Prepare for Special Ops Testing with the UBRR Pyramid

Upper body round robin military physical fitness test
Cadre from the Special Operations Recruiting Center administer and grade competitors during the 'UBRR,' or upper body round robin event, at Fort Bliss, Texas, Sept. 6, 2017. (Staff Sgt. Thanh L. Pham/U.S. Army photo)

There are many ways you can incorporate the pyramid training method into your workout. Pyramids or ladders (half-pyramids) are my favorites, especially when used for warmups and cooldowns within a workout.

The pyramid is a fantastic tool to increase calisthenics repetitions for fitness tests. The backside of a pyramid or reverse ladder (10, 8, 6, 4, 2 or 5, 4, 3, 2, 1) is a classic way to increase weight and build strength.

The upper body round robin is one of the toughest tests. You may only see this when doing high-level special ops unit selections. The UBRR can be graded objectively, which makes it useful for splitting hairs in competitive programs. Be prepared to do this test with minimum rest between events.

UBRR Pyramid -- Upper Body Round Robin Test

This workout is a challenging test used by some special ops units to test a candidate's upper-body strength, speed, agility and cardiovascular endurance. You can prepare for this high-rep cardio workout with a couple of different pyramids to include all of the events into the program.


1. 1 minute of push-ups

2. 1 minute of sit-ups

3. Max pull-ups, not timed

4. Max dips, not timed

5. Max reps of bench press at 80% body weight, not timed

6. 20-foot rope climb in body armor or weight vest (just 1 for this pass-or-fail event)

7. 1 minute toes to bar (kip-ups)

8. 4 x 25-meter shuttle run (max 24 seconds)

9. 5-mile run (max 40 minutes) or 5-mile ruck march (75 minutes max with 45 pounds of dry weight)

Here is how to mix in all exercises into a pyramid program:

The classic 1-10-1 pyramid can be used with the following calisthenics

Pull-ups x 1

Push-ups x 2 (fast pace)

Sit-ups x 2 (work at a one sit-up per second pace)

Dips x 2

Go outside and do a quick 1-10 half-pyramid of the following exercises:

Toes to bar x 1

Shuttle run 25 meters fast and back to pull-up bar between sets of toes to bar (kip-ups)

Half-pyramid 1-10 with bench press and rope climbs (high reps)

Bench press x 2 (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20)

Do a rope climb between sets (if possible). Focus on technique and use your feet with the J Hook.

If you are not getting double digits on your bench press yet, drop the x 2 to a x 1 and increase by one each set. The goal here is to get the maximum number of repetitions with 80% of your bodyweight.

Mix in a few rope climbs if available. If not, you can make up the rope climbs later. It is best to get used to active resting for recovery for this test; the rests are minimal at best. Pick one of the above exercises that is not a pushing exercise (push-ups or dips) and use that as a "rest" exercise between benches.

Cardio Time

After the pyramid and two half-pyramids are complete, finish this workout with a five-mile run or ruck. You will have to do this at a seven-minute mile pace to be competitive, though you need an eight-minute mile to pass. Same for the ruck: You will want to do a 10- to 12-minute mile pace, even though you need a 15-minute mile pace to pass.

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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