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My Three Favorite Workouts To Crush Fitness Tests (Pyramid, Super Set, Max Rep Sets) and How to Use Them

Stew Smith

My Three Favorite Workouts To Crush
Fitness Tests
(Pyramid, Super Set, Max Rep Sets)
and How to Use Them

It is no secret that I will recommend most people to do one or more of the three workouts above to improve scores on PT Tests and help enhance muscle stamina overall.  Depending on the individual, I may also recommend to try a short term overload process called the Pullup / Pushup Push.  Typically, this person is in the beginner / intermediate zone that gets the overload recommendation as that controlled program will yield big results quickly, BUT after the two week challenge the three favorites come into play in a more balanced every OTHER day approach.

Sample Classic Week of the PST Prep (Article / Video)

The Pyramid

The PT Pyramid - You can mix countless exercises with this workout, but first you may learn this method with the basic pullup, pushups, situps (or squats if doing Murph in 19 sets).  The 1-10-1 Pyramid (or 1-10 double ladder) will do what you seek - build strength-endurance (aka muscle stamina) to enable you to reach higher repetitions in calisthenics exercises and testing specifically.  Here is how it works:

This particular exercise choice will yield 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats (aka Murph) in 19 sets.  If you need to work on situps - replace squats with situps as we have been doing that since the 1980s.  

Set 1: 1 pullups, 2 pushups, 3 squats
Set 2: 2 pulups, 4 pushups, 6 squats
Set 3: 3 pullups, 6 pushups, 9 squats...keep going up to set 10

Set 10: 10 pullups, 20 pushups, 30 squats...Then repeat in reverse order from 9 back down until 1 (set 19). 

If you cannot complete 19 sets, use the pyramid as an assessment tool and go up until you fail at 1-2 events and repeat in reverse order. Square your top set achieved to figure out how many reps you did of pullups - multiply x 2 for pushups reps, multiply x 3 for squats / situps total reps. 

This is a workout that is in just about all of my programs, but if you really like this one you can do it as much as every OTHER day if you do not want to follow any programming that mix in other methods, added lifts, running (sprint, goal pace, etc), swimming, and rucking. 

The pyramid is by far the most versatile and complete workout I have ever done as it naturally has a warmup, max out, and cooldown built into it. In fact, I have written over 100 different types of pyramid workouts and put them into my new book. Running, swimming, biking, calisthenics, weights, and a mix of every method of training there is can be used with the pyramid:  

Kindle / Amazon Book Also Available

The Super Set / Circuit

The Super Set / Circuit is a sub maximum effort workout that build volume similarly to the pyramid without the smaller sets.  A sample super set / circuit looks like this if we used the same exercises as above. Let's say you can do 15 pullups, 75 pushups, and 75 situps - this is a good zone for you with a super set workout: 

Repeat 5-10 times
Pullups 10
Pushups 25-30
Situps / Squats - limit time to 1 min but work on your pace especially for situps shooting for 20-25 reps in 30 seconds.  Mastering this pace will yield 80-100 reps in 2 minutes fitness tests.

Add Weight to Calisthenics Option:
*Consider adding a weight vest (10-20lbs) if you are stuck in the mid teens on your pullups and mid 70s on your pushups with this workout (ONCE A WEEK).

The Max Rep Set Workout

The Max Rep Set Workout is for more advanced athletes who are stuck somewhere between that intermediate / advanced level of performance on calisthenics fitness test events. For instance, if you are stuck at the same level as the above 15 pullups, 75 pushups, 75 situps athlete, this is ideal for you to do once a week.  I have seen people push off a plateau using this workouts once a week (with other sub max upper body workouts every other day) and get in the 20s on pullups, 100/100 zone on pushups / situps in a month's time. Here is how it works:

100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 situps (or squats)
Do these in as few sets as possible. I would not attempt this workout if you cannot get the rep numbers in under 10 sets, but the goal is to see if you can build the stamina to achieve these numbers in 4-5 sets.  I have seen some athletes get the 100,200,300 in 3 sets a few times in the 25 plus years I have been using this workout. The Max Rep Set Workout is not for beginners but ideal for intermediate seeking advanced level scores. 
You will be doing a lot of max rep sets here...
Here is how it works:

Do a max rep set of pullups, then pushups, the situps in 2 minutes. Remember there is a difference between muscle failure and muscle fatigue.  The goal is to push each set until you fatigue and not completely fail. Here is how I like to do this workout:

Pullups max reps of 20 (hopefully a few more) but I feel like I could do maybe 1  more and a stop.
Go right into pushups with minimal rest the same way limiting your pushups to a 2 minute time limit or you starting to fail. Avoid shaking when trying to get that last rep - that is muscle failure and it will wipe you out for the rest of the workout if you hit it. 
Then do 2 minutes of situps - focus on a pace that is just beyond your current level. For instance, if I could do 75, I would shoot for 20-25 in seconds pace. That will yield a higher score in between 80-100 if you can build your conditioning to handle that pace. 
Keep track of your reps above and repeat the three exercise circuit again. Notice if you get close to previous set's numbers.  If you are way off - that is a muscle stamina problem.  Keep using the above methods to build that weakness. 
Gold Standard.  If you can get the 100,200,300 reps done in 4-5 sets you are there. If it takes you 6,7,8 sets keep doing it and if it takes you more than 10 sets, don't attempt for a while again and focus on the other two workouts above.

Workout Week Organization:

The way I arrange these workouts is I place the pyramid on Day 1, followed by a leg day / cardio day (Day 2). I place the Super Set on Day 3, followed by a mobility day or cardio (Day 4) with some legs depending on energy levels / soreness. ON Day 5 or Day 6 try the Max Rep set workout. Sometimes that extra day off before doing another upper body day can help you with bigger number sets on Max Rep workouts.  That day 5 can be a cardio only day or leg day depending on what you did on Day 4. 

There is More To than You May Know

Who is Stew Smith CSCS? Coach, Trainer, Writer, PodcasterI'm the former Navy SEAL that tactical candidates go to for books, eBooks, local and online coaching to prepare themselves to get to and through intense tactical assessment and selection programs and qualify for service in their chosen tactical profession.  See More at

(In fact, there are more than 40 books, 1000+ articles, online coaching - and more) 

Where to Find More Information About Optimal Performance Training Programs

When you start training again, consider the seasonal tactical fitness model.  I call it A WAY to train and obviously not the only way to train. But it offers the opportunity to never neglect your weaknesses, helps with flexibility and mobility, but will also put you at a level of physical abilities where you are happy with your overall ability to do just about anything. We have a system where the seasons dictate our training. When it is nicer outside, we tend to run and do more calisthenics. When it is colder and not so nice, we lift more, run less, and still maintain our outdoor activities with shorter runs and rucks. Check it out: Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization System.  

Where Optimal Performance Will Be Tested Each Day

The Specific Military / Special Ops Physical Fitness Workouts 

Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4  Grinder PT
Navy SWCC Workout

Army / Air Force Advanced Fitness / Special Ops 

Army PFT Workout (Prep For Rucking, OPAT, ACFT)
Army Special Forces / Ranger Workout
Army Air Assault School Workout
Army Airborne Workout
Air Force Special Warfare IFT / OFT / Selection Prep


Advanced Running Program - Special Ops Supplement Plan
USMC OCS / TBS Workout


The Combat Conditioning Workout
Air Force PJ / CCT Workout  Battlefield Airman Prep Course
The UBRR Upper Body Round Robin Workout / Spec Ops version


The Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer / Navy SAR Workout
The Service Academy Workout (West Point, Navy, Air Force Academy)
The Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp Boot Camp Workout


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