Here Are My Top 10 Go-to Workout Plans

A first lieutenant performs push-ups using the TRX system.
1st Lt. Brian Johnson, 747th Communications Squadron, performs push-ups using the TRX ropes during the Toughest Warrior competition on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, March 9, 2020. (Staff Sgt. Nicholas Brown/U.S. Air Force photo)

Whatever your workout plan is today, sometimes life gets in the way and things happen. The pool closes early. The gym loses power. The basement is flooded, and you have to deal with that problem first. Or you just overslept and missed your morning workout time. Things happen.

Here are some of my favorite backup plans that I have used over the years, and some from the many readers of these articles who answered my social media request for their go-to plan:

1. The PT Pyramid: You cannot go wrong with the PT pyramid. This is probably the first workout I remember when I joined the military and wanted to improve my PT scores. There are many derivations of the standard 1-10-1 pull-up, push-ups x2, sit-ups x3 PT pyramid, and you are limited only by your imagination and some common sense.

2. The Super Set: When you have little time and no equipment, you always can do the PT super set to get your reps completed for that day and say you did something physical. You are limited only by how many sets you have time to do or your body can handle.

3. The Max Rep Set: Once you have mastered the PT pyramid and the super set and can handle workouts with volumes of 100 pull-ups and 200 push-ups, it is time to test your newfound strength. This workout will increase your muscle stamina and endurance, which are really the goal of mastering PT tests. Find out how to push your numbers even higher.

4-6. Classic variations: These fall into the max-rep set category and can be done quickly. In 30 minutes, you really can get a great workout if you push yourself. The Murph (made popular by CrossFit), Sandbaby Murph and 500 also fall into this category and require minimal equipment (a pull-up bar and backpack).

Sometimes, you may have to wing it at the gym. Here are some classic lift/PT/cardio mix workouts that will help you still get something done.

7. The "Kitchen Sink" Circuit: Sometimes, when I walk into a hotel weight room and just see a room full of machines with no free weights, I try something to challenge myself. For every exercise available, you do as much weight as you can for as many reps as you can. In between, bouncing from one machine exercise to the next, rest with 50 abs of choice or a one-minute plank pose.

"Rest with abs" is a great way to keep moving and feel like you are doing something constantly. Also see how quickly you can burn 100 calories on any of the cardio machines -- all-out sprints.

8. Short Run Plus: If you have a short place to run, like a basketball court, driveway or yard, adding a variety of exercises on each end of that run can be a great quick workout. You also can pyramid each set as well. One of our favorites is the Burpee Pyramid with a 25- to 30-meter run in between: one burpee, run 25 meters; two burpees, run 25 meters; three burpees, run 25 meters, and keep going until you run out of time or ability.

Try to build up to 20 sets, and that will equal 210 reps. Go to 24 sets, and you have 300 reps. Not into burpees? I cannot blame you. You can replace them with other exercises, such as pull-ups on one side and push-ups or squats on the other side of the run.

Often, you only have 30 minutes to do something. Many of those PT sessions (1, 2, 3) can be accomplished in 30 minutes. But sometimes, you just have to go do something with nothing.

9. Just run: Sometimes you only can get in a run. You can make these long and slow or short and fast intervals, depending on how you feel. I usually like to jog around, find a track and do a mix of bleacher runs, run and leg PT sets, and sprints.

10. Just Stretch and work on Mobility: There is the easy "stretch PT" day. Take a few minutes to warm up and spend the rest of your time stretching from head to toe. Focusing on mobility, foam-roller work and some dynamic stretches can help loosen the body or aching joints and muscles. A mobility day in the pool is also a great way to deviate from the original plan, if you feel your body needs a rest.

Here is some gear you should consider if you need something besides a calisthenics workout as your backup plan:

TRX: You cannot go wrong with packing the TRX in your luggage when on travel. This is literally a gym in a bag and can be performed anywhere. See some of my favorite exercises: TRX video

Mobell Muscle: If you are deep into a strength training program and do not have a gym in your area of travel, consider the gym you can bring with you. It is complete with barbell (foldable) and sandbag weights that also double as bags you can lift and carry as well. All you need is sand/dirt.

Do not forget the jump rope. Get creative with the jump rope, and you will have a go-to, high-intensity plan for life.

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

Want to Learn More About Military Life?

Whether you're thinking of joining the military, looking for fitness and basic training tips, or keeping up with military life and benefits, has you covered. Subscribe to to have military news, updates and resources delivered directly to your inbox.

Story Continues