Army Combat Fitness Test Pyramid Workout

Soldiers listen to instructions before a physical fitness test.
U.S. soldiers listen to instructions before taking the Army physical fitness test at the 2017 Army Materiel Command's Best Warrior Competition at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, July 16, 2017. (Sgt. 1st Class Teddy Wade/U.S. Army photo)

The PT pyramid has been used by generations of military personnel to improve fitness test scores for pull-ups, push-ups and sit-ups.

The Classic PT pyramid is a great way to build volume and assess progress in these events, as well as your overall work capacity. However, with the change of fitness testing protocol throughout the military, it's a good idea to mix in pyramids using the next-generation fitness test events, which will help improve muscle stamina as well as strength.

Here's how we incorporated the changes in the Army fitness test with the classic pyramid into one fun workout:

The new Army combat fitness test:

Pyramid events: Trap bar deadlift, hand-release push-ups, leg tuck

Travel events: Standing power throw, 250-meter sprint/drag/carry

Cardio event: 2-mile timed run (this workout breaks it into 2 x one-mile events, but it is up to you)

The way this works

We added pull-ups to the pyramid just out of habit, and it is a great exercise to master. Though these exercises are optional for the pyramid below, you still will need a pull-up bar to do the leg tucks. You have two stations in this workout, as well as traveling events to get to and from them. The pull-ups and leg tucks are done at the pull-up bar. Place all the other equipment needed -- sled, deadlift bar, kettlebells or dumbbells (40 pounds each) -- 25 meters away.

Nothing is new with the pyramid as it works as with other exercises. Multiply the exercises by the set you are on. See the walk-through below:

The Army CFT pyramid

Do an easy-paced, one-mile warmup run/light stretch. The best part about the pyramid is that it is the perfect workout; it has a warmup, max-out and cooldown built into it.

1-10-1 pyramid pull-up bar events:

  • Pull-ups x 1
  • Leg tucks or knee-ups x 1 (use knee-ups when you start to fail at full leg tuck -- knee to elbows)

Travel events: Pick one each set

Travel a variety of ways (25 meters) to and from the pull-up bar area to the deadlift/medicine ball area from the sprint/drag/carry part of the test:

  • Sprint 25 meters
  • 100-pound sled drag 25 meters
  • Farmer carry (2 x 40-pound kettlebells) 25 meters. Or do the medicine ball throw for 25 meters.
  • Hand-release push-ups x 2
  • Deadlift x 1 (odd sets only). Keep it light and focus on technique. If you want to increase the weight, do so on the last three sets.

Walk-through sets:

Set 1: 1 pull-up, 1 leg tuck, sprint to deadlift bar 25 meters, 1 dead lift, 2 hand-release push-ups.

Farmer carry 25 meters back to pull-up bars.

Set 2: 2 pull-ups, 2 leg tucks, farmer carry 25 meters, 4 hand-release push-ups.

Sled pull back to pull-up bars.

Set 3: 3 pull-ups, 3 leg tucks, sprint to deadlift bar 25 meters, 3 deadlifts, 6 hand-release push-ups.

Run back to pull-up bars ...

And so on. Continue up the pyramid until you fail at an exercise like pull-ups, knee-ups or push-ups. Then try to repeat in reverse order. If you can go all the way up to 10 and back to one, that equals the following in 19 sets:

100 pull-ups and leg tucks/knee-ups

200 hand-release push-ups

55 deadlifts (10 sets -- 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 9, 7, 5, 3, 1)

38 sets of 25-meter sprints, carries, drags or medicine ball throws

Then run a one-mile cooldown.

That is how you mix in the events of the Army combat fitness test into a Pyramid workout. We tested it out this year a few times, and it is a good workout that takes about 90 minutes if you go one to 10 and back to one. But if you do a workout of 1-7-1, you can reduce the volume of repetitions and distances travels by 50%. Give it a shot.

Army Combat Fitness Test (2019)
Trap Bar Deadlift 1-2 times bodyweight (1-5 reps)
Hand Release Push-Ups Push-up -- but in down position lift hands off ground. Max 2 minutes
Leg Tuck Hanging knee-ups from pull-up bar, bring knees to elbow (alternating grip)
Standing Power Throw Throw medicine ball over head (backward) as far as you can
250-meter Sprint/Drag/Carry All events are 25 meters out and back for time: (1) sprint, (2) 100-pound sled drag, (3) sprint, (4) two 40-pound kettlebell carry, and (5) sprint.
2-mile timed run Still have to run -- 2 miles fast pace

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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