How to Mix Weights into Your Calisthenics and Cardio Training

Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Clark performs a Romanian deadlift in the Camp Krutke Seabee Gym at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Clark performs a Romanian deadlift in the Camp Krutke Seabee Gym at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, May 14, 2010. (Petty Officer 2nd class Ace Rheaume/U.S. Navy photo)

Many ask about adding weights into their military group calisthenics and cardio-focused PT programs. There are many ways to do this, but you should always consider your goals before adding weights. You actually may need to focus more on calisthenics and running, depending on your fitness assessments. As with any exercise consideration, the answer is always, "It depends."

It depends on your current fitness level and future goals.

If you have a solid background in training, your choice to add extra workouts (lifting, more running, etc.) is logical. However, if you are new to training, group PT may be enough, but you can always supplement workouts with more nonimpact cardio (biking, rowing, elliptical training) and stretching. That is a more useful investment if you are new to training and running.

It depends on your military training, fitness test and future training (and weaknesses).

Suppose you have a fitness test soon focused on calisthenics and cardio, such as the Navy Physical Screening Test, or PST (swimming, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and run). In that case, the only things you need to add to your training program are swimming techniques, conditioning and calisthenics if you did not get enough in group PT.

Depending on your future training (schools, selection, deployments), you may want to focus specifically on whatever is in your near future. This may mean lifting to build durability for rucking and other load-bearing activities. Still, it may also mean becoming a faster runner to be competitive on certain fitness tests and not lifting. Some (strength athletes) must avoid the weight room and focus on muscle stamina and cardio conditioning. Some (endurance athletes) may need to avoid more running and calisthenics and get into the weight room.

It depends on your time per day and days per week of training.

How much time do you have to add more training to your schedule? Depending on the time of year and cycle of deployment training, you may be spending more time away from home or available fitness equipment. Don't get too tied into having to do second workouts when your days are long, and night-shift work is part of your week. This is why we train to handle these workloads.

It depends on your facilities and equipment.

No gym? No problem. Calisthenics can be made more difficult by adding sandbags, weight vests/rucks, suspension trainers (TRX) and a few kettlebells or dumbbells, and you have all you need to build strength -- without a gym. But having a barbell for many of the lifting options below is nicer. If you have a full gym, your choices are endless but still dependent on the above issues.

Some Ideas to Add to Any Split Routine

The below workout combination ideas are the main portion of the workout plan. I did not add the warm-ups or cooldowns into these splits to save space. But make sure you warm up before adding these lifts as a secondary workout of the day after group calisthenics PT and/or cardio. Enjoy these classic and fun additions to group PT:

Upper Body Day

This is one of my favorites because of the mix of bench presses and pull-ups and pulldowns or rows with push-ups and dips. This push-pull combo pumps it up.

Repeat five times.

  • Bench press 5-10 reps
  • Weight vest pull-ups max

Repeat 3-4 times.

  • Pulldowns or machine rows 5-10 (heavy)
  • Weight-vest push-ups or dips max

* Weight vest 20-40 pounds

Lower Body Day

If your group workout was just cardio-based with a run or a ruck, it is a great day to add in leg calisthenics or weight training. Try the following options, depending on your PT test/run or strength goals:

If focused on building running-pace endurance and muscle stamina:

Repeat six times.

  • Run 400 or 800 meters at goal mile pace
  • Squats 20
  • Lunges 10/leg

If focused on building strength and durability:

Repeat four times.

  • Kettlebell or barbell squats 5-10
  • Rest with farmer walks 1-2 minutes

Additional options include deadlifts, leg presses, box jumps, split squats and weighted step-ups.

Push Day

Everyone loves a good push day! Of course, there is a bench press involved, but if you do not have one available, the weight-vest push-ups and TRX can help you add variety to your secondary lift.

Repeat four times.

  • Body-weight bench press (for max reps, if possible)
  • Rest with three-minute walk/jog

Repeat four times.

  • Dumbbell military press 10
  • Weight-vest dips 10 or dumbbell triceps extensions 10
  • Rest as needed.

Pull Day

There is nothing like mixing in deadlifts with pull-ups. If you want a good combination for mixing in weights and calisthenics, try this on your "pull day."

Repeat five times.

  • Weight-vest pull-ups max (10-20 pounds)
  • Pull-ups max
  • Deadlifts 5, kettlebell Romanian deadlifts 10 or tire flips 5-10

Additional options include dumbbell rows, biceps curls and machine pulldowns.

Full Body Day

This one is complicated and best used between cardio-only days or after a rest day.

Warm-up: Push-up/Pull-up/Squat Half Pyramid 1-10:

100-meter jogs between each set (x1 each = 55 reps each exercise -- stop at 10): 1 pull-up, 1 push-up, 1 squat, run 100 meters; 2 pull-ups, 2 push-ups, 2 squats, run another 100 meters; up to Set 10.

Run one mile or bike for 10 minutes, then stretch.

Repeat five times.

  • Weight-vest pull-ups max
  • Pull-ups max (no rest)
  • Deadlifts 5, kettlebell Romanian deadlifts 10 or tire flips 5-10

So take your pick, and depending on what you do in the group morning PT session, select the same muscle groups you worked on early in the day. This way, you will have some recovery of muscle groups built into the two-a-day training program. Consider the above options, as it is more difficult than just blindly adding workouts to your own training program.

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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