Mix Weights with Calisthenics for This Workout of the Week

(U.S. Marine Corps/Re-Essa Buckels)

Often, we like to limit our workouts to the few exercises we enjoy. Maybe it's doing heavy lifting in the weight room and skipping the running or other cardio activity. It may also be running long distances and skipping the higher-repetition calisthenics or weight training needed for many military professions.

Whatever your athletic and training history, eventually, you will need to train your weaknesses until they become something you are good at doing. "Being good at everything and not particularly great at anything in fitness" is the very definition of the tactical athlete.

Warm Up with Calisthenics

If you are preparing for military service that includes calisthenics testing, consider organizing workouts like the following upper-body day.

Not only will you see calisthenics in physical fitness tests that can make or break your career choices, but you will also be required to perform moderate to high repetitions of these exercises in group PT events and selection programs. At SEAL training, they do not call it Grinder PT for nothing.

These high-repetition calisthenics workouts will make you wish you practiced more before you joined. This is a great warmup half pyramid to use prior to any upper-body workout. In fact, replace the pull-ups or push-ups with squats and do the same short runs, and you will have a great leg-day warmup as well.

Push-up and Pull-up Pyramid: 1-10 (stop at 10/10)

Add 50- to 100-meter runs and dynamic stretches between each set.

When mixing calisthenics with weights, the goal should be to maintain your calisthenics muscle stamina with a few sets of warmup exercises while you focus more on strength for weight training.

Here is how each set looks:

Set 1: 1 pull-up, 1 push-up, jog 50-100 meters and mix in a few dynamic stretches for a section of the running distances. These are not fast runs, but an easy warmup jog.

Set 2: 2 pull-ups, 2 push-ups, jog 50-100 meters

Set 3: 3 pull-ups, 3 push-ups, jog 50-100 meters

Set 4: 4 pull-ups, 4 push-ups, jog 50-100 meters

Increase pull-ups and push-ups by one each set until you reach set 10.

At set 10, you will do 10 pull-ups and 10 push-ups, and you will have completed the warmup with 55 pull-ups and 55 push-ups. If this is an impossible warmup, you can replace the pull-ups with an easier option like pull-downs, TRX rows or even just stop at set five for 25 reps of each exercise.

Now, you should feel warmed up. Time to move onto the weights.

This is the main push/pull superset of the workout, using two exercises that will allow for some active rest. It is up to you how much rest you need for this section. If you have difficulty with weight-vest pull-ups, replace them with a different pulling exercise like pull-downs or rows.

Repeat three times.

  • Bench press: 10
  • Weight-vest pull-ups: max

The auxiliary lifts involve another push/pull combo in multiple directions. The biceps/military exercise is a two-for-one deal where you do a biceps curl and move directly to an overhead press in one smooth movement.

The weight-vest dips can be replaced with regular dips or bench dips if the added weight proves to be too difficult. If you did not replace the pull-ups above with rows, do them in the second circuit of the workout just to make sure you work the muscles in a variety of ways.

Repeat three times.

  • Biceps/military press: 10
  • Weight-vest dips: 10
  • Dumbbell rows :10 per arm

Top off the weights with a fun and challenging series of exercises that are commonly included in military fitness tests. Death by Push-ups is a classic plank pose for 5-10 minutes, but you get to "rest" by doing 10 push-ups every minute on the minute (EMOM).

Death by Push-ups 5-10 minutes: 10 push-ups EMOM. Depending on your abilities, this will add another 50-100 push-ups to your workout. However, if you feel like you are done after the above activities, then skip this calisthenics section and move straight to the cooldown cardio and stretching.

Optional: Pull-up reverse pyramid 9-1 with dynamic stretch between each set. If you can do more pull-ups, try the reverse side of the pyramid that started this workout and finish the 1-10-1 full pyramid for a total of 100 pull-ups as part of the warmup and cooldown.

Seriously, one day when you get good at pull-ups, you will be able to do 50-100 in a workout and not be exhausted.

Cooldown: One mile easy swim or bike 15-20 minutes. Make sure you stretch well.

One thing I like to do as a cooldown is segment the cardio and dynamic stretching into a few five-minute segments.

Repeat two times.

  • Jog, bike or swim: 5 minutes
  • Stretch or dynamic stretch: 5 minutes (on land or in water if swimming)

My group recently did this workout and many enjoyed it, though a few had to adjust repetitions to avoid failing too quickly. When you try a workout that other people are doing, remember that you need to personalize it for your abilities to avoid needless overuse injuries.

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 stew@stewsmith.com.

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