Workout of the Week: Build Your Own Upper Body Circuit

Soldiers work the muscular endurance and power of their quadriceps with the TRX sprinter's start exercise during a train-the-trainer clinic at Fort Bragg, N.C. (Photo Credit: Tim Hipps,)

If you are in a large group and setting up a training program, here is a workout that allows for variety of fitness levels while utilizing a wide range of exercises that work the upper body joints in multiple planes and range of motion and movement.  This “build your own” upper body circuit looks like this:

Using the Push, Pull, Core, Carry, and Run method, the following workout allows for the user to change exercises each set but work the same muscle groups in the following categories:

  • Pull – Any pulling exercise (pullups, pulldowns, rows, bicep curls)
  • Push – Any pulling exercise (pushups, bench, military press, TRX pushups, triceps extension)
  • Core – Any core exercise for 1 minute (crunches, sit-ups, flutterkicks, plank pose, etc)
  • Repeat the upper body circuit TWO times before moving to the carry / run section.

Carry – Carry a sandbag over the shoulder or on your head, farmer walk a kettlebell, grip a plate farmer walk, or fireman carry a person 100m (50/50 with partner if fireman carry).

This section is truly a core exercise, but engages the entire body throughout the movement of walking fast or jogging as a load bearing exercise. Depending upon what you carry will determine the muscle groups worked.

  • Carrying a sandbag on the shoulder can simulate carrying logs during log PT in the future.
  • Carrying the sandbag on the head can simulate carrying boats or other equipment on the head as well.
  • The plate carry is a pure grip and core exercise – walking 100m while pinching the plate between the fingers and the thumb will test the grip.  If you choose to pinch / carry a 45 lb plate, you may want to only carry one and change hands throughout the walk.

Run 1 mile – Work on you goal mile pace with this run. IF you have timed runs you are training for in the future, make this mile a portion of the test. 

In other words, if you are training for a 9 minute 1.5 mile timed run, run this mile in (or close to) 6 minutes.  You can also mix in fast/slow intervals throughout the mile.  Run a ¼ mile fast, ¼ mile slow x 2 – it is up to you if you want to shoot for goal pace for timed runs or make them faster than goal pace to push your running/breathing limits.

Repeat the above circuit a total of 4 times. So, that equals 8 sets of push, pull, core and 4 sets of carry and run.


  • After this event, which can take 60-90 minutes if you push hard for 3-4 sets, do a cooldown swim.
  • Cooldown with 10 minute tread / running in place
  • Swim 10 minutes or 500m – whichever comes first.
  • Do dynamic stretches for 10 minutes in chest deep water.

This swim section is part mobility cooldown and more to focus on technique of treading and swimming for future training events.

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