Try This Combo to Help with Push-Ups and Plank Pose

US Marine Corps candidate does push-ups.
Officer candidates perform push-ups during the Medal of Honor run at Officer Candidates School aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. (Marine Corps/Phuchung Nguyen)

A major change to fitness tests throughout the military has been the substitution of plank poses for sit-ups or crunches. This can be a challenge, especially if you had been doing two minutes of push-ups before. Finding ways to mix in plank pose into your running and push-up workouts is not that difficult, but it’s important that those workouts are effective and will build your skill and endurance progressively.

There are still military fitness tests that have not transitioned to plank pose. Neither the Navy physical screening test (PST) for SEAL, SWCC, diver, EOD, rescue swimmer nor the Air Force physical ability and stamina test (PAST) for units of Air Force Special Warfare (PJ, CCT, SR, TACP, EOD) have made the change to planks. At this time, the Air Force, Marine Corps and Army have the option to use planks versus sit-ups, crunches, or leg tuck respectively.

The plank pose is a classic isometric exercise used in yoga that has been building stability and strength from the shoulders to the hips and everything in between for hundreds of years. If you still are doing sit-ups to prepare for one of many tests still using them, having some plank pose time in your training is a good way to balance out the front hip flexor and lower abdominal region with the lower back and buttocks.

The combo is what we have nicknamed the Death By Push-Ups Challenge. It’s a five- to 10-minute plank pose with push-ups every minute on the minute. This combination gives you a 1-2 punch for just about any military fitness test from service academies, basic training and boot camp to active-duty service members. This workout is also a bit of a gut check and an opportunity to build some mental toughness in a way that is about as safe as it gets for this kind of mental and physical challenge.

Here is the workout from top to bottom:

Warmup: Run 1 mile or 10-minute bike.

Continue Warmup: Pull-up and/or push-up pyramid 1-10 (with 50-meter jogs or 10 jump rope or jumping jacks between sets). Stop at 10, totaling 55 repetitions of both push-ups and pull-ups. If this warmup is beyond your ability level, just do a few sets and skip pull-ups if needed.

Death by Push-Ups

Get in a plank pose for 10 minutes, but do a set of five push-ups or hand-release push-ups every minute on the minute. This is the 10-minute option that you may need to build up to performing, but you will find that push-ups every minute is a sort of a break from the monotony that a 10-minute plank can bring.

For those with more advanced push-up skills, try 10 push-ups every minute on the minute (EMOM) with the 10-minute plank.


You still have to do a 1.5-, two- or three-mile run for your fitness test, depending on your branch of service. Doing intervals a few times a week will help you learn your goal pace and get in shape to handle the entire distance tested.

Try the following options:

Repeat 8 times
Run: 400 meters at goal mile pace
Walk: 100 meters and stretch


Repeat 4 times
Run: 800 meters at goal mile pace
Walk: 200 meters and stretch


After you have completed the above sections of the workout, take a few minutes to cool down and stretch.

Here is something that is very helpful that we call the Mini-Mobility Day:

Repeat 2 times
Bike, walk, elliptical or row: 5 minutes
Stretch or foam roll: 5 minutes

The Death By Push-Ups section is easy to do as a standalone workout challenge or as an extra bonus added to your current training plan. It only takes 5-10 minutes. Do this at least once a week, and you will be able to max your plank pose test after a short training period.

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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