Try This Run, Calisthenics and Swim Workout for a Real Challenge

Student swims using the freestyle stroke.
An Officer Development School (ODS) class 21070 student performs the freestyle stroke during his third-class swimmer test at the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Combat Training Pool in Newport, Rhode Island on July 27, 2021. (Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Luke McCall/U.S. Navy photo)

If you need to prepare for challenging fitness tests and selection programs like those of Navy SEAL/SWCC, EOD/diver, Air Force Special Warfare and Marine RECON/MarSOC that involve running, rucking, swimming and high-repetition calisthenics, check out this day of training.

Many people ask about how to create training days that offer a solid way to prepare without overtraining. The answer is to progress to this level of activity logically and limit the reps and miles as needed.

This classic day of training is a combo of endurance, muscle stamina, core stability and pool skills with a bit of mental toughness mixed in,

PT Ladder 1-10

The difference between a ladder and PT Pyramid is that the ladder just goes up or down and not both ways. By design, these progressively get tougher each set but provide a nice warmup, buildup and max-out.

Here is how this particular one looks:

  • Pull-ups x 1
  • Push-ups x 2
  • Abs x 3
  • Dips x 1 or overhead press x 1
  • Run 1 mile every 5th set

Explained: Set 1: 1 pull-up, 2 push-ups, 3 abs of choice, 1 dip or overhead press (using sandbag or log-type weight)

Set 2: 2 pull-ups, 4 push-ups, 6 abs of choice, 2 dips or overhead presses

Set 3: 3 pull-ups, 6 push-ups, 9 abs of choice, 3 dips or overhead presses

Set 4: 4 pull-ups, 8 push-ups, 12 abs of choice, 4 dips or overhead presses

Set 5: 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, 15 abs of choice, 5 dips or overhead presses

After every fifth set, run one mile. Work hard to keep the run at goal-timed pace.

Continue the same math up the ladder until set 10 with the following repetitions:

Set 10: 10 pull-ups, 20 push-ups, 30 abs of choice, 10 dips or overhead presses

If you prefer, you can mix in some plank poses at one second per one rep. For this 10th set, you would hold the plank for 30 seconds immediately after the push-up set.

Death by Push-ups and Pull-ups

This is just a fun name to help you realize that the next 20 minutes will require some mental toughness and discipline.

Death By Push-ups with 10-minute plank: Hold the plank pose for 10 minutes (as best you can). You can do a side plank (left or right) and move around but avoid letting your knees hit the ground by leaving the plank or up push-up position. The hard part is the plank. The easy part is the 100 push-ups you are doing in the next 10 minutes. You accomplish that by doing 10 push-ups every minute on the minute (EMOM). I would do this with a group or have some music playing as it gets really boring by yourself.

Death by Pull-ups with 10 minutes of burpees: The challenge of the next 10 minutes will be the never-ending burpees. The good news is that you do get to stop doing burpees every minute on the minute to do 5-10 pull-ups. Try to stay close to the pull-up bar so you can make quick transitions every minute.

PT Ladder 1-10: You are going to repeat the ladder. This will total 110 pull-ups, 220 push-ups, 330 abs or plank time and 110 dips and military press combo. There's also another two miles of running.

A logical progression is to try this workout with only one ladder and make the "Death by" exercise times only five minutes to cut the reps and miles in half. You can then build up to the next level over time.

Swimming Time

Do not neglect swimming as part of your workouts. You can either finish or start this workout with a swim or do one in a separate workout during the day. We often swim during our lunch break due to pool availability and work schedules. This is a pool skills plus swim conditioning workout rolled into one.

Warm up with 10 minutes of treading or 500-meter swim: Depending on your weakness, do either a 10-minute tread or 500-meter swim. You can do one as a warmup and the other as a cooldown if you need to do both. One day, you will be glad that you now consider a 500-meter or 500-yard swim a "warmup," as that will be the same distance of your PST or PAST swim event.

Repeat 10 times.

  • Swim hard: 75 meters freestyle
  • Swim: 75 meters CSS
  • Minimal rest

It is fine to rest as needed in this workout, but the goal over time is to be able to catch your breath during the CSS (combat swimming stroke) swim after the fast freestyle swim.

Mix in some drownproofing events: Bounce, float, flips, travel, mask retrieval (simulated hands or feet tied).

As you can see, this is a full upper-body day of high reps and cardio challenges. Make tomorrow be your leg day and follow that with a ruck and/or a swim with SCUBA fins since you will be required to do both in your training future.

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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