Try the 8-Count Body Builder Push-up/Pull-up Pyramid

An airman jumps while performing burpees.
An airman jumps while performing burpees during a new fitness program Jan. 27, 2012. (Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon/379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs)

This new workout is one we developed with the Naval Academy spec ops team when we were thinking about how to simulate an obstacle course without one to train with.  So we figured there was a 20- to 30-yard run between obstacles. Most obstacles had either a pulling exercise, pushing exercise or a combination of both. So we added an eight-count body builder to the exercise and a pull-up and set the workout to a pyramid cycle.  So it looks like this:

Preparation for obstacle courses: Use the 8-count body builder push-up/pull-up pyramid: This is one hardcore workout.  Do one eight-count barbell push-up, run 20 meters to a pull-up bar and do one pull-up. Run back to the area where you do the 8 counts and then do two 8 counts, run back to the pullup bar and do two pull-ups. Keep the cycle of 8 counts, short runs and pull-ups until you fail at the pull-ups, then repeat in reverse order.

The 8-count body builder push-up: 8 movements of a mix of push-up/burpee:

Run to pull-up bar: This can start off as a sprint but likely change to a jog after several sets.

The proper pull-up (regular grip): Grab the pull-up bar with your hands placed about shoulder width apart and your palms facing away from you. Pull yourself upward until your chin is over the bar and complete the exercise by slowly moving to the hanging position.

Continue up the pyramid until you fail at pull-ups; resort to negatives for a few sets if you can limit them to 1-2 per set. If you cannot, then repeat the pyramid in reverse order.

Pull-ups (negatives): If you cannot do any pull-ups, you should try "negatives," or half pull-ups. All you have to do is get your chin over the bar by standing on something or having spotter push you over the bar. Then, you slowly lower yourself all the way down; let your arms hang, grasping the bar fully stretched. Keep your feet up and fight gravity for a count of five seconds. This will get your arms used to supporting your weight.

Going from 10-15 pull-ups to a goal of 25-30?

Try this workout: 100 pull-ups in as few sets as possible.  Rest with 100 abs of choice and 50-100 push-ups, then repeat pull-ups for the next set until you reach 100 pull-ups. 

Cannot do pull-ups? Check out the TRX.

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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