New tactical fitness-inspired tests such as the Army Combat Fitness Test (CFT) or the USMC CFT will require additional training with weights, sandbags, ammo boxes or other gear. Regardless of the test you must take in your future, progressive training is required as well as learning to deal with the aches and pains of pushing your limits as you experience new exercises.
One way to improve your performance in calisthenics or high-repetition weighted events is a workout that builds higher volume by doing sub-max repetitions throughout the workout. We call these Sub-Max Super Sets and they are one of my three favorite ways to build volume in workouts that will lead to higher fitness test scores.
This is a series of sub-max repetition sets using several exercises in circuit fashion with an added goal-pace run, bike, row or swim (depending on the test).
You’ll do multiple sets at about 50-60% effort on calisthenics exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups or plank pose, hanging knee-ups (a/k/a leg tucks), squats and lunges. With this arrangement, you can easily add in lifted events such as deadlifts, kettlebell carries, ammo can presses and medicine ball throws.
To determine what your sub-max effort is for multiple sets, take 50% of your current max reps on these events and do that for each set of your workout.
Repeat 5 – 10 times (depending on your abilities
Pull-ups: 5 (if your max is 10 or more)
Push-ups: 25 (if your max is 50 or more)
2 x 25-meter kettlebell carry (ACFT)
Ammo Can Push Press: 25 (if your max is 50 or more)
Run 400 meters at your goal mile pace for timed runs
Are you Stuck at a Certain Level of Performance – Plateau?
For people who are stuck or plateaued on a particular exercise and still feel less than optimal, it is recommended to make a few changes to the above workouts. For instance, take an extra day in between doing that muscle group again, try the pyramid or super set with a 10-20lb weight vest and do much fewer repetitions to shorten the workout length overall. Another option is to make changes to the repetitions and sets themselves. For instance, adding a variety of grips (pullups), hand placement (pushups), and speed of reps (slow on eccentric (down movement) / fast on concentric (up movement) of calisthenics and lifts are ways to make slight changes to a rather monotonous workout and this change may help you with some performance slumps. The goal of this workout is to not FAIL but be in a moderate level of fatigue throughout the workout only resting to transition to another exercise 10-15 seconds.
Recovery From These Types of Workouts
Obviously, you do not want to do this workout daily. Workouts with this type of high volume requires a day in between them before repeating or doing the same muscle groups in training. On the days in between these workouts like this, consider warming up with some form of cardio or splitting the body in half and doing lower body on the day after the upper body Sub Max Circuit.
A great option is to do the “hair of the dog that bit me” warmup cycle the next day for 10-15 minutes before you do your workout for the day. For instance, maybe do the above circuit but with 10-15% of the reps you did the day before for 10 minutes. Doing a set of 1-2 pullups, 5-10 pushups mixed with some dynamic stretches and short runs is not only a great way to start a warmup but will aid in recovery from the day before especially if you are sore from that workout. We typically practice this process especially after leg days as the recovery from those muscle groups can be lingering when doing higher volume than one is used to doing. The “hair of the dog that bit you” warmup also called post-workout recovery done the day after a workout that made you sore. A great example is after a leg day and you are sore (very common) and you do a few squats and short bike or jog intervals to speed the healing process so you can move freely with less aches than before the warmup. More recovery ideas / gear.
No matter what the fitness goal you have for yourself, it will be helpful to employ the Training – Plateau Change – Recovery method. Knowing how to make small changes that can improve performance or delay or shorten a plateau and how to recover properly is key to not only PT test performance but long term health and wellness as well.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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