 10-15 (two exercises, one movement)
  • bench press 10–15
  • hang clean 5–10
  • kettlebell swings 20

The Tabata interval is optional. If you want to push the fast cardio interval part of cardio training, then add it. If you want to focus on strength more, skip it. This is a good mix of full body, pushing and core calisthenics, with short cardio events, followed by similar events in the weight room.

On the days between your upper-body calisthenics/weight cycles, mix in a run, ruck, swimming with fins and/or some weight training or leg PT. No need to do another upper-body day.

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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