For hundreds of years, calisthenics — a.k.a. bodyweight exercises — have been the main way people improve and maintain their fitness. Whether it be athletics, home workouts, or getting prepared for laborious work, calisthenic workouts are terrific for building up your physique and functional strength.
The military uses calisthenics for many of its key drills and army exercise routines, and with terrific results. Getting military strong is a big undertaking, but the advantages are monumental. Here, we’ll go over the benefits of army calisthenics, what exercises are found in a military calisthenics workout, and our example workouts to help you get started on your fitness journey.
Benefits of Military Calisthenics
Calisthenic training is wonderful for your body for many reasons:
Safer workouts: The beauty of bodyweight exercises is that you reduce your overall injury risk. Instead of potentially crushing yourself with a weighted barbell during bench press, you can strap on a weighted vest and do push-ups. Or, better yet, one-armed push-ups. The same can be said for any other calisthenics exercise. Pull-ups, pistol squats, and other bodyweight movements keep your joints loose and limber, while never compressing your bones due to heavy weights. A safer workout means more workouts in your future, meaning more strength and athletic progressions in the near future.
Functional strength and mobility: Most calisthenic exercises are compound muscle movements, meaning they work multiple muscle groups at the same time. This is great because it’s how your body was built to move. With these functional movements, you get strong, lose weight, and achieve optimized physical fitness as naturally as possible. Plus, you can stay more flexible, mobile, and coordinated than if you were crushing your joints in the gym.
Perfect for full-body workouts: From push-ups to pull-ups to burpees and Turkish get-ups, there’s an entire world of calisthenic exercises out there. You can work out your entire body, head to toe. That means you can split up your workout days however you’d like: full-body three times a week, upper-body/lower-body, or push/pull/legs. Anything is possible with bodyweight training.
Zero equipment needed: Physical training doesn’t mean you have to have the latest and greatest equipment. Basic training doesn’t involve fancy machinery; that’s because the military gets a lot of their athletic prowess from bodyweight movements. Without needing equipment, you don’t have to go to a gym or spend your entire life savings. The most you need is probably a quality pull-up bar and you’re good to go.
It can be done 24/7, wherever you want: Piggybacking off of the last point, without needing equipment or a gym membership, you can work out whenever, wherever. Midnight on a Friday in your garage? Sure. Six in the morning in your backyard? Perfect! Late afternoon in your spare bedroom, knocking out some burpees? The best!
Ideal for athletes and those with laborious jobs: Athletes use functional movements in their sports, so wouldn’t it make sense to train for function? The same goes for workers who do a lot of moving around for their jobs. Add to calisthenic training a conditioning drill once or twice a week, and your body is ready for whatever athletic or work-related task you throw at it.
Exercises Included in a Military Workout
Military workouts are extremely adaptable and can cater to whatever your needs are. The components of a solid military calisthenics workout involve tried-and-true exercises that use only your bodyweight, as well as a conditioning aspect at the beginning or end (or both). Plus, you should always perform a proper warmup of dynamic stretching, jogging, etc., to get the blood pumping, along with a cool down at the end, such as a brisk walk or static stretching.
Here is a comprehensive list of calisthenic movements you can include in your army workout:
- Push-ups and push-up variations (incline, decline, triangle, one-arm, with rotation). Read more here about bodyweight chest exercises here.
- Pull-ups and pull-up variations (chin-ups, one-arm, archer, muscle-ups)
- Bodyweight squat and squat variations (jumping squats, squat pulses, pistols, shrimp squats). More on Calisthenics leg workouts here.
- Chest dips and dip variations (one-bar, reverse grip). Also, if you want to make dips harder, you can get a dip belt.
- Russian Dips
- Planks and plank variations (side, high, low, halfway-down, side-to-side hip touches, mountain climbers)
- Crunches and crunch variations (situps, toe touches, Russian twists, bicycles)
- Inverted row (for more bicep-related calisthenics, go here)
- Isometric pull-up bar holds (holding the contracted position for as long as possible, followed by a super-slow eccentric motion)
- Pike push-ups or handstand push-ups
- Lunges. Read more about how you can make lunges harder here.
- Bulgarian split squats
- Hamstring curls
- Battle ropes
- Jump rope
- Hill sprints
- Bodyweight Turkish getups
- Hanging leg raises and leg raise variations (knee raises, hanging bicycles)
- High knees and butt kickers
Phew! As you can see, the sky’s the limit when it comes to structuring your military workout. But here are some ways to get started…
Example Military Calisthenics Workouts
Below you’ll find some calisthenics workout structures where you can insert some of the exercises above into their respective slots, perform the reps and sets, and get military strong and cardiovascularly fit.
