This Leg Day Warmup Is Great for the ACFT

Specialist performs squats during workout in Iraq.
Spc. Paul Rochelle, help desk technician with the 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), leads the formation in series of exercises on Joint Base Balad, Iraq. (Spc. Zane Craig/103rd Sustainment Command, Expeditionary)

When preparing for a challenging leg day, make sure you warm up properly. If your workout includes running, sprinting, lifting, jumping or calisthenics, you will need to take several minutes to get the legs ready to do work.

This is especially true if you are exercising after a long day of sitting or working out first thing out of bed in the morning. If you are training outdoors during the winter, a warmup may take a little longer and require near-constant movement to stay warm between sets.

A proper warmup will reduce the risk of pulled muscles. Here is one way (but not the only way) to do a leg-day warmup, regardless of which dynamic activity you choose.

Squat and Hanging Knee-Up Pyramid

Mark out a space of 25-50 meters between a set of pull-up bars and the area where you'll do squats. Try the following progression from one to 10:

  • 1 squat, jog 2 x 25 meters (50 meters total), 1 hanging knee-up
  • 2 squats, jog 2 x 25 meters (50 meters total), 2 hanging knee-ups
  • 3 squats, jog 2 x 25 meters (50 meters total), 3 hanging knee-ups
  • 4 squats, jog 2 x 25 meters (50 meters total), 4 hanging knee-ups
  • 5 squats, jog 2 x 25 meters (50 meters total), 5 hanging knee-ups

After the fifth set, start to mix in dynamic stretches for half of the jog distance.

Check out this excellent dynamic warmup routine.

If you are starting to feel warm, you can increase the speed of these short runs, but it is not yet time for a full sprint.

  • 6 squats, jog 2 x 25 meters (50 meters total), 6 hanging knee-ups
  • 7 squats, jog 2 x 25 meters (50 meters total), 7 hanging knee-ups
  • 8 squats jog, 2 x 25 meters (50 meters total), 8 hanging knee-ups

On the later sets, mix in some explosive jump squats at 50%-60% effort if your workout will involve sprints or jumps.

  • 9 squats, jog 2 x 25 meters (50 meters total), 9 hanging knee-ups
  • 10 squats, jog 2 x 25 meters (50 meters total), 10 hanging knee-ups


After this five- to 10-minute warmup, take another 5-10 minutes to run, especially if your workout involves running, sprinting or jumping. You also can bike, row or do the elliptical glider to continue the warmup if you are lifting or doing calisthenics exercises for higher repetitions.

After this warmup routine, you should be starting to sweat, have an elevated heart rate and be ready to progress to the next exercise of the workout routine.

If lifting or sprinting, progress similarly over several sets with 50%-60% of your full speed (or strength) ability. Then build up to 70%-80% of full speed or one-rep max (1RM). You will now feel like you are ready to perform at your best in either speed or strength with the remaining sets of your workout.

Regardless of the workout day (longer run or ruck, calisthenics, legs, lifting weights or speed intervals), our training group does some form of the squat and knee-up pyramid to start the workout. Try it out and see whether you notice a difference in performance and if you avoid some of the typical sprinting or jumping muscle pulls.

NOTE: The hanging knee-up is not as hard as the ACFT Leg Tuck. Just bring your knees up over your hips to stretch your lower back by flexing your abs and hips.

This squat and knee-up pyramid combination is a good leg and hip warmup and lower back stretch. It's not a bad idea to do a few sets of the squat and knee-up pyramid to prepare the body for the power and strength events of the Army Combat Fitness Test.

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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