Calisthenics for Physical Fitness (Navy SEAL)

Calisthenics - Navy SEAL
Calisthenics – Navy SEAL

Calisthenics – is the fastest growing sport in the world at the moment. It’s an on going trend which more and more young people are getting involved with. The sport started in Russia and the United States and is now evolving and spreading across Europe and the rest of the world. Calisthenics consists of a wide variety of body weight only exercises such as pull-ups, dips, push-ups and many more. The more experienced calisthenics athletes progress to various tricks and holds that appear superhuman to most!

The drills should be made as attractive as possible, and this can be best accomplished by employing the mind as well as the body. The movements should be as varied as possible, thus offering the men constantly something new to make them keep their minds on their work. movement many times repeated presents no attrac- tion; and is executed in purely mechanical manner, which should always be discountenanced.

The exercises should be vigorously executed; and to properly discipline the muscles, which is one of the many valuable features of this method, the greatest accuracy and precision should at all times be insisted on.

Calisthenics are a traditional and integral part of the SEAL’s training program because they require minimal equipment and can be performed in almost any location. Calisthenic exercises, depending on how they are performed, can be used to develop flexibility, muscle strength, muscle endurance, and/or muscle power.

Muscle strength and muscle endurance exist on a continuum. Given that muscle strength is the amount of force generated by one repetition and muscle endurance is the ability to exert force repeatedly over time, improving muscle strength will improve muscle endurance. If your one repetition maximum weight is increased, your submaximum multiple repetitions can be performed with more weight (resistance).

Muscle strength is developed by performing low-repetition, high-resistance exercises. When more than 12 repetitions can be performed, the resistance should be increased, and the repetitions decreased. Muscle endurance is developed by high-repetition (>12), low-resistance exercises.

In general, calisthenics develop muscle endurance. There are two occasions, however, when calisthenics develop muscle strength. The first occasion depends on individual fitness level and how many repetitions can be performed. Individuals who can only perform a low number of repetitions of a calisthenic exercise (less than 10-12) will develop muscle strength. Those who can perform a higher number (more than 10-12) will develop muscle endurance. For example, when you first start doing pull-ups you may only be able to perform 9 repetitions. At this point, you are developing muscle strength. As your performance improves, and you are able to perform over 12 repetitions, you begin to develop muscle endurance.

The second occasion occurs where calisthenics are modified to overload the muscles so that they contribute to strength development. This can be achieved by any of the following:

  • Adding weight (ex.: pull-ups or push-ups while wearing a weighted pack).
  • Using a buddy for resistance (ex.: having a buddy sit on your hips while doing bent over calf raises; buddy- assisted leg extensions).
  • Exercising on one side of the body only (ex.: one-legged squats or calf raises).
  • Modifying the exercise (ex.: elevating the legs during push-ups).
  • Super sets / pyramids.

These modifications can be particularly helpful if weight training facilities are not available and a strength workout is required.

The goal of a physical training (PT) program for the SEAL should be to develop complete muscular fitness (strength, endurance, and power). Muscle strength provides the foundation for muscle endurance and power. An adequate strength base not only improves performance, but also decreases the likelihood of injury. For this reason it is recommended that at least two strength workouts (low-repetition, 10-12 reps, high resistance exercises per muscle group per week), be part of the SEAL’s physical fitness program. Traditional calisthenic exercises performed two to three times a week will develop and maintain muscle endurance. A plyometric program when necessary, can also be used to develop muscle power.

Competitive exercise situations, such as “Burn Out” PT and pyramid sets, can be challenging, but if not handled correctly, can cause injury. SEALs should train like elite athletes and avoid situations that could contribute to injury.

Calisthenic sessions occasionally include holding an exercise in the halfway position for 2-10 seconds. This technique is often applied to pull-ups, dips, or push-ups in an attempt to make the exercise more difficult or alleviate boredom. For example, when performing a pull-up, the operator will maintain the position halfway between the starting position and the bar, while the chin is over the bar, and again halfway down the bar. This technique is NOT recommended.

I recommend the following range of exercises for both, trained of less trained people (calisthenics):

Sit-ups – legs slightly turned outward and elbows behind neck at all times. When first performing the sit-up from an extension position, you may not be able to perform as many repetitions. This should not be surprising since essentially, you have been performing only half a sit-up in the past. Variations: arms at sides, arms across chest, arms behind head, arms above head.

