Workout of the Week: Weight Vest Chest and Pull-Up Workout

(U.S. Air Force/Airman Michaela Slanchik)

One of the best workouts of this week was a series of exercises that made calisthenics and running just a little bit harder than normal. After a good warmup with the basics of calisthenics and cardio, we added 20-40 pounds to a calisthenics workout, making it feel more like weightlifting.

When you want to go a little harder than the standard calisthenics but do not have access to facilities and equipment, try the weight vest and TRX. Here, we used both to make the standard calisthenics exercises just a little more challenging:


Start off with an easy pull-up/push-up, short jog or jump rope session and build up to 10 pull-ups/10 push-ups with a pull-up/push-up run pyramid of 1-10. The warmup works like this:

  • 1 pull-up/1 push-up -- run 100 meters or do 15 seconds of jump rope/jumping jacks
  • 2 pull-ups/2 push-ups -- run 100 meters or do 15 seconds of jump rope/jumping jacks
  • 3/3, run 100 meters or 15 seconds of jump rope/jumping jacks
  • 4/4, keep going up until you fail or reach 10 and stop
  • 10 pull-ups/10 push-ups, run 100 meters or do 15 seconds of jump rope/jumping jacks

This equals 1,000 meters of jogging and 55 pull-ups and push-ups. If you are unable to do that many pull-ups/push-ups as a warmup, stop at set five (15 pull-ups/push-ups) or replace with an easier version like TRX rows, assisted pull-ups or knee push-ups.

A weight vest pull-up. (Stew Smith)

The goal is to warm up with sub-max effort level. This is not a beginner warmup, but you can adjust it accordingly to make it fit your abilities.

Then run one mile or bike 10 minutes to complete the warmup section (stretch as needed).

Weight Vest/TRX Workouts

If you want to make push-ups harder, add a weight vest. If you want to take that up a notch, also add a TRX and do the TRX atomic push-up, which is a combo of a feet elevated push-up and a knee-up (see atomic push-up video).

Repeat 3 times
TRX atomic push-ups
: 10-20 (weight vest optional)
TRX or dumbbell rows: 10/arm

The goal of the above section of the workout is to do as many TRX push-ups as you can in the three sets. Can you easily do more than 10-20? If so, add a weight vest so the reps are more difficult. Start off with 20 pounds, then advance up to 40 in the vest if you can handle it. I have been using the TRX push-up exercise as a replacement for the bodyweight bench press exercise for years now.

A weight vest push-up. (Stew Smith)

See this related article on improving your body weight bench press max reps without a bench press.

Weight Vest Section

The next section is to try to push the normal run and calisthenics workout by adding a weight vest. The reps will be fewer and the run/ruck will be slower, but that’s fine. Let’s see how you do with the following:

Repeat 3 times

WV = weight vest weighing 10-20 pounds or 30-40 pounds, depending on your abilities

WV run/ruck 800 meters -- This is optional to run without the vest or with it and make it a ruck.
• WV pull-ups -- Max
• Pull-ups max (air) -- See whether you can get a few more reps without the vest (no rest)
• WV push-ups -- Max
• WV plank -- One minute. After you reach your push-up max, move right into the plank pose.
• WV dips -- 10-15

A weight vest dip. (Stew Smith)

After this upper-body challenge, drop the weight and see whether you can run 1.5 miles faster than normal. You will feel much lighter.

Run 1.5 miles -- Timed

This advanced workout is ideal for those who like to have a few weeks to transition out of a calisthenics/cardio phase of training and into a weightlifting cycle. Consider this a mix of both and a good way to prepare for heavier lifts in the near future.

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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