Top 5 Timeless Workouts for Your Fitness Routine

Workouts and exercises that have stood the test of time
Lt. j.g. Gordon Hood, Coast Guard Cutter Wrangell's executive officer, pushes up some weight during a break from operations in the North Arabian Gulf battle space. Commanding officer Lt. Matt Moyer is spotting. (Petty Officer 3rd Class Derek Day/U.S. Coast Guard photo)

If you write about training for more than two decades, the term “old school” will start to surface. Maybe it is because you are the OG (old guy) still in the gym getting after it or you like to do some of the classic workouts that I prefer to call “timeless” rather than “old school.”

Here are some classics that still work today and are just as effective now as when you did them in the 1980s (or earlier):

The classic 5 x 5: No one can argue with the timeless five sets of five reps of moderately heavy weight usually in the zone of 75%-80% of your one-rep max (1RM). The lifts that are associated with this workout scheme are timeless as well. Adding deadlifts, squats, bench press, overhead press and even weighted pull-ups to the 5 sets of 5 reps spread throughout the week has been a strength and power athlete’s standard for decades.

The classic PT pyramid: Whether you are a beginner or advanced tactical athlete, the muscle stamina (strength endurance) that you receive from high-volume calisthenics is going to be helpful, not only with fitness testing but also with increasing work capacity. Mix in fast runs every set of the pyramid or add other movements like carries and crawls, and you have built an endurance program that can be a mainstay of your endurance and muscle stamina training cycles.

The classic Murph workout: I am not sure CrossFit has been around long enough to earn the “old school” or “timeless” moniker yet, but whether you follow the workouts or not, many of you likely either have heard of or done the Memorial Day Murph workout. Run one mile, do 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats and then run one mile to complete the muscle stamina and endurance challenge.

This is not for beginners, but you can accumulate repetitions any way you prefer from the pyramid method, circuit max reps or a steady rep count each set until complete with the 100, 200, 300 reps. I will say, however, that the 100-, 200-, 300-rep workout was also a spec ops candidate favorite back in the '80s as we prepared for PT tests that required competitive marks with pull-ups, push-ups and sit-ups (instead of squats). That means this workout rep scheme could be considered timeless in some circles.

Running classics -- 400 or 800-meter repeats: If you are training to get better at timed runs, you will start to learn your goal pace by repeating a certain distance for multiple sets. Over a relatively short time, you build your speed and endurance up so you can string together several sets of that timed run distance. For instance, repeating 400-meter runs 6-10 times will help you prepare for timed runs in the military of the 1.5- to two-mile distances. Combined with a short rest or squats or lunges, this runner’s leg day is a classic to improve timed runs. Classic work-to-rest ratios are either 50%-100% of your run time, but those also depend on your current capabilities. Mixing in sprints, tempo and goal-pace intervals throughout the week will add variety to the rather monotonous workouts if running is not yet one of your favorite things to do.

The classic bro split: Like it or not, the bodybuilding split routine that emphasizes a body part or specific movement per day of training is here to stay. It’s ideal for those who are hard gainers and trying to gain weight with hypertrophy programming.

The body part per day workout looks like this -- though there are many variations:

Monday: chest/triceps/core

Tuesday: back/biceps/forearms

Wednesday: legs and shoulders/core

Repeat for the next three days.

This is basically a double three-day split, accumulating six workouts in a week. Some prefer to do legs on day 1 and day 4, but any order is the lifter's preference. There are six-day splits that only train one body part a day once a week, and these are popular in the bodybuilding world. A mix of compound movements and isolation training makes this effective for muscle growth, if you keep the classic hypertrophy range between 8-12 reps per set. The No. 1 rule for this workout is "never skip leg day."

In the end, it is best for the tactical athlete to cycle through the year with different specific emphasis on training type and energy systems. You will need cardiovascular endurance, muscle stamina, strength, power, speed and agility, as well as flexibility and mobility to do your job best. None of these are bad for you, depending on your goals, but only doing one type of training will yield weaknesses in other areas of fitness that can prevent you from being mission ready.

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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