Workout of the Week: Tough Upper-Body Workout with a Good Balance

Senior airman works on lat pulldowns.
Senior Airman Kelly Berger, 36th Civil Engineer Squadron pest management journeyman, performs a lat pulldown Oct. 2, 2015, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. (Senior Airman Joshua Smoot/U.S. Air Force photo)

Are you looking for a good upper-body workout that mixes muscle stamina for PT, strength with weight training, a little mental toughness gut check and wrapped up with opposing muscle group balance? Here is a way we mix all the above into the warmup, workout and cooldown. Check out this one:

Warmup with push-up pyramid: run 25 meters, one push-up, run 25 meters, two push-ups -- up to 10. We typically do this on a basketball court, field or tennis court and mix in easy jogs, dynamic stretches, and slow warmup push-ups.  Mix in some stretches for the upper body, too -- especially the shoulders, chest and core because the Death By Push-up 15-minute challenge is a somewhat painful isometric flex and additional 150 push-ups.

Death By Push-ups 15 minutes:  Do 10 push-ups every minute on the minute for 15 minutes. That alone is not that tough, but staying in the pushup position or plank pose adds to the challenge. Do not get out of pushup position or plank pose for the entire 15 minutes. You can move around, but keep the knees off the ground, and you must have three points of contact on the ground at all time.  Shake out your arms one at a time between push-up time at the top of each minute.

Here is the weight room. If you notice, the majority of the workout is a pulling exercise. This will help balance out all of the pushing in the above sections of the workout/warmup.  

Repeat 3-4 times

Pull-ups max

Pulldowns 10

Dumbbell rows 10/arm

Bench press 10

Biceps curl/military press 10

Run a half-mile fast

It is up to you how you do the two miles of running. Feel free to do the half-mile intervals fast during the circuit or save the half-mile runs for the end of the workout and combine them all into a 1.5- to two-mile run.

PT reset: This is a classic calisthenics workout that balances out a high-volume push-up day. Do these without weight and add a second set, if you prefer, at the end of the workout or during the swim portion: PT Reset:

Reverse push-ups 10-20

Birds 10-20

Arm haulers 10-20

Swimmers 1 minute

Optional swim: Swimming makes a great cooldown, especially if you are running and PTing outside in the heat and humidity. You will find that half of your fatigue in a workout is from body heat. Jumping in the pool can cool you down quickly, and you will find that second wind quickly.

However, if you are sweating profusely, make sure you hydrate well and get some electrolytes as swimming last can spur muscle cramps in the legs.

Swim 500-meter warmup

Repeat 5 times

Swim 150 meters fast

Push-ups 20

Abs of choice 50

Pullouts 10: The pullout is a muscle up on the pool’s edge. Basically, do a pull-up on the pool’s edge in the deep end and bring your body out of the water so your waist is touching the pool’s edge.

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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