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Ranger Training Part I: Arm Day

Updated on March 19, 2010

No Equipment Needed

My college roommate taught me this workout. He learned it from a friend of his who had been in the US Army. I don’t know if this workout is still used in the armed forces, but here’s what I do know: it’s quick, it’s adaptable, it’s easy to fit into your day, it requires practically no equipment, and it works. A warm-up and cool-down are built in; you won’t have to spend extra time warming up before you get down to business. The concept of Arm Day is very basic, but with a few variations, you can keep it interesting and fun. As with any workout, be sure to see your doctor for a physical before you start, and if you’re not in great shape to begin with, don’t overdo it on the first day.

Have no fear: this workout will not remove your skin.
Have no fear: this workout will not remove your skin.

The Workout

It’s incredibly simple. Do five pushups. Then do a pull-up. Then do ten pushups. Then do two pull-ups. Then do fifteen pushups. Then do three pull-ups. Then do ten pushups. Then do two pull-ups. Then do five pushups. Then do one pull-up. Then you’re done.

See how simple it is?  In spite of its simplicity, this workout will build your muscles, burn calories, and keep you from getting bored. All you need to do is work in a few simple variations when the basic sequence starts to get easy and/or boring.

The Variations

As mentioned above, if you haven’t worked out in a long time, you’ll want to start slower. Do two sets of five-and-one. Work your way up to fifteen-and-three by adding the next set when your workout loses its challenge.

If you have the time and want to get in some sustained cardio, do a mile’s worth of jogging before and after the pushup/pull-up sequence. Your local high school probably has a track you can use, or you can measure out a mile in your neighborhood. Start slow, sprint the last hundred yards or so, and walk to cool down. Add the run when you feel like it, or when the weather is good, or whenever. But don’t let the run be the reason you decide not to exercise.

When going up to fifteen pushups gets easy (and it will, surprisingly soon), go ahead and try two sequences of fifteen pushups and three pull-ups. That second set of fifteen will knock you down, even if the first set seemed easy. Then work up to a set of twenty-and-four. Then do two of those and back down. And so on.

If you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to do your usual sequence, you can just go up to two sets of ten-and-two and back down. Just make sure you do a couple sets to stay in the habit of working out.

If you want a harder workout but don’t have time to go up to a set of twenty-five-and-five and back down, you can vary the kind of pushups you do. Put your feet on a chair seat and do your pushups. Do wide pushups or diamond pushups. There are many variations on the humble pushup, and each of them works different muscles in your upper body. Switching your style of pushup is a great way to keep your workout interesting and beneficial without making it take longer. You can also vary the kind of pull-up you do. If the grip-toward-you pull-up is too easy, do the grip-away-from-you pull-up. Try spacing your hands wider apart on the bar, or placing them right next to each other.

The key here is that you can do more and longer sets of pushups and pull-ups, and that’s fine; it’ll build your endurance as well as your strength. But you don’t have to. You can build more muscle in the same amount of time by doing the same number, but different styles, of the same basic exercises. The fitness gurus call this “muscle confusion.” If you’ve ever watched early morning info-mercials on cable TV, you know that you can pay as much as you want to learn their patented methods of confusing your muscles. Or you can try this for free. I’ll even give you double your money back if it doesn’t work for you.

Working it Into Your Schedule

For me, the hardest thing about working out is not the actual exercise but rather working it into my day. It can seem kind of self-indulgent to spend time lifting myself up over and over again when there are kids to play with, meals to cook, dishes to clean, or a job to go to. So I do it in the morning, before my shower, and before the rest of the family gets up. Even if I oversleep, I can still do an abbreviated workout. I just do as many sets as I have time for. Make it part of your routine. Maybe you can do it right after you get home from work, before dinner. Maybe it’s better for you to exercise after dinner, before bed. Make it a priority. The more you do it, the easier it becomes to keep doing it. Of course, nobody is going to be able to maintain the same routine without interruption indefinitely. One of the best features of Arm Day is that if you should have to take a hiatus from working out for some reason (injury, illness, or you just didn’t feel like it), you can ease back into the routine with a smaller number of sets.

The Only Piece of Equipment You'll Need

Iron Gym Total Upper Body Workout Bar - Extreme Edition
Iron Gym Total Upper Body Workout Bar - Extreme Edition

If you don't have a handy basement beam or tree limb, you can use one of these.


Resting Your Muscles

An important part of building strength is letting your muscles rest. When you exercise enough for your muscles to get sore, you’re very slightly damaging your muscle tissue. If you don’t let your muscles rest (and heal), you risk injury. This is an oversimplification, but it’s true, and it means that you should not do an Arm Day every day.

Hey, what about working it into your daily routine, you’re probably asking. True, I did say that you should make exercise a habitual part of each day. If you work out every day at about the same time, it’ll be easier to keep working out. But you shouldn’t do the same workout every day. It’s best to switch off between two or more workouts that focus on different muscle groups. Arm Day focuses on your arms and upper body. If you vary your style of pushups and pull-ups, you’ll notice greater strength not only in your arms, but also your chest and upper back. Between Arm Days, however, you will want to focus on another area of your body. When you’re ready, take a look at Ranger Training Part II: Ab Day, coming soon.


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    • htodd profile image


      6 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the nice post...This is great excercise

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 

      7 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      Perhaps my first arm day will be today, thanks for sharing the plan. You've earned a vote-up and useful from me.

    • Cathi Sutton profile image

      Cathi Sutton 

      8 years ago

      Thanks, I will!

    • Jeff Berndt profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Berndt 

      8 years ago from Southeast Michigan

      Wow, one-armed chin ups! I've never been able to do those, not even when I was at my peak back in college. But your dad is right: you don't need fancy equipment to stay in shape. All you need is a commitment to exercise. Working out with a partner or three is also helpful, if you can find dependable partners.

      Stay tuned for Ab Day, the second half of the Ranger Training routine.

    • Cathi Sutton profile image

      Cathi Sutton 

      8 years ago

      Great Hub! I'm going to refer my son who likes to stay in shape to this Hub! My dad used to say a person could stay in good shape without fancy equiptment, and he could do one arm chin ups at age 72! Thanks a whole heep!


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