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Upper and Lower Body Workouts Using Super-Set / Pyramid Methods 

Many people like to do calisthenics based workouts using pyramids and super set routines.  In fact, with the right mix of exercises you can create a perfect workout that balances the entire body.  Here is a question that prompted the following article:


Do you have any lower body workouts in the pyramid form? I would like to put together a program using your "The Best Twenty-Minute Workout" and the pyramid program from the "USMC - Basic School Six Week OCS/TBS Program". Four days a week, 20 min workout on odd days and the USMC workout on even days.

I love to do pyramids and super set workouts.  In fact, they are a great foundation builder as well as a proven maintenance method for calisthenics based programs.  As you know, my workouts are primarily calisthenics based and supplemented by weights, stretching, running, swimming and biking for distance and speed.  With the wide range of movements and exercises, you can work the entire body inside and out and create programs to improve fitness performance, athleticism, and overall health.

Some workouts, I recommend focusing only on the calisthenics or weights and do a cardio option later in the workout.  For instance:

 A Sample Upper Body and Lower Body Workout

Upper Body – Pick exercises that work well together like Pushups or dips, abdominal exercises, and Pullups.  Arrange them in a way that
you can perform an “active rest” by doing another exercise to “rest” the previous worked muscles from the exercise before.  For instance:

 Here is Set #1:   Pullups 2,         Pushups 5,        Abs of choice 10

Set #2:  Pullups 4,         Pushups 10,      Abs of choice 20

Set #3:  Pullups 6,         Pushups15,       Abs of choice 30

Set #4:  Pullups 8,         Pushups 20,      Abs of choice 40

Set #5:  Pullups 10,       Pushups 25,      Abs of choice 50 

…continue on until failure or just before and repeat in reverse order

Some days I recommend mixing in some sprinting exercises into your workouts.  This helps with training for the PFT transitions that must occur when doing upper body PFT and then running afterwards.

You can also mix in the same exercises in one of my favorite workouts that will help you reach max repetition in these exercises during fitness tests:

 Repeat until you reach these numbers using max repetition effort each set: 

Pullups – in as few sets as possible get 50-100 pullups by resting with:

Pushups – max reps in one minute

Situps – max reps in one minute


Running 1/4 mile in goal PFT running pace (ie 9:00 1.5 mile goal = 90 seconds 1/4 mile)

(repeat cycle until you reach your goal in pull-ups in the 50 -100 range.

Some tougher progressions:   8 Count Pullups or Burpee Pyramid

Continue up the pyramid until you fail at pullups - 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.

Here is another option - burpee jumps / bear crawls / fireman carries in between pullups...



For Lower Body Workouts using a Pyramid and Super Set:

Here is how I recommend creating a Pyramid mixed with fast paced cardio:

Run / LEG PT:

Repeat 5-6 times
run 1/4 mile at goal PFT pace
Squats – 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 , 20….(increase reps each cycle for 5-6 cycles)
Lunges 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20

You could make each set harder if you like the pyramid version or keep each set the same and basically make it a Super Set.

 Two more leg workouts I recommend that are non-impact aerobics:

 Life Cycle Pyramid Workout

Get on a Life Cycle stationary bike.  Perform a Bike / Leg Pyramid by going on manual mode and start off at level 1 for 1 minute.  Each minute add a level of resistance until you cannot peddle anymore. Then repeat in reverse order.  This usually takes 20-30 minutes depending on your fitness level and creates the perfect workout:  a warm-up, max out, and cool down.  That is one advantage to the pyramid:  its simplicity and completeness.

Swim Workout with Fins:

Another involves swimming with fins.  Using any stroke, though the side stroke or combat swimmer stroke works best, swim across the pool until your feet / ankles start to feel the cramping sensation of first wearing fins.  You may need to take some time to build up to 500-1500m of swimming with fins as it is stressful on the ankles and feet for the first few weeks.

But, if you want to really pump up your swimming workouts, try adding in a mix of leg PT / weights and pull-ups, dips, pushups, and abs in between 200-300m of swimming with fins.  Of course this requires having a pullup / dip bar on the pool deck but our PT group donated this one to the pool we frequent and it packs a punch to a regular swimming workout.

         Jump out of water and give me 25!         Woodchopper Squats, Pullups, Dips, Abs, Pushup and a little breather in between!!!            

Usually, we spend about 45 seconds rotating from exercise to exercise:  Wood chopper squats, pull-ups, dips, abs of choice, and pushups – then swim for 4-5 minutes and repeat several times. 

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. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at



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Published Books / DVDs
Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness (Book / DVD)
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The Special Operations Workout

The SWAT Workout - From Recruit to SWAT Team Member
The Combat Swimmer Stroke DVD

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Clinic DVD for Navy SEAL PST
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Fitness for All Levels of Fitness

The 90 Day Beginner Guide to Fitness
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Reclaim Your Life - The Erin O'Neill Program

Veteran's Fitness - Baby Boomer and a Flat Stomach

The Busy Executive Workout Routine
The Advanced Weights / PT Workout (Fall / Winter Weight Gain Cycle)
The Perfect Pushup Workout

The TRX Workout
- Circuit Training 101 ebook

NEW Obstacle Course Race Ebook

The Special Forces Physical Fitness Workouts
 Combat Conditioning Workout

Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1  Beginner Weeks 1-9
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3 - Intermediate Weeks 1-12
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4  Grinder PT -  Four weeks before Hell Week

Navy SWCC Workout

The Army Special Forces / Ranger Workout 

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Air Force PJ / CCT Workout

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New - Army PRT and CRT
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The USMC IST and PFT Workout
USMC OCS / TBS Workout
The Service Academy Workout (West Point, Navy, Air Force Academy)
The Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp Bootcamp Workout

The Army OCS and PFT Workout
The PFT Bible - Military / Police Standard PFT


The Law Enforcement Physical Fitness Test Workouts

The FBI Academy / PFT Prep Workout

The DEA Prep Workout

The FLETC Prep Workout - Ace the PEB

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The Fire Fighter Workout

Seal Multi Men's Multi-Vitamin Multi-Mineral

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