Workout of the Week: Take Your Pyramid to the Next Level

A Marine recruit performs dips.

If the 1-10-1 PT pyramid has gotten easy for you, congrats! This classic workout is a useful assessment tool for anyone who likes to mix in high-repetition calisthenics like pull-ups, push-ups, dips and some sort of core exercise into what I call the perfect workout. The pyramid is a perfect workout because of its simplicity, with a warmup, maximum effort set and cooldown all built in.

Here are three ways to make the pyramid more challenging for you if you need something more.

You don’t necessarily need a short one-mile run or 10 minutes on the bike if you’re doing the pyramid, but if you are used to doing a warmup and it works for you, do it on your normal upper-body training day.

Instead of a 1-10-1 pyramid that yields a total repetition volume of 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 sit-ups or core exercise mix with plank pose time, and 100 dips, this 1-12-1 pyramid adds even more volume.

By adding only two more levels of the pyramid, you gain a total volume of 144 pull-ups and dips, 288 push-ups, and more than 400 ab reps or plank time.

You can make this even harder if you triple the push-ups so they match the sit-up and plank time repetition volume. You can also add 400-meter runs every set for a total of 23 sets of 400-meter runs (or two-minute bike rides).

These additions add six miles of running to the normal 1-10-1 pyramid and another 50%-100% increase in total volume of repetitions.

PT Pyramid 1-12-1

  • Pull-ups x 1
  • Push-ups x 2 (gold x 3)
  • Sit-ups x 3 (or plank/second)
  • Dips x 1
  • Run 400 meters every set

Just in case you need a set-by-set breakdown, here is how it works:

  • Set 1: 1 pull-up, 2 push-ups, 3 sit-ups, 1 dip, run 400 meters
  • Set 2: 2 pull-ups, 4 push-ups, 6 sit-ups, 2 dips, run 400 meters
  • Set 3: 3 push-ups, 6 push-ups, 9 sit-ups, 3 dips, run 400 meters

Keep going up until set 12:

  • Set 12: 12 pull-ups, 24 push-ups, 36 sit-ups or 36 seconds of plank, 12 dips, run 400 meters

Then repeat in reverse order sets 11 to 1.

Light weight shoulders

This five-pound dumbbell workout is a good way to balance out the shoulder muscles after the significant repetitions of the above exercises. Consider this a shoulder cooldown and muscle balancing workout.

Grip Circuit

Try five minutes of grip challenges if you still can work the hands and forearms after 100+ pull-ups.

50-50 Workout

If you have anything left with your arms, top off the high-repetition calisthenics and running workout with a swim workout that will help you with your swim conditioning, especially if you must take your swim test after running and doing calisthenics on a test like the Air Force Special Warfare Initial Fitness Test.

Tread or swim: 10-minute warmup

Repeat 10 times.

  • Swim: 50 meters free
  • Swim: 50 meters CSS
  • Stretch or tread after each set as needed

The above calisthenics and running workouts are tough and may require some recovery and fueling (nutrition) before you can do the swim workout. It is fine to break this workout into two sessions if needed.

— 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 [email protected]

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