Workout of the Week: Pyramid, Superset & Max Reps All in One

Senior Airman Nicholas Liuzzi, 56th Aerospace Medicine Squadron public health technician, performs a pushup at the Luke Air Force Base track April 17. Pushups help in strengthening abdominal muscles. Core muscles engage while helping to support the body during a pushup. (U.S. Air Force photo/Grace Lee)

Three favorite workouts from the "Classic Week of Training" have been used for decades to improve fitness test scores and create overall improvement in muscle stamina and endurance.

Typically, we do one of these three for each upper-body day of the week, but this week, we did all three together and it worked marvelously.

The PT Pyramid

Once again, this classic PT workout makes for the perfect warmup as you prepare the body for a greater volume of repetitions, increased weight with lifting and greater distances for cardio events (run, swim, ruck).

Here is how the workout started:

Pyramid of 1-10

Pull-ups and push-ups with a short warmup run. Stop the pyramid at 10.

1 push-up, 1 pull-up, run 100 meters. 2 push-ups, 2 pull-ups, run 100 meters. Keep going up until 10 pull-ups and 10 push-ups. Mix in some dynamic stretches and movements during the 100-meter run portion as needed. This is not a sprint run but a warm-up jog. You can increase speed as you feel ready.

This 1-10 half pyramid will yield 55 push-ups and pull-ups spread over 10 sets. If this is too difficult to reach without failing, use bands or cut the warmup to when you fail. Eventually, as you get better at pull-ups and push-ups, the 1-10 half pyramid will become an easy warmup.

The Superset Workout

This section uses sub-max effort repetitions to help you build volume in calisthenics and primes you for the next phase, one that will push your fatigue limits and intensity levels.

Repeat 10 times.

  • Run 100 meters or walk 50 meters
  • Push-ups 10
  • Pull-ups 5

This will add another 100 push-ups and 50 pull-ups to your warmup totals. If you are maxed out and failing at this point, the workout is done for you.

If you are just getting started and can handle the 105 pull-ups and 155 push-ups that you've done so far, it's time to try the next level.

Max-Rep Set Circuit

This is one of the harder calisthenics workouts. The goal is to get the repetitions done in as few sets as possible, rotating from one exercise to the other in circuit fashion. The challenge is to do the repetition in as few sets as possible. Keep going until the reps are complete.

Max effort each set in circuit:

  • Push press 100 (using 40- to 50-pound weight)
  • Pull-ups 50
  • Push-ups 150
  • Sit-ups 200 (one-minute sets)
  • Dips 100
  • Run 400 meters (or two minutes on the bike) after every round of the circuit. Strive to get reps done in as few sets as possible.

This completes the volume-building workout where you accumulated over 150 pull-ups, 300 push-ups, a few miles of running and the totals of each new exercise introduced in this third section of the workout.

If you no longer need to do sit-ups as part of a fitness test, consider planking for 200 seconds (3:20) in one set or mixing in some leg tucks as well if you're in the Army.

There are still many tests in the military that utilize high repetition of sit-ups and crunches, including SEAL, SWCC, EOD, Diver, Army Ranger, Army Special Forces, Air Force Special Warfare and RECON/MarSOC.

Run: 1.5 miles timed for a final run. How far you test your running pace depends on your branch of service. This timed run will vary from 1.5 miles, 2 miles or 3 miles, depending on what you are training to do.

Cool Down with a Mini-Mobility Session

After high-volume workouts, a cooldown is needed, especially if you pushed your limits on this one.

Repeat two times.

  • Bike or elliptical for five minutes (or substitute other non-impact cardio)
  • Stretch and foam roll for five minutes

Now you are finished. Give this a try if you are on the intermediate to advanced side of the fitness spectrum. This workout also works well for medium to large groups as long as you have some space and enough pull-up or dip bars.

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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