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Upper and Lower Body Workouts Using Super-Set / Pyramid Methods

Upper and Lower Body Workouts Using Super-Set / Pyramid Methods

Photo: Stew Smith

Stew Smith, CSCS

Many people like to do calisthenics based workouts using pyramids and super set routines. In fact, with the right mix of exercises you can create a perfect workout that balances the entire body. Here is a question that prompted the following article:


Do you have any lower body workouts in the pyramid form? I would like to put together a program using your “The Best Twenty-Minute Workout” and the pyramid program from the USMC – Basic School Six Week OCS/TBS Program. Four days a week, 20 min workout on odd days and the USMC workout on even days.

I love to do pyramids and super set workouts. In fact, they are a great foundation builder as well as a proven maintenance method for calisthenics based programs. As you know, my workouts are primarily calisthenics based and supplemented by weights, stretching, running, swimming and biking for distance and speed. With the wide range of movements and exercises, you can work the entire body inside and out and create programs to improve fitness performance, athleticism, and overall health.

Some workouts, I recommend focusing only on the calisthenics or weights and do a cardio option later in the workout. For instance:

A Sample Upper Body and Lower Body Workout

Upper Body – Pick exercises that work well together like Pushups or dips, abdominal exercises, and Pullups. Arrange them in a way that you can perform an “active rest” by doing another exercise to “rest” the previous worked muscles from the exercise before. For instance:

Set #1 Pullups 2 Pushups 5 Abs of choice 10
Set #2 Pullups 4 Pushups 10 Abs of choice 20
Set #3 Pullups 6 Pushups15 Abs of choice 30
Set #4 Pullups 8 Pushups 20 Abs of choice 40
Set #5 Pullups 10 Pushups 25 Abs of choice 50

…continue on until failure or just before and repeat in reverse order

Some days I recommend mixing in some sprinting exercises into your workouts. This helps with training for the PFT transitions that must occur when doing upper body PFT and then running afterwards.

You can also mix in the same exercises in one of my favorite workouts that will help you reach max repetition in these exercises during fitness tests:

Repeat until you reach these numbers using max repetition effort each set:

Pullups – in as few sets as possible get 50-100 pullups by resting with:

Pushups – max reps in one minute

Situps – max reps in one minute


Running 1/4 mile in goal PFT running pace (ie 9:00 1.5 mile goal = 90 seconds 1/4 mile)

Rrepeat cycle until you reach your goal in pull-ups in the 50 -100 range.

For Lower Body Workouts using a Pyramid and Super Set:

Here is how I recommend creating a Pyramid mixed with fast paced cardio:

Run / LEG PT:

Repeat 5-6 times

run 1/4 mile at goal PFT pace

Squats – 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 , 20….(increase reps each cycle for 5-6 cycles)

Lunges 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20

You could make each set harder if you like the pyramid version or keep each set the same and basically make it a Super Set.

Two more leg workouts I recommend that are non-impact aerobics:

Life Cycle Pyramid Workout

Get on a Life Cycle stationary bike. Perform a Bike / Leg Pyramid by going on manual mode and start off at level 1 for 1 minute. Each minute add a level of resistance until you cannot peddle anymore. Then repeat in reverse order. This usually takes 20-30 minutes depending on your fitness level and creates the perfect workout: a warm-up, max out, and cool down. That is one advantage to the pyramid: its simplicity and completeness.

Swim Workout with Fins:

Another involves swimming with fins. Using any stroke, though the side stroke or combat swimmer stroke works best, swim across the pool until your feet / ankles start to feel the cramping sensation of first wearing fins. You may need to take some time to build up to 500-1500m of swimming with fins as it is stressful on the ankles and feet for the first few weeks.

But, if you want to really pump up your swimming workouts, try adding in a mix of leg PT / weights and pull-ups, dips, pushups, and abs in between 200-300m of swimming with fins. Of course this requires having a pullup / dip bar on the pool deck but our PT group donated this one to the pool we frequent and it packs a punch to a regular swimming workout.

Usually, we spend about 45 seconds rotating from exercise to exercise: Wood chopper squats, pull-ups, dips, abs of choice, and pushups – then swim for 4-5 minutes and repeat several times.

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