Monday, February 27, 2012

The 42-Day "No Gym" Exercise Program

Although I have a tab that goes over my entire Rapid PT 42-Day program, I wanted to dedicate a post to my updated "No Gym" exercise program. Specifically, I wanted to explain what this program is trying to achieve as well as give you some exercise descriptions.

The Program
This program uses several different running and strength training techniques to help you rapidly improve the strength and aerobic measurements of the USAF PT test in only 42 days. I chose the 42-day time frame because it is the maximum amount of time that you have to re-test if you fail your PT test.

Click here for larger image.

As you can see from the overall program above, there are two main components of this program: Running and strength exercises.

Since 42 days neatly divides into 6 weeks, I created three different two-week phases.

Phase One: Break In (Weeks 1 and 2)
In the first and second weeks you are getting used to the program. Your intensity will be minimal. Running intensity is also minimal. You will only execute three sets of Tabata sprints each week. For PT exercises, you will alternate between sit-ups and push-ups all week. And you will only be doing three dynamic exercises each week.

Phase Two: Build Up (Weeks 3 and 4)
Phase two is all about developing your strength and aerobic base. This means more PT and dynamic exercises, as well as long, slow runs. More sprints are also added

Phase Three: PT Test Prep (Weeks 5 and 6)
In phase three, you are trying to achieve peak physical performance by the day of your PT test. Since anaerobic training can interfere with your 1.5-mile run, the Tabata sprints are removed completely. You will concentrate on building up your test pace. More rest is also added to this phase.

When executing the 1.5-mile runs, determine your test pace and train for that pace during the 1.5-mile runs.

Workout Time
You can do the running and strength portions of my program at the same time, or you can do them 4 hours or more apart (e.g., run at 0600 and do the strength exercises at 1600).

By design, you should be done with all exercises for a given day in 30-45 minutes. It is important that you spend less than one hour in the gym at one time to prevent overtraining (and excess production of the stress hormone cortisol).

The Tabata
You'll notice that the word "Tabata" is used quite a bit in the exercise program above. A Tabata isn't an exercise like the push-up, it is a workout protocol that can be applied to ANY exercise (e.g., push-ups, sit-ups, jumping rope, punching a heavy bag, bench press, squats). The Tabata protocol can compress about 20 minutes of steady-state cardio into a single 4-minute session.

Be Warned: Done correctly, the Tabata is likely the most intensity you will ever experience in your life. But they will rapidly whip your body into shape! While the first two weeks of this PT program will absolutely suck, your body will adapt quickly, generally leaving you eager for punishment by week 3 of my 42-day exercise program.

I will eventually write a post that talks about the Tabata in more detail. Until then, I have created three tables to show how the 10/20, 15/15, and 20/10 Tabatas are organized.

Click here for larger image.
As you can see, for each set you will be exercising for exactly four minutes when applying the Tabata protocol to an exercise. There are eight work/rest periods (called rounds). When you are exercising, it will be at 100% effort; when you are resting, it should be at 0% effort. Each minute has two rounds. By the time you finish round eight, you will have completed four minutes (again, one set) of a hyper-intense exercise.

Here's a good example of someone doing Tabata Burpees.

For my program, I use both the 10/20 the 15/15 Tabata protocols for all six weeks. I don't go above 15/15 (15 seconds of work followed by 15 seconds of rest) because I want you to accomplish many low-rep sets (known as low-rep volume training). When using low-rep volume training, you don't actually exercise to the point of fatigue. Your goal is to do many sets of a few reps (between 5-10 reps per set, and between 8-24 sets). If you were to do 24 sets of 10 reps, then you would complete 240 reps overall. This volume training will ultimately improve the number of push-ups and sit-ups you can do during the timed PT test.

When you have more than one Tabata exercise to perform on a given day (e.g., sit-ups and hindu squats), then you have to move from one exercise to the other within one minute. For example, as soon as you finish your Tabata sit-ups, you only have one minute to rest before starting your Tabata hindu squats.

Improving the Waist Measurement
The only thing that will improve your waist measurement will be diet changes. If you remove the 7 Deadly Foods it may be possible to remove as much as 4 inches off your waist in 42-days. This improvement is due to a reduction in bloating, intestinal inflammation, and water retention that normally accompanies foods that contain wheat, soy, gluten grains, chemical additives, sugar, trans fats, and oils high in omega-6.

For other tips on improving your waist measurement, check out my more detailed post.

