This is a dang good ‘un. Also known as “The Vicious Cycle”, I learned this one back in the late 90s from a sadistic South African rugby coach. For any former teammates who are reading this, let me apologize in advance for the nightmares you’ll have tonight. I know you’ve done your best to repress any memory of being put through this.

The only equipment you need is a place to do pull-ups and a little bit of space. Think of your pull-up station as the backstop of a baseball diamond. That’s where you start. The rest of the stations are arranged just like the bases on the baseball diamond. Home plate = push-ups, First base = sit-ups, Second base = burpees, Third base = jackknives*. Here’s a diagram if you’re confused. I like to arrange the distance between the “bases” at about the distance between bases on a t-ball field. You can make them further apart if you want…that distance isn’t the key to this workout.

Start by doing a single pull-up. Then you run the bases, stopping at each one to do one repetition of the exercise at that station (1 push-up, 1 sit-up, 1 burpee, 1 jackknife). Then it’s back to the pull-up station for the second round. This time, you do two reps of everything. The next lap is 3 reps, and so on. Starting with one rep and ending with six reps is a good way to start. I did it that way yesterday at the halfway point of a four mile run, and it absolutely destroyed my pace and heart rate on the 2nd half of the run. As my fitness improves, I work my way up to ten laps/reps.

And that’s when things start to get really interesting.

Once you can comfortably do the ten lap incarnation of this exercise, try doing it in reverse instead…starting with ten reps and working your way down to one. It sounds like it would take the same effort level to do go in reverse, but it’s actually much harder for a couple of reasons. First of all, unless you are a pull-up machine, the quality of your pull-ups will probably tend to decrease the more reps you have to do. There’s no shame in using a spotter or “self-spotting” by flailing your legs to get pull-ups in, but if you have to do 10 pull-ups on your first set instead of your last, you’ll probably do those 10 better. And at the end, it’s easy to do 3 good pull-ups, so you’ll make the extra effort.

Secondly, you’ll probably find that the sit-ups and jackknives almost feel like a rest in this workout since they give you the opportunity to lie down on the ground. The only problem is, you have to get up off the ground. Starting with ten reps and working your way down to one means that at the end of the workout, when you want to rest the most, you get less and less rest. As soon as you get on the ground to do 3 sit ups, you have to pick yourself back up and run to do burpees.

I consider this a “toughness” workout as much as it is a fitness workout. There really isn’t much of a reprieve at any point of this workout. It’s one that makes you feel like you can’t wait to get to the next thing, only to detest where you are as soon as you get there. You’ll have to hunker down mentally to push to the end.

Then finish it up with a 2-3 mile run and see if you can ever regain control of your heart rate.

* If you aren’t familiar with jackknives, you lie flat on your back with your arms stretched out above your head, then you simultaneously raise your hands and feet, basically folding yourself in half, and (attempt to) touch your toes.