Chapter 7

Circuit Training and Exercise Drills

This chapter gives commanders and trainers guidance in designing and using exercise circuits. It describes calisthenic exercises for developing strength, endurance, coordination, and flexibility. It also describes grass drills and guerilla exercises which are closely related to soldiering skills and should be regularly included in the unit’s physical fitness program.

Circuit training is a term associated with specific training routines. Commanders with a good understanding of the principles of circuit training may apply them to a wide variety of training situations and environments.


A circuit is a group of stations or areas where specific tasks or exercises are performed. The task or exercise selected for each station and the arrangement of the stations is determined by the objective of the circuit.

Circuits are designed to provide exercise to groups of soldiers at intensities which suit each person’s fitness level. Circuits can promote fitness in a broad range of physical and motor fitness areas. These include CR endurance, muscular endurance, strength, flexibility, and speed. Circuits can also be designed to concentrate on sports skills, soldiers’ common tasks, or any combination of these. In addition, circuits can be organized to exercise all the fitness components in a short period of time. A little imagination can make circuit training an excellent addition to a unit’s total physical fitness program. At the same time, it can provide both fun and a challenge to soldiers’ physical and mental abilities. Almost any area can be used, and any number of soldiers can exercise for various lengths of time.


The two basic types of circuits are the free circuit and the fixed circuit. Each has distinct advantages.

Free Circuit

In a free circuit, there is no set time for staying at each station, and no signal is given to move from one station to the next. Soldiers work at their own pace, doing a fixed number of repetitions at each station. Progress is measured by the time needed to complete a circuit. Because soldiers may do incomplete or fewer repetitions than called for to reduce this time, the quality and number of the repetitions done should be monitored. Aside from this, the free circuit requires little supervision.

Fixed Circuit

In a fixed circuit, a specific length of time is set for each station. The time is monitored with a stopwatch, and soldiers rotate through the stations on command.

There are three basic ways to increase the intensity or difficulty of a fixed circuit:


Several variables in circuit training must be considered. These include the time, number of stations, number of time, number of stations, number of soldiers, number of times the circuit is completed, and sequence of stations. These are discussed below.


One of the first things to consider is how long it should take to complete the circuit. When a fixed circuit is run, the time at each station should always be the same to avoid confusion and help maintain control. Consider also the time it takes to move from one station to the next. Further, allow from five to seven minutes both before and after running a circuit for warming up and cooling down, respectively.

Number of Stations

The objective of the circuit and time and equipment available strongly influence the number of stations. A circuit geared for a limited objective (for example, developing lower-body strength) needs as few as six to eight stations. On the other hand, circuits to develop both strength and CR fitness may have as many as 20 stations.

Number of Soldiers

If there are 10 stations and 40 soldiers to be trained, the soldiers should be divided into 10 groups of four each. Each station must then be equipped to handle four soldiers. For example, in this instance a rope jumping station must have at least four jump ropes. It is vital in a free circuit that no soldier stand around waiting for equipment. Having enough equipment reduces bottlenecks, slowdowns, and poor results.

Number of Times a Circuit is Completed

To achieve the desired training effect, soldiers may have to repeat the same circuit several times. For example, a circuit may have ten stations. Soldiers may run through the circuit three times, exercising for 30 seconds at each station, and taking 15 seconds to move between stations. The exercise time at each station may be reduced to 20 seconds the second and third time through. The whole workout takes less than 45 minutes including warm-up and cool-down. As soldiers become better conditioned, exercise periods may be increased to 30 seconds or longer for all three rotations. Another option is to have four rotations of the circuit.

Sequence of Stations

Stations should be arranged in a sequence that allows soldiers some recovery time after exercising at strenuous stations. Difficult exercises can be alternated with less difficult ones. After the warm-up, soldiers can start a circuit at any station and still achieve the objective by completing the full circuit.


The designer of a circuit must consider many factors. The six steps below cover the most important aspects of circuit development.

Determine Objectives

The designer must consider specific parts of the body and the components of fitness on which soldiers need to concentrate. For example, increasing muscular strength may be the primary objective, while muscular endurance work may be secondary. On the other hand, improving cardiorespiratory endurance may be the top priority. The designer must first identify the training objective in order to choose the appropriate exercises.

