One Soldier, Two Workouts

An Army sergeant does push-ups during a Best Warrior competition.
U.S. Army Sgt. Luis Cruz, assigned to 687th Rapid Port Opening Element, performs push-ups during the Army physical fitness test portion of the 2017 Army Materiel Command's Best Warrior competition at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, July 16. (Sgt. 1st Class Teddy Wade/U.S. Army photo)

Here is a great question from a soldier who wants to add in extra PT with his command-group PT and does not want to injure himself or overtrain. This is such a smart question because too many will wind up working the same muscle groups 3-4 days in a row, which can slow growth and recovery significantly, especially as we age.

Hi, Stew. I am a soldier in the U.S. Army, and as you know, we do PT every day. I'm pretty weak at PT, and so I feel that I need to do extra on my own. What I run into when I try to start my own training is an overlap in what my unit does and what I do.

For example, I will plan a long run for Thursday afternoon, and we'll end up doing a five-miler that morning. I'm afraid of overtraining ever since [I developed] shin splints a couple of years back. Any ideas on what I should do?

Sure. What I would do is to set up a similar workout later in the day after your group Army PT workout. So on Monday, you do some upper-body PT and a run in the morning. Later in the day or evening, do more similar exercises in the evening that same day for 20-30 minutes. Add weights of the same muscle group for variety, if needed.

For example, if you did a lot of push-ups in the morning, add in some bench press, chest flies, shoulder exercises and some plank poses for your abs and lower back. Then do a non-impact aerobic activity like bike, swim or elliptical glide to work the heart and lungs without overworking your legs and shins.

This way, your body will get more than 24 hours of recovery before working the same muscle groups, even though you did a two-a-day workout. The thing to remember is not to do any upper-body workouts the following day. Focus on leg PT, running, rucking or another form of cardio activity. Also add in some foam rolling.

Stew, could I get a five- or six-day plan that incorporates your pyramid/super sets/test failure workout? I'm a little foggy on what that looks like.

Have you seen my workout The Pull-Up Push-Up Workout? Or have you seen my workout for 15 Days from the PFT? These are routines that work well for those seeking to improve their PFT scores.

I also would do this to be more specific:

Monday: Pyramid workout to failure and repeat in reverse order (pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups/dips options)

Tuesday: Run/Leg PT Workout

Wednesday: Super set workout (all sub-max effort). For example:

Repeat 5-10 times (depending on your fitness level)

  • Pull-ups: 50% of your max reps
  • Push-ups: 50% of max reps
  • Sit-ups: Work on your pace of 20-25 sit-ups in 30 seconds
  • Run 3-4 minutes at goal pace for your two-mile run

Thursday: Day off or easy non-impact cardio option

Friday: Run or ruck, mixed with some leg PT or a weight workout

Saturday: Max-effort PT workout:

Pick a number to do like 50-100 pull-ups, 100-200 push-ups (one minute limit per set) and 150-300 sit-ups (one minute limit per set). Your goal is to get to these numbers as quickly as you can in as few sets as possible. A first set may look like this:

  • Pull-ups 20
  • Push-ups 60
  • Sit-ups 60
  • Run: Optional. Try adding in a quarter-mile recovery run before repeating the above three exercises in a circuit fashion, with no rest in between.

Set two may look like this: 15 pull-ups, 40 push-ups, 50 sit-ups, run ... Continue this routine until you hit your goal reps per workout. Just to give you an idea of how far you can take this, my Heroes of Tomorrow PT group typically does this in 4-6 sets. Every now and then, we have a guy who can do 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 sit-ups in three sets. (The time limit on sit-ups is two minutes for this workout.)

There are many ways to create workouts with the classic calisthenics exercises. One of my latest and new favorites is the 8-count bodybuilder push-up and pull-up pyramid. Do one 8-count bodybuilder push-up, run 30-40 meters to a pull-up bar and do one pull-up, run back 30-40 meters and do two 8-count barbell push-ups, then run to a pull-up bar and do two pull-ups.

I think you get where this is going, so keep going up until you fail at pull-ups, then repeat in reverse order if you did not make it over 10. Keep going if you can and shoot for a goal of reaching 20. That is 210 pull-ups and 210 barbell push-ups in a workout. This one is tough.

I have enjoyed learning new things and developing challenging workouts for more than 20 years now, and I am not done. I'm still learning every day. Enjoy and keep changing.

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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