Stew’s Favorites: Reverse Pyramid

A soldier works out with dumbbells at Fort Bragg.
A soldier works out at the U.S. Army Forces Command and U.S Army Reserve Command Special Troops Battalion Fitness Center at Fort Bragg, N.C., Jan. 7, 2013. (Timothy Hale/U.S. Army photo)

This workout was done years ago, using calisthenics only, while deployed on a submarine for a few weeks doing operations in the Mediterranean. Many people ask about good underway workouts so the calisthenics version is a great one. The second version that we did this week is a combination of many calisthenics exercises and lifts.

Calisthenics version: Reverse pyramid from 25 to 1. Start off with 25 reps of a few exercises that focus on legs, abs, the lower back and upper body. An advanced challenge is the following:

Squats, push-ups, crunches/sit-ups and plank pose (rep per second): Do 25 of each, then 24, 23, 22, 21, 20 ... all the way down to one. This totals 325 reps of each exercise. For an added break, do a five-minute cardio of run, bike or elliptical every fifth set.

For the calisthenics and weighted version: This is where it gets more advanced as we add several challenging exercises throughout the 25 to 1 pyramid.

The first five sets is a calisthenics warmup: 25-21 reps of push-ups, abs of choice and squats.

Then take a five-minute cardio break of Tabata intervals on the bike, elliptical, rower (20 seconds fast/10 seconds slow)

The second five sets is calisthenics again but tougher: 20-16: pull-ups, dips, abs of choice/plank

*If you fail at pull-ups/dips, do the remainder on pulldown machine/rows or push-ups for dips

Take a five-minute cardio break of your choice: run, bike, elliptical, row, etc.

The third five sets is a tough calisthenics and weighted cycle: 15--11: Pull-ups, bench press, weighted squats, abs of choice

Take a five-minute cardio break of Tabata intervals on bike, elliptical, rower (20 seconds fast/10 seconds slow)

The fourth five sets is a combo of weights/calisthenics as well: 10--6: Pull-ups, bench press, power clean or hang clean.

Take a five-minute cardio break of your choice.

The fifth five sets of calisthenics/heavy lifts: 5--1: Pull-ups, deadlifts, squats.

*Heavy is relative. If you can add more weight, then do so.

This is a great challenge to keep up with pull-up reps while in a lifting cycle. We basically use calisthenics as a warmup for the lifts, keep the focus on core balance (abs/planks) and get some legs and full-body exercises in the mix. This is one of those workouts that you feel like you did something afterward and still had enough juice to do more cardio cooldown for 30--40 minutes if you had the time.

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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