Crush Your Pull-Ups and Push-Ups with This Single Workout

SAN DIEGO (Aug. 18, 2015) Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handler) Airman Stephen Jones, assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), participates in Surface Line Week's (SLW) push-up and pull-up competition at Admiral Prout Field. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Kyle Goldberg/Released)

You do not have to do hundreds of daily pull-ups and push-ups to improve your fitness test scores. Many do, and while they find success up to a point, following this routine for too long will typically lead to negative results in performance and tendinitis.

This tough workout will help you quickly improve your pull-ups and push-ups and improve your upper-body strength and muscle stamina for fitness tests. Do it a few days a week, and you'll see a big difference in your strength and stamina. The key to improving your pull-ups and push-ups is to focus on quality over quantity. It's not about how many you can do in a row; it's about how many you can do in a row with proper form.

If you get stuck on a plateau when doing the Three Favorite Ways to Crush Fitness Tests workouts, the workout below is a way to have you moving in the right direction again. Simply replace one of the three workouts a week with the following weight and calisthenics mix.


Start with a warmup of light cardio and stretching. Get the blood flowing throughout your upper body and increase your body temperature.

Pull-up and Push-up Pyramid with 100-meter jogs between each set for 5-10 sets

1 push-up, 1 pull-up, jog 100 meters or jumping jacks for 20 seconds

2 push-ups, 2 pull-ups, jog 100 meters

3 push-ups, 3 pull-ups, jog 100 meters

4 push-ups, 4 pull-ups, jog 100 meters

Keep going up to 5/5 or even 10/10 if you can.

We typically do this warmup on an outdoor pull-up bar in a park or open area and then run 50 meters and back.


Repeat four times.

Bench press: 5-10+ (build up to body weight, if possible)

Do as many push-ups as you can with no rest.

Dumbbell rows: 10 per arm

This is a balance exercise to work the opposing muscles of the push-up/bench movement.

You will find you can only do 5-10 push-ups immediately after a bench press set, but it is the perfect way to simulate the last 15 seconds of a two-minute test and will help you build some muscle stamina on top of the strength. If you're able to keep going for the entire two-minute push-up test, that will help increase your total repetitions.

Run one mile or bike 10 minutes as a break from the push/pull section of the workout.

Repeat four times.

Weight vest pull-ups: max (Use a 20-pound weight vest)

Pull-ups: max. Take off the weight vest and do as many pull-ups as possible with no rest.

Dips or military press: 10-15. This is a balance exercise to work opposing muscles of the pull-up movement.

Run 400 meters at a goal mile pace as a break from upper-body movements for a few minutes.

If you can "rest with running," you will be at a level of muscle stamina needed for higher reps and greater performance in fitness tests during military basic training and selections.


Run or bike: 20 minutes at easy pace

Foam roll or stretch: 10 minutes

Finish with a cooldown. Stretch out your muscles and give your body a chance to recover.

Some rules for pull-ups

Do as many reps as you can until fatigue causes you to lose the form or rhythm of the repetitions. If you have pushed yourself to the point where you're unable to do a full pull-up, stop and do a negative by lowering yourself from the top position for one last repetition of that set. Take some recovery time before trying the next set, but keep active with biking, jogging or moving to stay warm.

Some rules for push-ups

After the bench press, do as many reps as you can until you fatigue. This will not be many. If you can't do a full push-up, do a knee push-up to complete your last repetition, then take some recovery time.

Give this workout a shot 1-2 times a week if your pull-ups and push-ups are lagging, and you need to try something new.

Whatever you do, don't give up. With a little bit of extra effort, you can see significant improvements in your pull-ups and push-ups. This workout is tough. Stick with it, and you will see results.

-- 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

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