Try This Upper Body Workout to Prepare for the Army Combat Fitness Test

Staff Sgt. Sharonica White completes a deadlift repetition .
Staff Sgt. Sharonica White completes a deadlift repetition during the U.S. Army Japan 2020 Army Week’s Army Combat Fitness Test Fitness Warrior Competition at Camp Zama, Japan, June 8. (U.S. Army/ Winifred Brown)

Many people who are required to take the new Army Combat Fitness Test are looking for new ways to include the exercises into regular workouts in the gym or on the track and treadmill.

Check out a combination of basic upper body calisthenics and weight training mixed with cardio. This workout is ideal for the tactical athlete who wants to maintain skills or become proficient at all the elements of fitness.

The workout is an advanced training program for the upper body that mixes calisthenics with a short run as a warm-up. Following the warm-up, the lift section begins, followed by a goal pace run interval workout that requires an active rest that includes a PT testing element (sit-ups, plank or leg tucks). You complete the workout with the PT Reset as a cooldown session.

This workout is easily scalable. You do not have to do all the warm-up repetitions, but the goal is to warm up. When you feel ready to lift, start the lift session.

Push-up Pyramid: 1-10 with a 100-meter run in between each set: 1 push-up, run 100 meters, 2 push-ups, run 100 meters….Keep going until you reach 10 and move to the next exercise below (total 55 push-ups and 1000 meters jog).

Pull-up Pyramid: 1-10 with 100-meter run in between each set. You can also just stretch or dynamic stretch for 15-20 seconds in between each set if no running options are available. Typically, we do this on an outdoor pull-up bar and run 2 x 50-meter jogs between sets. (total 55 pull-ups and 1000 meters jog).

Run: 1 mile or bike 10 minutes

Lift: The two short circuits below are some basic upper body exercises you can do with dumbbells.

Repeat 5 times

Bench Press: 5-10 (dumbbell or barbell). Pick a weight that places you in the 5-10 repetition range.

Pull-ups: max (add weight vest if needed to keep reps to less than 10 each set).

Even though pull-ups are not tested in the new Army CFT, you need to be able to do pull-ups in order to work the grip and half pull-up muscles required to do the leg tuck exercise. They are a good balancing exercise combo with bench press.

You may need two sets of dumbbells for this circuit with perhaps a lighter set for the 10 reps of bicep and military press combo movement.

Repeat 3 times

Dumbbell bicep/military curl: 10 (Do bicep curl from hips to shoulders then press overhead. This gives 2 exercises in 1 movement).

DB shrugs: 10

DB heavy rows: 10

Repeat 8 times

Run 400 meters at goal pace for next timed run

On the odd sets, do sit-ups or plank pose for 1 minute or 10-15 hanging knee ups or leg tucks.

On the even sets, do 20 hand-release push-ups.

Consider the PT Reset as a great way to work some of the often-skipped and neglected muscle groups of the upper body and as a way to balance out the core and frequently done exercises like push-ups and bench press.


Reverse Push-ups: 20

Birds: 20

Arm haulers: 20

Swimmers: 1 minute

Side plank: 1 min (right) and then plank: 1 min

Side plank: 1 min (left)

This workout has a few of the challenging upper body exercises of the Army CFT (ACFT) that work the grip, pulling muscles, core, chest and upper back and prepare you for running pace drills. On leg day, you should include many of the other exercises of the ACFT (deadlifts, power throws of a medicine ball and farmer walks and carries).

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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