Top Off Leg Day With These Challenging Cardio Events


Do you want legs that are fit enough to last all day during military and special-ops level training events? You’ll need a foundation of strength, especially when preparing for load-bearing exercises like rucking, equipment or personnel carry.

Leg strength workouts mixed with an endurance component will help you prepare for long rucks in the sand, hills or mountains. Do a leg day in the gym and top it off with an activity that helps with the strength-endurance combination. These activities can be soft-sand runs or rucks, hill runs or rucks, or swimming with SCUBA fins.

Mix all three together, and you have what we call the Spec Ops Triathlon. Here is a sample leg-day warmup, workout and cardio top-off to prepare for challenging events in military training and special-ops selection programs.


Warm up with a squat and run ladder 1-10: 1 squat, run 50-100 meters; 2 squats, run 100 meters; 3 squats, run 100 meters. These runs are jogs with a mix of dynamic stretches.

400-Meter Walking Lunges

Do this with added weight. You can use a log, a weight at chest carry, wearing a weight vest or holding a set of dumbbells to work the grip muscles as well as the legs. Start with a few weeks of 100- to 200-meter lunge sets to build up to the 400-meter distance.

The goal is to do 400 meters of walking lunges without being sore for two days. This takes time and progression and a steady dose of walking lunges as part of your leg-day workouts. The walking lunge is one of those exercises that adds strength and endurance in the legs and helps with running and rucking in sand or up and down hills.


You do not need to lift super heavy weights to build leg strength and endurance. A foundation of heavier squats and deadlifts is helpful, but transforming that strength into more useful military travel skills requires repetitions.

The following is a classic kettlebell circuit, but you can get more creative and add in sled pulls or pushes to help prepare for the Army combat fitness test (CFT) leg activities. You must decide the weight of these movements. We typically use 35- to 70-pound kettlebells, depending on the athlete and the exercise.

Repeat 3 times

KB Romanian deadlift: 10

KB swings: 20

KB squats: 10

KB jump squats: 10

KB run: 2 x 25 meters

Run: 2 x 25 meters (fast with no added weight)

Choice: Run or Ruck

Add beach or hill running to the leg-day challenge. We often run or ruck first, then do the above calisthenics and weight training, but you can arrange them in whatever order you prefer. Your first event should be the one that needs the most improvement.

Timed run: 4 miles or ruck: 4 miles with 40- to 50-pound carry. You also can do half of each.

Swim Optional

If your future career requires swimming or diving, the swim is not optional. Otherwise, if you need a non-impact cardio activity, this is a great leg-day addition. Swimming with fins will build the legs as well as any fitness method available.

Swim: 500 meters warmup, no fins

Swim: 2,500 meters with fins

Dynamic stretch in chest-deep water 10 minutes or bike ride and static stretch: 10 minutes

You are looking at 2-3 hours total time for this workout. If you are preparing for more challenging special-ops programs, putting in the time for these events will help build the type of work capacity that you will need.

There is no 30-minute gym routine that will prepare someone sufficiently for a long day of military training. It is up to you to put in the time if you want to be durable enough to succeed.

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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