Workout of the Week — Full-Body Pyramid Plus Running/Swimming

A Marine swims at a training pool.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Cobb swims at the combat training pool on Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., Sept. 17, 2020. (Cpl. Shane Manson/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

This week, there is a new pyramid method that was experimented with by a group of future military members. The goal today was to do a group workout, keep people moving the entire time, work as many different body parts and movements as possible, be scalable for varying levels of fitness and practice running at an individual’s goal mile pace.

The pyramid has many elements in it that will help with a variety of fitness test events (push-ups, pull-ups, running) as well as other movements that will challenge the entire body.

Full-body pyramid/run 1-10-1 

  • Pull-ups x 1
  • Push-ups x 3
  • Push press x 2
  • Kettlebell swings x 2
  • Squats x 2
  • Run one mile every fifth set

Explanation: Typical Pyramid Method with a one to 10 back down to one (19 total sets) but with changes:

Pull-ups x 1: As with nearly every PT pyramid, one of the most challenging exercises is the pull-up. The pyramid enables the user to warm up slowly and progress until failure, then repeat in reverse order as a cooldown -- accumulating many repetitions along the way. For instance, the 1-10-1 pyramid equals 100 pull-ups. 

Push-ups x 3: Multiplying each set of the pyramid by three is a tough challenge. If many are having issues with that, drop it to x 2 instead.

Push press x 2: Go up the pyramid by two reps each set, totaling 200 if the full 1-10-1 pyramid is completed. Use dumbbells, barbells, sandbags or kettlebells to do overhead presses. When they get tough, use your legs to help lift the weight over your head in a “push press” fashion.

Kettlebell swings x 2: Go up the pyramid by two reps each set, totaling 200 if the full 1-10-1 pyramid is completed. If you do not have kettlebells, try with dumbbells by swinging the weight from your hips to over your head. 

Squats x 2: Go up the pyramid by two reps each set, totaling 200 if the full 1-10-1 pyramid is completed. These are body-weight exercises, but if you want to challenge your group, have them do it with weight as above options.


Set 1: 1 pull-ups, 3 push-ups, 2 push press, 2 KB swings, 2 squats.

Set 2: 2 pull-ups, 6 push-ups, 4 push press, 4 KB swings, 4 squats. Set 3: 3, 9, 6, 6, 6

Set 4: 4, 12, 8, 8, 8

Set 5: 5, 15, 10, 10, 10

Then run one mile at your goal pace for a timed run (or at least try to match the pace for at least the first half-mile). Sets 6-10: Continue using the same x 1, x 2, x 3 multiplication scheme until set 10 -- run one mile again. Sets 9-6: Continue in reverse order. After set 5 or 6, run one mile again. Sets 5-1: Continue in reverse order. Run one mile again. (Optional if you only have time and are able to do only three, not four, miles.)

In the end, this high-volume workout can net 100 pull-ups, 300 push-ups, 200 squats, kettlebell swings and push presses as well as 3-4 miles of running. This is not for beginners, but you can start people out with the pyramid. Let them go up to level 4-5 and back down for a fraction of the volume of the full thing.

Lightweight shoulders: This is a classic lightweight shoulder exercise done with five-pound dumbbells that help with shoulder stability.

Swimming is optional. If you are preparing for a future in a military profession that requires swimming, you should be in the water preparing to handle these type of workouts.

Swim: 500-meter warmup -- Making the typical test distances a “warmup” improves your confidence later when taking fitness tests for real.

Repeat 5 times

100-meter swim fast free

50-meter CSS goal pace (CSS = combat swimmer stroke. This is optional but needed for spec-ops level candidates.)

Tread 1 minute -- try to tread one minute with no hands as your “rest.”

Pullouts 10 -- these are muscle ups on the pool’s edge where you pull your body out of the water so your hips are touching the edge of the pool. Try not to kick up and go all the way under the water on the down.

Addition (optional)

Swim 10 minutes

Tread 10 minutes (no hands)

Dynamic stretches in chest-deep water 10 minutes to loosen up the body. See Mobility Day for ideas.

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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