Select the Activities

The circuit designer should list all the exercises or activities that can help meet the objectives. Then he should look at each item on the list and ask the following questions:

Answering these questions helps the designer decide which exercises to use. He can choose from the exercises, calisthenics, conditioning drills, grass drills, and guerrilla drills described in this chapter. However, he should not limit the circuit to only these activities. Imagination and field expediency are important elements in developing circuits that hold the interest of soldiers. (See Figures 7-1 through 7-3.)

Arrange the Stations

A circuit usually has 8 to 12 stations, but it may have as many as 20. After deciding how many stations to include, the designer must decide how to arrange them. For example, in a circuit for strength training, the same muscle group should not be exercised at consecutive stations.

One approach is to alternate “pushing” exercises with “pulling” exercises which involve movement at the same joint(s). For example, in a strength training circuit, exercisers may follow the pushing motion of a bench press with the pulling motion of the seated row. This could be followed by the pushing motion of the overhead press which could be followed by the pulling motion of the lat pull-down. Another approach might be to alternate between upper and lower body exercises.

By not exercising the same muscle group twice in a row, each muscle has a chance to recover before it is used in another exercise. If some exercises are harder than others, soldiers can alternate hard exercises with easier ones. The choice of exercises depends on the objectives of the circuit.

The choice of exercises for circuit training depends on the objectives of the circuit.

Select the Training Sites

Circuits may be conducted outdoors or indoors. If the designer wants to include running or jogging a certain distance between stations, he may do this in several ways. In the gymnasium, soldiers may run five laps or for 20 to 40 seconds between stations. Outdoors, they may run laps or run between spread-out stations if space is available. However, spreading the stations too far apart may cause problems with control and supervision.

Prepare a Sketch

The designer should draw a simple sketch that shows the location of each station in the training area. The sketch should include the activity and length of time at each station, the number of stations, and all other useful information.

Lay Out the Stations

The final step is to lay out the stations which should be numbered and clearly marked by signs or cards. In some cases, instructions for the stations are written on the signs. The necessary equipment is placed at each station.

Sample Conditioning Circuits

Figures 7-1, 7-2, and 7-3 show different types of conditioning circuits. Soldiers should work at each station 45 seconds and have 15 seconds to rotate to the next station.


Calisthenics can be used to exercise most of the major muscle groups of the body. They can help develop coordination, CR and muscular endurance, flexibility, and strength. Poorly-coordinated soldiers, however, will derive the greatest benefit from many of these exercises.

Calisthenics can be used to help develop coordination, CR and muscular endurance, flexibility, and strength.

Although calisthenics have some value when included in a CR circuit or when exercising to music, for the average soldier, calisthenics such as the bend and reach, squat bender, lunger, knee bender, and side-straddle hop can best be used in the warm-up and cool-down periods. Exercises such as the push-up, sit-up, parallel bar dip, and chin-up/pull-up, on the other hand, can effectively be used in the conditioning period to develop muscular endurance or muscular strength.

Please note that exercises such as the bend and reach, lunger, and leg spreader, which were once deleted from FM 21-20 because of their potential risk to the exerciser, have been modified and reintroduced in this edition. All modifications should be strictly adhered to.

Few exercises are inherently unsafe. Nonetheless, some people, because of predisposing conditions or injuries, may find certain exercises less safe than others. Leaders must consider each of their soldier’s physical limitations and use good judgment before letting a soldier perform these exercises. However, for the average soldier who is of sound body, following the directions written below will produce satisfactory results with a minimum risk of injury.

Finally, some of the calisthenics listed below may be done in cadence. These calisthenics are noted, and directions are provided below with respect to the actions and cadence. When doing exercises at a moderate cadence, use 80 counts per minute. With a slow cadence, use 50 counts per minute unless otherwise directed.


While injury is always possible in any vigorous physical activity, few calisthenic exercises are really unsafe or dangerous. The keys to avoiding injury while gaining training benefits are using correct form and intensity. Also, soldiers with low fitness levels, such as trainees, should not do the advanced exercises highly fit soldiers can do. For example, with the lower back properly supported, flutter kicks are an excellent way to condition the hip flexor muscles. However, without support, the possibility of straining the lower back increases. It is not sensible to have recruits do multiple sets of flutter kicks because they probably are not conditioned for them. On the other hand, a conditioned Ranger company may use multiple sets of flutter’ kicks with good results.