Running Exercises
Obviously, the running in my program will prepare you for your 1.5-mile run. I like to use three different kinds of running: Low speed aerobic base, test pace, and sprint running. All three will help lower your run times.

The 1.5-, 2-, and 3-mile runs are executed normally (not as a Tabata). For weeks 1-4, your runs will be comfortable, which means that you are not trying to set any new running records. This pace will usually be much slower than your test pace. For weeks 5 and 6, you are getting ready to establish your PT test pace, but only twice per week. This should allow your running performance to peak at the time of your PT test.

For more tips on how to improve your run times, check out my other blog posts.

Running Intensity
On my workout sheet above, you'll see the abbreviation MHR, which stands for Max Heart Rate. You can determine your max heart rate with online calculators and view your heart rate with a watch or chest band, or you can simply try to run with low, medium, and high intensity.
  • Low Intensity: At 60% MHR you can carry on a full conversation and shouldn't sweat very much. As this pace you are working your aerobic base, which helps train your body to use oxygen more efficiently.
  • Medium Intensity: When you jump up to 75% MHR you are running at a medium pace. You should still be able to talk when running at this pace, but usually only a few sentences at a time.
  • High Intensity: As you start to run at 90% MHR you will be training for your test pace. There should be no ability to say more than a couple of words at a time.

Proper Jogging Form
Jogging is used to build your aerobic base and get you used to your test pace. But none of this training will be useful if you don't use proper form. Correct jogging form will reduce the amount of energy you waste during your 1.5-mile run. This saved energy can then be used to run with a faster pace. 

The video below gives a good explanation of what good jogging form looks like.

Proper Sprint Form
The Tabata sprint is used to build leg strength, which can improve your 1.5-mile run times. Applying the Tabata protocol to sprinting means that you will experience eight alternating rounds of high intensity running (100% MHR) followed by complete rest for recovery. Each set of Tabatas is four minutes long. 

The video below gives some solid advice on proper sprinting technique.

Strength Exercises
While I have push-up and sit-up exercises in my program, I also include other dynamic exercises designed to strengthen the entire body (especially the core). For this "No Gym" program, all strength exercises use only your body weight.

Since you will be doing push-ups for the PT test, you'll be doing push-ups in my program. However, proper technique is very important (especially if you want all of your push-ups to count during the test). When doing push-ups, remember these three things:
  • Keep your body straight (like a board).
  • Slowly drop from the starting position until your arms are at 90-degrees.
  • Go to full lockout when pushing back up to the starting position.

During the test you can let gravity pull you down so that you can get more reps within the 1-minute time limit. However, while you are preparing for PT test, I want your reps to be 1 second down, 1 second up.

The sit-up isn't very helpful for abdominal development. However, because it is on the PT test, then you will be doing them in my program.

While the video below demonstrates the Army's sit-up technique, it will help you practice the correct overall form.

Although the pull-up is not a part of the PT test, it is an excellent way to build overall upper body strength.

Nothing (and I mean nothing) beats the burpee for full body strength. And, just as there are many different ways to do the push-ups and sit-ups, there are tons of different burpee routines. Below is a good routine that I found on YouTube.

Hindu Squats
I have to be honest, I just learned about the hindu squad a few weeks ago. Normally, I do jumping squats or jumping box squats, but hindu squats offer a much better range of motion and can build leg strength quickly!

Power Jumping Jacks
Everyone in the USAF should be familiar with the jumping jack. The power jumping jack combines jumping squats with the jumping jack, which produces a pretty good explosive exercise. And always try to go for as much height as you can!

Final Thoughts
I have put a lot of effort into creating an easy-to-follow, efficient, and effective workout program that was originally designed to transform a failing PT score into an EXCELLENT in only 42 days. As I have acquired new information (like the value of low-weight volume training), I have built a program that can help anybody prepare for the PT test, regardless of their fitness level.

When it comes to getting the quickest change with the least amount of effort, I believe that this program will give you the most bang for your buck.

And so I wish you good luck with your PT transformation. If you have any feedback, or suggestions, or you would like to share your success story, please send me an email at


  1. Does running on a treadmill have any major implications(good or bad), compared to doing this workout on a track?

    1. I've read (and it seems to work) that if you're going to train on a treadmill, set it to a small incline to make up for the differences between treadmill and outdoor running. I'm assuming it's the extra effort required with the incline that helps prepare you for off-treadmill running.

    2. I have gone to the FAC several times for various reasons, and yes they do tell you if you are training on a treadmill to set it at an incline. It doesn't haven't to be anything extreme, just like a 1% incline is fine.