Run, Swim, PT: How to Push Off a Training Plateau When You’re Stuck

Sgt. Matthew Nees, 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, runs up Netzaberg Hill, just outside the gate of U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria, Nov. 17. Nees recently logged 2,500 running miles in the Run for Your Life program; he did so in only nine months. (Photo Credit: Chelsea Bissell, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria Public Affairs)

In running, swimming and high-repetition calisthenics, the journey to competitive scores often is met with training plateaus. This workout will help you focus on improving on calisthenics if you are stuck on a plateau and help you get into better and faster running and swimming shape for fitness tests like the Navy physical screening test, RECON test and the Air Force physical ability and stamina test.

Here are a few rules and training ideas to help you get off the plateau with a few changes to your weekly routine:

Typical advanced training split routines will have you doing upper-body calisthenics/run/swim every other day and leg PT, run or ruck, and swim with fins on the days in between. When most people hit plateaus, it is from either doing too much and not allowing for recovery or from not doing enough training at a high intensity.

When doing tough workout days like the one below, I recommend that you take a mobility day before this one. During this week, the upper-body days were Monday and Wednesday, with leg day on Tuesday. A variety of running and swimming was done on these days as well.

On Friday, make it a mobility day off where you do a series of five minutes of easy cardio options (bike, row, swim, or soft ground jog), followed by five minutes of stretching, foam rolling and massage tooling. Repeat that five times and finish with a short swim, tread and dynamic stretches in chest-deep water.

After this easy recovery day, you are now ready for this once-a-week workout:

Max Rep Sets Workout -- The Fewer the Sets, the Better

Warmup with 1-5 pyramid:

Pull-up x 1, push-ups x 2: one pull-up, two push-ups, 25 meters of jog and dynamic stretches, two pull-ups, four push-ups, 25-meter warmup, 3/6, 4/8, 5/10. Keep warming up with a short jog or dynamic stretching if needed.

Now you are ready for the max rep sets.

Circuit of max reps: Make a circuit of the following exercises until you reach the required repetitions listed next to the exercise. The goal is to push yourself with the first exercise, then move into the next exercise for the most reps you can do, and the next and the next. Minimum rest, but rest as needed:

Pull-ups 100

Push-ups 200

Abs of choice 300 reps or 300 seconds of plank pose (5 minutes total)

Push press 100

Dumbbell or TRX rows 100

Dips 100 (or bench dips if needed)

Run 800 meters at goal-timed run mile pace each set until reps are completed

If you are at the high intermediate to advanced level, you should get the above repetitions in 5-6 (or fewer) sets. If this workout takes you more than six sets, it is fine to end the running sets after 6 x 800-meter goal pace runs and finish the repetitions, but stop at a total of 8-10 sets total as no more than that is needed.

This workout will build muscle stamina by pushing your near maximum effort each set (not failure -- just fatigue). Recovery is built in with different exercises and the run. Yes, you actually will “rest” by running.

Work hard to stay close to your goal pace on the timed run. But stop, stretch and drink water as needed between sets. This workout is not a race. Make these good repetitions so there is no need to time how quickly you do this.

Cooldown pyramid 5-1: 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups or stretch, 4 pull-ups, 8 push-ups, 3/6, 2/4, 2/1

Pull-ups x 1

Push-ups x 2

Rest with static stretches

Swim -- It is up to you where you place the swim workout. It Is a nice cooldown after all the above, but you may perform better if you come back a few hours later to do the swim portion.

Here is a classic workout that helps people prepare for 500-yard or 500-meter military swim tests.

Swim 500-meter warmup -- easy pace and mix in some treading (no hands) for a few minutes.

Repeat 10 times

50-meter freestyle at 6-8 strokes per breath

50-meter combat sidestroke (CSS) at goal pace

Practice good technique with the strokes you need to use, but make the first 50 meters of each set challenging and push yourself speed. Then try to catch your breath with the stroke tested and see whether you can match your goal pace in each 50-meter swim set of the 500-meter swim test. If you want to get good at swimming 500 meters fast, you need to get in shape enough to swim a minimum of 1,500 meters in a workout day.

If you find yourself dragging in this workout, check your fuel gauge. It could be dehydration, loss of electrolytes, or low blood sugar and low glycogen. You may need to eat better before this workout and have a healthy sports drink (no caffeine) with sugar and electrolytes standing by, just in case.

Then, eat and sleep well after this workout with an easier day after it. When in doubt, just practice technique work in the pool with treading, pulling, kicking, streamlining and drownproofing.

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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