The key to doing calisthenic exercises safely is to use common sense. Also, ballistic (that is, quick-moving) exercises that combine rotation and bending of the spine increase the risk of back injury and should be avoided. This is especially true if someone has had a previous injury to the back. If this type of action is performed, slow stretching exercises, not conditioning drills done to cadence, should be used.

Some soldiers complain of shoulder problems resulting from rope climbing, horizontal ladder, wheelbarrow, and crab-walk exercises. These exercises are beneficial when the soldier is fit and he does them in a regular, progressive manner. However, a certain level of muscular strength is needed to do them safely. Therefore, soldiers should progressively train to build up to these exercises. Using such exercises for unconditioned soldiers increases the risk of injury and accident.

Progression and Recovery

Other important principles for avoiding injury are progression and recovery. Programs that try to do too much too soon invite problems. The day after a “hard” training day, if soldiers are working the same muscle groups and/or fitness components, they should work them at a reduced intensity to minimize stress and permit recovery.

The best technique is to train alternate muscle groups and/or fitness components on different days. For example, if the Monday-Wednesday-Friday (M-W-F) training objective is CR fitness, soldiers can do ability group running at THR with some light calisthenics and stretching. If the Tuesday-Thursday (T-Th) objective is muscular endurance and strength, soldiers can benefit from doing partner-resisted exercises followed by a slow run. To ensure balance and regularity in the program, the next week should have muscle endurance and strength development on M-W-F and training for CR endurance on T-Th. Such a program has variety, develops all the fitness components, and follows the seven principles of exercise while, at the same time, it minimizes injuries caused by overuse.

Leaders should plan PT sessions to get a positive training effect, not to conduct “gut checks.” They should know how to correctly do all the exercises in their program and teach their soldiers to train using good form to help avoid injuries.

Key Points for Safety

Doing safe exercises correctly improves a soldier’s fitness with a minimum risk of injury.

The following are key points for ensuring safety during stretching and calisthenic exercises:* Stretch slowly and without pain and unnatural stress to a joint. Use static (slow and sustained) stretching for warming up, cooling down, ballistic (bouncy or jerky) stretching movements.

Leaders must be aware of the variety of methods they may use to attain their physical training goals. The unit’s Master Fitness Trainer is schooled to provide safe, effective training methods and answer questions about training techniques.


The following are some common calisthenic exercises.


Some large units prefer to use sets of calisthenic exercises as part of their PT sessions. Figure 7-4 shows three calisthenic conditioning drills for both the poorly conditioned and physically fit soldiers. The drills are designed to be done progressively and are intended to supplement muscular strength and endurance training sessions.

Conditioning drills are intended to supplement muscular strength and endurance training sessions.

Leaders can mix the exercises to provide greater intensity, based on the fitness level of the soldiers being trained. However, they should choose and sequence them to alternate the muscle groups being worked. Soldiers should do each exercise progressively from 15 to 40 or more repetitions (20 to 60 seconds for timed sets) based on their level of conditioning. They may also do each exercise in cadence unless timed sets are specified. For timed sets, soldiers do as many repetitions an exercise as possible in the allowed time. Using timed sets, both the well-conditioned and less-fit soldiers can work themselves to their limits.

The following conditioning drills (Figure 7-4) are arranged according to the phase of training.

Grass Drills

Grass drills are exercise movements that feature rapid changes in body position. These are vigorous drills which, when properly done, exercise all the major muscle groups. Soldiers should respond to commands as fast as possible and do all movements at top speed. They continue to do multiple repetitions of each exercise until the next command is given. No cadence is counted.

Performing grass drills can improve CR endurance, help develop muscular endurance and strength, and speed up reaction time. Since these drills are extremely strenuous, they should last for short periods (30 to 45 seconds per exercise). The two drills described here each have four exercises. Leaders can develop additional drills locally.

The soldiers should do a warm-up before performing the drills and do a cool-down afterward. The instructor does all the activities so that he can gauge the intensity of the session. The commands for grass drills are given in rapid succession without the usual preparatory commands. To prevent confusion, commands are given sharply to distinguish them from comments or words of encouragement.

As soon as the soldiers are familiar with the drill, they do all the exercises as vigorously and rapidly as possible, and they do each exercise until the next command is given. Anything less than a top-speed performance decreases the effectiveness of the drills.

Once the drills start, soldiers do not have to resume the position of attention. The instructor uses the command “Up” to halt the drill for instructions or rest. At this command, soldiers assume a relaxed, standing position.