Full-Body Military Workout
Military training involves a ton of full-body exercise movements. Here’s how you do military training with the full-body method:
Upper Body Push Exercise
Upper Body Pull Exercise
Lower Body Push Exercise
Lower Body Pull Exercise
An example of this kind of workout could be:
Push-ups: 3 sets x 10-15 reps
Pull-ups: 3 sets x 10-15 reps
Jump squats: 3 sets x 10-15 reps
Hamstring curls: 3 sets x 10-15 reps
Plank: 2 sets x failure
Sprint intervals: 5 sets x 4-second all-out sprints w/ 30 seconds rest in between
Doing these exercises with perfect form and adding weight and/or making the exercise more difficult will be plenty for developing full-body strength.
Military Cardio Workout
This is for ramping up your metabolism and improving biomarkers like your VO2 max, muscular endurance, and heart rate variability. An example workout is as follows:
- Warmup run: 10-15 minutes, varying pace
- Burpees: AMRAP for 30 seconds (AMRAP = As Many Reps As Possible)
- High knees: AMRAP for 20 seconds
- Rest for 10 seconds
- Repeat 8-10 times
- Cooldown walk: 10-15 minutes
If by “military workout,” you think “boot camp,” this would be it, my friend. This is an absolute punisher. But it’s ideal for an endurance athlete.
You can also do Tabata sets, which only take around four minutes but will leave you gasping for air. What you do is eight sets of 20-seconds on a particular exercise. For each set, you have to go all-out with intensity. Twenty seconds of all-out work, ten seconds of rest, repeated eight times. Great exercises for this include burpees, high knees, mountain climbers, and jump squats.
Upper/Lower Body Split
This workout routine is great for fitting two of each into a normal week (a.k.a. two upper body workouts and two lower body workouts). Putting more exercise variance into your workout week will significantly aid in muscular strength gains.
Here are some bodyweight workout examples:
Upper Body 1:
Incline push-ups: 4 sets x 10-15 reps
Inverted row: 4 sets x 10-15 reps
Triceps dips: 4 sets x 10-15 reps
Mountain climbers: 3 sets x 20-30 reps
Lower Body 1:
Pistol squats: 4 sets x 10-15 reps
Walking lunges: 4 sets x 10-15 reps per leg
Standing calf raises: 3 sets x 15-20 per leg
Hill sprints: 3 all-out sets
Upper Body 2:
Decline push-ups: 4 sets x 10-15 reps
Pull-ups: 4 sets x 10-15 reps
Pike push-ups: 4 sets x 10-15 reps
Plank: 3 sets x 1 minute
Lower Body 2:
Bulgarian split squats: 4 sets x 10-15 reps per leg
Hamstring curls: 4 sets x 10-15 reps
Hanging leg raises: 4 sets x 10-15 reps
Jump rope (freestyle): 3 sets x 1 minute (all-out intensity)
Do this on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Continue to make the exercises harder by adding weight or altering the variation. This fitness routine will get you built just from your body weight.
A popular format for those who engage in weight training, military calisthenic workouts can also use the push/pull/leg split to great advantage.
This split looks similar to the upper body/lower body split above, only you split up the upper body into push and pull workouts. Simply mash all of the push exercises together (push-ups, dips), and mash all of the pull exercises together (pull-ups, rows).
The Full-Week Military Calisthenics Workout Program
Here’s the best strength training regimen using military calisthenics only. It builds up your endurance, strength, agility, flexibility, and power. Plus, it helps with weight loss. If you’re an athlete, this one is definitely for you.
Monday: Push workout
Tuesday: Cardio workout
Wednesday: Pull workout
Thursday: Cardio workout
Friday: Legs workout
Sunday: Full-body workout
By switching up the exercise routine and keeping your body guessing, your fitness level will go through the roof!
For more at-home workouts, be sure to check out our post on everything home workouts.
You can always add some exercise equipment into the mix, such as a kettlebell, resistance bands, rowing machines, or an assault bike. There’s no law against it. We have curated some of the best equipment that goes with your home calisthenics workouts here. But if you really want a body built from your bodyweight alone and maybe a pull-up bar, then pick one of the workout routines above and stay consistent with your workout habit.
You’ll be military-grade and be able to pass an army physical fitness test in no time!