Try This Run Plus Swim or Ruck Workout with Added Calisthenics

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Travis AFB Ruck
Over 300 U.S. service members and civilians participated in the 12th annual Gold Star Families 10K Ruck March at Travis Air Force Base, California, June 11, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Karla Parra)

Leg days during calisthenics and cardio cycles should look different than your typical leg day in the gym, where you lift heavy weights and rest frequently between sets. That typical leg day works during a strength and power cycle, but, if the goal is to improve cardiovascular times on runs and swims, you also need to work on leg muscle stamina as well.

This is a fun mix of running and swimming cardio events mixed with leg calisthenics. This workout will improve both conditioning and stamina of the lungs and legs.

Squat pyramid 1-10 (stop at 10) with 100-meter runs and dynamic stretches between each set.

This is a classic leg-day warmup recommended regardless of which cycle you are doing. Before lift workouts, get the blood flowing through the legs and lungs with a quick five- to 10-minute warmup like the squat half pyramid from one to 10. This equals 55 body-weight reps with 1,000 meters of jogging. You will feel warmed up to lift or run after this warmup.

Run one mile timed fast and 400-meter lunges.

Next run a mile, followed by a nonstop walking lunge set (no weight) for 400 meters.

NOTE: If you have not done this before, start out with 100-200 meters of walking lunges and build up to 400 meters, as this will make you very sore if you are not ready.

One of our goals is to be able to do a nonstop 400-meter lunge set with a chest carry of a 40- to 50-pound sandbag and not be sore the following two days. This takes time and steady progressions of distance and weight added.

This is where you will find out your level of muscle stamina. If you have run 800 meters at your goal mile pace after the above workout segment and squat exercises, your muscle stamina is above average.

We typically make this run pace our four- to five-mile run goal pace. So, if our goal is to run a 28-minute, four-mile run or a 35-minute, five-mile run, our pace is a seven-minute mile and a 3:30 800-meter run (or half mile). This is not a sprint workout; the lesson is learning the goal pace with tired legs.

Repeat four times.

  • Run: 800 meters at goal mile pace
  • Squats: 25
  • Plank or stretch: 1 minute

You can add an exercise of your choice as an active rest. Planking, sit-ups, flutter kicks or hanging knee-ups are good options to "rest" with the running sets. The recommendation is to work whatever fitness test event you need to ace in this section.

The leg-day workout ends like it started, with a reverse squat pyramid 10-1 and 100-meter runs mixed with dynamic stretches between each set. Use 20-30 meters of the 100-meter jog to do some dynamic stretches as a cooldown.

Swim or Ruck

Depending on your branch of service and the event you most need to improve, either swim with fins or ruck as the final event. You can also do this later in the day after some recovery time for optimal results.

Here is the swim workout: Swim 500 meters fast without fins and 1,500 meters with fins for time in a pool or open water, depending on your facilities and environment.

Here is the ruck workout: With a 50-pound ruck (or pick a weight for your current abilities), walk three miles, practicing three different paces to help you build a rucking strategy for future long rucking events.

Mile 1 is easy walking. Record your time. Mile 2 is a power walk. This pace should put you in good stead with the Army (and other service) standards of a minimum 15 minutes per mile. For Mile 3, do a half-stride shuffle with a 10- to 12-minute-per-mile pace, depending on the cadence you can keep for yourself.

Practicing this drill will help you when the rucks get long in training, and you need a strategy to recover. It also will help you to play catch-up, if needed, to exceed the standards of that event.

This is a calisthenics and cardio leg day. Enjoy.

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 stew@stewsmith.com.

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