Soldiers should do a warm-up before performing grass drills and do a cool-down afterward.

Grass drills can be done in a short time. For example, they may be used when only a few minutes are available for exercise or when combined with another activity. Sometimes, if time is limited, they are a good substitute for running.

Most movements are done in place. The extended-rectangular formation is best for a platoon- or company-sized unit. The circle formation is more suitable for squad- or section-sized groups.

When soldiers are starting an exercise program, a 10- to 15-minute workout may be appropriate. Progression is made by a gradual increase in the time devoted to the drills. As the fitness of the soldiers improves, the times should be gradually lengthened to 20 minutes. The second drill is harder than the first. Therefore, as soldiers progress in the first drill, the instructor should introduce the second. If he sees that the drill needs to be longer, he can repeat the exercises or combine the two drills.

Progression with grass drills is made by a gradual increase in the time devoted to the drills.


After the warm-up, bring the soldiers to a position of ATTENTION. The drills begin with the command GO. Other basic commands are FRONT, BACK, and STOP. (See Figure 7-5 for the positions and actions associated with these commands.)

To assume the FRONT or BACK position from the standing GO or STOP positions, the soldier changes positions vigorously and rapidly. (See Figure 7-5.)

To change from the FRONT to the BACK position (Figure 7-5), the soldier does the following:

To change from the BACK to the FRONT position, the soldier sits up quickly. He places both hands on the ground to the right or left of his legs. He takes several short steps to the rear on the side opposite his hands. When his feet are opposite his hands, he thrusts his legs vigorously to the rear and lowers his body to the ground. (See Figure 7-5.)


Exercises for grass drill one are described below and shown in Figure 7-6.

Bouncing Ball

From the FRONT position, push up and support the body on the hands (shoulder-width apart) and feet. Keep the back and legs generally in line and the knees straight. Bounce up and down in a series of short, simultaneous, upward springs from the hands, hips, and feet.

Supine Bicycle

From the BACK position, flex the hips and knees. Place the palms directly on top of the head, and interlace the fingers. Bring the knee of one leg upward toward the chest. At the same time, curl the trunk and head upward while touching the opposite elbow to the elevated knee. Repeat with the other leg and elbow. Continue these movements as opposite legs and arms take turns.

Knee Bender

From the position of ATTENTION, do half-knee bends with the feet in line and the hands at the sides. Make sure the knees do not bend to an angle less than 90 degrees.

Roll Left and Right

From the FRONT position, continue to roll in the direction commanded until another command is given. Then, return to the FRONT position.


Exercises for grass drill two are described below and shown in Figure 7-6.

The Swimmer

From the FRONT position, extend the arms forward. Move the right arm and left leg up and down; then, move the left arm and right leg up and down. Continue in an alternating manner.

Bounce and Clap Hands

The procedure is almost the same as for the bouncing ball in grass drill one. However, while in the air, clap the hands. This action requires a more vigorous bounce or spring. The push-up may be substituted for this exercise.

Leg Spreader

From the BACK position, raise the legs until the heels are no higher than six inches off the ground. Spread the legs apart as far as possible, then put them back together. Keep the head off the ground. Throughout, place the hands under the upper part of the buttocks, and slightly bend the knees to ease pressure on the lower back. Open and close the legs as fast as possible. The curl-up may be substituted for this exercise.

Forward Roll

From the STOP position, place both hands on the ground, tuck the head, and roll forward. Keep the head tucked while rolling.

Stationary Run

From the position of ATTENTION, start running in place at the GO command by lifting the left foot first. Follow the instructor as he counts two repetitions of cadence. For example, “One, two, three, four; one, two, three, four.” The instructor then gives informal commands such as the following: “Follow me,” “Run on the toes and balls of your feet,” “Speed it up,” “Increase to a sprint, raise your knees high, lean forward at your waist, and pump your arms vigorously,” and “Slow it down.”

To halt the exercise, the instructor counts two repetitions of cadence as the left foot strikes the ground: “One, two, three, four, one, two, three, HALT.”

Guerilla Exercises

Guerrilla exercises, which can be used to improve agility, CR endurance, muscular endurance, and to some degree muscular strength, combine individual and partner exercises. These drills require soldiers to change their positions quickly and do various basic skills while moving forward. Figures 7-7 and 7-8 show these exercises.

