Try This Fun Pull-Up and Deadlift Workout to Prepare for the ACFT

A Marine does a kettlebell swing as part of HITT training.
U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Danny Vega, a maintenance chief with 1st Maintenance Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, does a kettlebell swing during the High Intensity Tactical Training Warrior Athlete Readiness and Resilience Challenge at Paige Field House on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Oct. 27, 2021. (Cpl. Andrew Cortez/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

There are many ways to arrange workouts that are classic, fun and still fit into a training plan that will help you not only be a better tactical athlete, but also prepare you for military tactical fitness tests like the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT).

Here is a workout that our training group did this week. This one includes many of the exercises that you will see in a variety of military fitness tests.

Pull-up and Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift Run Half Pyramid

This workout includes a 1-10 warmup with 2 x 25-meter shuttle runs between each set. Start off slow on the shuttle runs as these are considered warmup jogs, not sprints as you would do in the 2 x 25-meter sprint for the Army Combat Fitness Test. The Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) are also warmups, so keep it light for these 10 sets.

Add in a set of progressive pull-ups and barbell or kettlebell RDLs each set, mixed with the 2 x 25-meter shuttle run. The workout looks like this:

1 pull-up, 1 RDL, 2 x 25-meter jog

2 pull-ups, 2 RDLs, 2 x 25-meter jog

3 pull-ups, 3 RDLs, 2 x 25-meter jog

Keep going up until you reach 10 pull-ups and 10 RDLs. You can increase speed as you start to feel warm but avoid full sprints until later in the workout.

After you complete the half pyramid, continue the warmup with a one-mile run, 10-minute bike or other cardio activity.

The lifting section of the workout requires you to pull yourself over the bar and pull weights off the floor to work major muscle groups like the lower back, latissimus dorsi (upper-back muscles), hamstrings, hips and biceps. Almost all of these exercises will improve your grip strength, which is an important element of fitness.

You can decide whether you want to use the barbell or hex bar for the deadlifts, or you can go lighter and use a kettlebell if you prefer. Try doing a weight-vest pull-up of 10-20 pounds, then take off the weight vest and see how many non-weighted pull-ups you can do.

You will want to take a few minutes to rest prior to starting the next set. Increase the weight of each set if you are capable of lifting more, and use the first few sets as warmups for heavier lifts.

Repeat five times.

  • Deadlift: 3


  • Kettlebell Romanian deadlift: 10
  • Weight-vest pull-ups: max
  • Pull-ups: max
  • Rest: 2-3 minutes walking or easy biking to stay warm

If you have never done deadlifts and pull-ups together, give it a try. It has been a favorite Pull Day combination for decades. The next series of exercises are auxiliary exercises to help with building pulling muscles once the pull-ups are diminished from the above circuit.

Repeat three times.

  • Dumbbell rows: 10 per arm
  • Dumbbell biceps (heavier weights, nonstop super set): 15, 10, 5
  • Dumbbell or kettlebell farmer walks: 2 x 25 meters
  • Shuttle run (moderate pace -- work on technique of turnarounds): 2 x 25 meters
  • Plank: 2 minutes
  • Minimum rest

Finish the workout with a two-mile run, the same way the Army finishes its ACFT. Give yourself the appropriate rest needed before your fast two-mile run. Hydrate, carb up and see what you can do. If you need a break from running, do a 20-minute, non-impact cardio workout but put some effort into it as well (see these ideas).

  • Run: 2 miles


  • Bike: 20 minutes
  • Stretching, foam rolling, massage as desired: 5-10 minutes

When preparing for fitness tests like the Army Combat Fitness Test, you need to mix some of the elements of the test into your training day and spread them throughout the training week. You will become a more well-rounded tactical athlete by including these testing events since the test appropriately helps soldiers practice and develop the elements of fitness like strength, power, speed, agility, muscle stamina and endurance. Getting good at all of them requires some creativity to make sure you consistently add the exercises into your training plan.

See related articles:

ACFT Pyramid Workout

Army Still Requires 2 Miles of Running

Fueling Strategies for the ACFT

Army CFT Score Chart

Upper-Body Workout for ACFT

-- 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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