There’s a thousand places you can go to get workout ideas, and everybody is looking for something different, so I don’t typically share workouts. But, this one breaks the mold; it’s a military-adapted workout and it's one that I will revisit for the rest of my life. Plus, I included variations and modifications. What is it?
The Original Upper Body Pyramid.
Push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups. Ahh, the classics.
This pyramid is a true test of your upper body strength-endurance – your ability to repeatedly produce sub-maximal force with minimal decline in performance.
It’s about being stronger for longer, as opposed to just being able to lift something heavy one time or super fast. It’s like cardio for your upper body… except better, because it doesn’t involve running. (Only kidding, I love running… most of the time.) But, it’s time we stop neglecting this crucial component of upper body strength.
The functional impacts are huge whether you’re swimming, boxing, playing football or basketball or baseball, running hills, working around the house, or moving heavy furniture.
Want to be stronger?
You have to be able to do work - move heavy objects through space.
You have to be powerful - able to do work in a short period of time.
You have to be enduranced - able to perform repetitive, powerful movements without fatiguing.
And, you have to be able to move your body.
This pyramid helped me do all of these, better.
That 3rd set of 6-8 reps in the gym for the thousandth time this year with a 2-minute (but really 5 minute) rest before the next set ain’t going to help you much when you’re carrying that couch up the 5th flight of stairs, or finishing that last leg of your 1+ mile swim, or taking your 8th swing of a long at-bat in the 7th inning.
At the same time, if you’re a cardio-magnate, the benefits of strength training are huge. For endurance athletes, strength training can improve muscle efficiency and mobility. That means longer time to fatigue and reduced risk of injury.
A pull-up bar. Also - pro tip - I should mention a mat or soft surface might keep your butt from chaffing when you do sit-ups. Your call! A water bottle. Duh. But, it's important because you're working your butt off and a sip of water every once in a while to keep your throat from closing up might help. And, going to get water somewhere else isn't an option since we're timing this!
20-30 minutes (not including warm-up or cool-down)
It’s a 1-10-1 pyramid for time... AKA as fast as you can. (Some pacing may be necessary.) 3 moves every round: pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups. 19 rounds – you’re going from 1 to 10 to 1. Pull-ups start at 1 and increase by 1 every round until you hit 10 (your peak set) and then you go back down the other way. Push-ups start at 2 and increase by 2 every round until you hit 20. Sit-ups start at 3 and increase by 3 every round until you hit 30. Sound complicated? It’s not.Be smarter than your workouts. I just keep track of what number of pull-ups I’m on and I know that I have that number x2 for push-ups and x3 for sit-ups. You go 1 to 10 up then back down to 1. You're either on the way up or the way down.
That’s 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, and 300 sit-ups.
... in 20ish minutes!
If you fail in the middle of say 7 pull-ups, that’s okay – take a breather, then finish out your reps. No skipping reps. The point is to get used to doing that amount of work and doing it faster over time.
Round 1: 1 pull-up. 2 push-ups. 3 sit-ups.
Round 2: 2 pull-ups. 4 push-ups. 6 sit-ups.
Round 3: 3 pull-ups. 6 push-ups. 9 sit-ups.
Round 10: 10 pull-ups. 20 push-ups. 30 sit-ups.
Round 11: 9 pull-ups. 18 push-ups. 27 sit-ups.
Round 19: 1 pull-up. 2 push-ups. 3 sit-ups.
Solid achievement: all the way through, no broken sets.
Decent time: under 35 minutes.
Good time: under 30 minutes.
Great time: under 27 minutes.
Crazy time: under 24 minutes.
Beast time: under 22 minutes.
Make it easier
If you can’t do 10 pull-ups in a row, 30 push-ups in a row, or 50 sit-ups in a row, this pyramid might be a bit overwhelming. But, everybody has to start somewhere. You have three options. One, shorten the pyramid so you’re only going up to, say, 7, and then back down. Or, two, double up your rounds so you do round 1 twice, round 2 twice, and so on… you’d peak at 6 pull-ups and only do that round once before going back down. Three, get help – a resistance band or assisted machine for pull-ups, knee push-ups, or crunches are easier variations of the moves. Do what works and have fun with it. Guess what? If you try hard and push yourself, you’ll get better over time (assuming your nutrition is on point). It's not that difficult.
Keep track of your times and when you have to break up sets of pull-ups, push-ups, or sit-ups. Each time, strive to complete one more set without having to break it up. Or, try to knock 15 seconds off your last time by taking a breath or two less rest between the different moves.
Make it harder
I like to get in a few heavy sets of incline press, decline press, or dips + barbell or dumbbell rows before my pyramid. If you’re sub-25 minutes for the basic 1-10-1 pyramid and can do it without breaking up any sets, it might be time to start one round higher and do 2-11-2. That’s where I’m at right now. Still too easy? Go for 3-12-3. My ultimate goal: 5-14-5 unbroken, under 24 minutes.
Since you’re timing the workout, consistent form matters. For the sake of simplicity...
Pull-ups are with arms slightly wider than shoulder-width, from full lockout at the bottom (don’t relax and hang but your arms should be close to straight) to chin at bar level (or at least get your eyes over the bar if you’re using an angled bar or it’s tough to judge). Legs hang straight or are bent with feet behind you. No swinging, kipping, etc. That’s not a pull-up.
Push-ups are from full lockout at the top to chest to ground at the bottom. Body is flat as a board.
Sit-ups are with arms crossed and hands on shoulders, from the ground up to elbows touching just below the knees. Suck in that belly-button – we don’t want any hernias here.
Make it more of a full-body workout by replacing sit-ups with air-squats.
Another pyramid I can appreciate...
No. Body. Move.
Don't forget to let us know how it goes and share the post if you liked it!