The instructor decides the duration for each exercise by observing its effect on the soldiers. Depending on how vigorously it is done, each exercise should be continued for 20 to 40 seconds.

The group moves in circle formation while doing the exercises. If the platoon exceeds 30 soldiers, concentric circles may be used. A warm-up activity should precede these exercises, and a cool-down should follow them. After the circle is formed, the instructor steps into the center and issues commands.


Soldiers progress by shortening the quick-time marching periods between exercises and by doing all exercises a second time. This produces an overload that improves fitness.

Soldiers progress with guerilla exercises by shortening the quick- time marching periods between exercises and by doing all the exercises a second time.

Many soldiers have not had a chance to do the simple skills involved in guerrilla exercises. However, they can do these exercises easily and quickly in almost any situation.

The preparatory command is always the name of the exercise, and the command of execution is always “March.” The command “Quick time, march” ends each exercise.

For the double guerrilla exercises (in circle formation) involving two soldiers, the commands for pairing are as follows:

After the exercises are completed, the instructor halts the soldiers and positions the base soldier or platoon guide by commanding, “Base man (or platoon guide), post.” He then commands “Fall out and fall in on the base man (or platoon guide).”


Brief explanations of guerrilla exercises follow.

All-Fours Run

Face downward, supporting the body on the hands and feet. Advance forward as fast as possible by moving the arms and legs forward in a coordinated way.

Bottoms-Up Walk

Take the front-leaning rest position, and move the feet toward the hands in short steps while keeping the knees locked. When the feet are as close to the hands as possible, walk forward on the hands to the front-leaning-rest position.

Crab Walk

Assume a sitting position with the hips off the ground and hands and feet supporting the body’s weight. Walk forward, feet first.

The Engine

Stand with the arms straight and in front of the body. The arms should be parallel to the ground with the palms facing downward. While walking forward, bring the left knee upward to the left elbow. Return to the start position. Continuing to walk forward, touch the right knee to the right elbow. Recover to the start position. Be sure to keep the arms parallel to the ground throughout the entire exercise.

Double Time

Do a double-time run while maintaining the circle formation.

Broad Jump

Jump forward on both feet in a series of broad jumps. Swing the arms vigorously to help with the jumps.

Straddle Run

Run forward, leaping to the right with the left foot and to the left with the right foot.

Hobble Hopping

Hold one foot behind the back with the opposite hand and hop forward. On the command “Change,” grasp the opposite foot with the opposite hand and hop forward.

Two-Man Carry

For two-man carries, soldiers are designated as number one (odd-numbered) and number two (even-numbered). A number-one and number-two soldier work as partners.

Fireman’s Carry

Two soldiers do the carry. On command, number-two soldier bends at the waist, with feet apart in a balanced stance. Number-one soldier moves toward his partner. He places himself by his partner’s left shoulder and bends himself over his partner’s shoulders and back. When in position, number-two soldier, with his left hand, reaches between his partner’s legs and grasps his left wrist. On command, they move forward until the command for change-over. They then change positions. The fireman’s carry can also be done from the other side.

Single-Shoulder Carry

Two soldiers do the carry. On command, number-two soldier bends at the waist with feet apart in a balanced stance. At the same time, number-one soldier moves toward his partner. He places his abdominal area onto his partner’s right or left shoulder and leans over. Number-two soldier puts his arms around the back of his partner’s knees and stands up. On command, they move forward until the command for changeover. They then change positions.

Cross Carry

On command, number-two soldier bends over at the waist. He twists slightly to the left with feet spread apart in a balanced position. At the same time, number-one soldier moves toward his partner’s left side and leans over his partner’s back. Number two soldier, with his left arm, reaches around his partner’s legs. At the same time, he reaches around his partner’s back with his right arm, being careful not to grab his partner’s neck or head. He then stands up straight, holding his partner on his back. On command, they move forward until the command for changeover. They then change positions.

Saddle-Back (Piggyback) Carry

On command, number-two soldier bends at the waist and knees with his hand on his knees and his head up. To assume the piggyback position, number-one soldier moves behind his partner, places his hands on his partner’s shoulders, and climbs carefully onto his partner’s hips. As number-one soldier climbs on, number-two soldier grasps his partner’s legs to help support him. Number-one soldier places his arms over his partner’s shoulders and crosses his hands over his partner’s upper chest. They move forward until the command for changeover is given. They then change positions.