Jumping Jacks – a 2-count exercise from a standing position with feet together and hands at sides. Count 1: jump up while bringing hands together over head and landing with feet shoulder width apart. Count 2: jump back to starting position.

Eight-Count Body Builders – an 8-count exercise from a standing position. Count 1: bend legs and place hands on deck. Count 2: extend both legs backward supporting body weight with extended arms (starting position for a push-up). Count 3: bend elbows, lowering chest toward deck (a push-up). Count 4: extend arms. Count 5: separate legs while keeping arms extended. Count 6: bring legs back together as on count 4. Count 7: flex legs and bring them back to count 1 position. Count 8: stand and return to starting position.

Triceps Push-Ups – a 2-count exercise. Begin by lying on stomach, with feet and hands on deck, fingers spread, thumb and index fingers on both hands almost touching each other, elbows extended, and body straight. Count 1: bend elbows at least 90° using arms to support body weight. Count 2: return to starting position.

Push-Ups Wide, Standard and Narrow – a 2-count exercise. Begin lying on stomach with hands and feet on deck, arms extended, and head facing forward. Count 1: bend elbows to at least a 90° angle, lowering chest toward deck. Count 2: extend arms back to starting position. Should be performed first with hands placed wider apart than shoulder-width (Wide PushUps), then, gradually move hands closer together so that smaller muscles (ex.: triceps) are worked last. Starting wide minimizes problem of fatiguing triceps before pectorals.

Chin-Ups – a 2-count exercise beginning at a dead hang (ex.: full extension) from a horizontal bar with arms shoulder-width apart and palms facing inward. Pull body upward on count 1 until chin touches top of bar. Return to starting position on count 2. No kicking or kip-up allowed.

Incline Pull-Ups – a 2-count exercise. Requires a low bar (ex.: a dip bar). While lying or sitting on ground (depending on how low bar is), grab bar with both hands and pull upper body toward bar at a 45° angle. Emphasis: pulling shoulder blades together during movement.

Crunches – a 2-count exercise. Start by lying on back with legs bent and elevated off deck and placing hands behind head. Lift upper torso 10 to 12 inches off ground, then return to starting position. Variations: legs may be bent with feet on deck, bent with knees toward chest and feet elevated, or extended vertically. Arms may be placed in several positions (easy to most difficult): alongside body, across chest, hands behind head, or hands clasped above head. Adding a pelvic tilt at peak of abdominal contraction engages lower abdominals.

Elbow to Knee/ Cross Overs – a 2-count exercise. Lie on back with hands clasped behind head. Legs can be bent at knees (feet on deck), with one leg crossed over knee of opposite leg or bent with knees toward chest (feet elevated from deck). Slowly lift and twist torso bringing one shoulder toward knee of opposite leg. Engaging obliques requires rotation to start immediately at beginning of exercise, not at top. Return to starting position. Perform exercise by turning torso to both left and right knees.

Hip Rollers – a 2-count exercise. Lie on back with legs bent and elevated off deck, slowly bring both knees down together on one side until low back begins to lift off deck. Bring knees back to starting position, then repeat on other side.

The Superman (Prone and Kneeling) – a no count exercise. Either lie on stomach or on hands and knees. Opposite arm and leg (ex.: right arm, left leg) should be lifted and held for 3 to 5 seconds, then slowly lowered. Same movements should then be made with other arm and opposite leg. Superman can be made more difficult by adding weights to arms and legs. To avoid hyperextension of back, leg should not be raised higher than hip when in kneeling position.

Donkey Kicks – a 2-count exercise. On hands and knees, extend one leg out and behind, then bring it back. Repeat this movement using the same leg until a burn is felt in the hips and lower back. Then exercise the opposite leg. To avoid hyperextension of back, the leg should not be raised above hip.

Prone Back Extension – a no count exercise. Lie face down on deck, hands clasped behind back, lift upper torso off deck, hold, and return to starting position. Avoid hyperextension of back. Placement of hands alters difficulty; behind back is easiest, behind head is more difficult, straight out in front is most difficult.

Hand to Knee Squats – a 2-count exercise. Feet flat on deck, shoulder width apart with arms relaxed at sides. Keep back straight, and feet flat, bend at knees until your fingertips pass knees, then return to starting position.

Calf Raises – a 2-count exercise. Standing on deck or surface (ex.: a curb) which allows heels to hang over side. Raise and lower body weight by raising and lowering heels no more than 3 inches. Perform exercise with toes pointed inward, straight, and turned outward.


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