Crush the Coast Guard PFT with the Deck of Cards Workout

Some of you may have already heard about the infamous Deck of Cards routine. If you haven't, pay attention because if done correctly and repeatedly, it can really help you crush the Coast Guard PFT (Physical Fitness Test). It's very well known in the special warfare community and that's actually how I was introduced to it.

It was probably like my 2nd or 3rd week in training with the Navy Special Warfare recruiting team (shoutout to SWONEC Division 3) and I remember before we started training that particular day, the boat crew leader looked at me and said "we're gonna PT you to death today". I had no idea what he meant by it since our workouts already consisted of 3.5 - 4 hours of swimming, running and calisthenics - how much more hardcore could they make it?

Well I found that out later in the day when he busted out the deck of cards. It was quite an awesome "initiation" experience to say the least, and we finished the entire deck in about 22-23 minutes. I'll explain how it works below and then give a few examples.


1. You start with a standard deck of playing cards. There should be 52 cards and 2 jokers.

2. You assign an exercise to each of the four suits and the face value of the card is the amount of reps you have to perform for that suit (exercise). So using the picture to the right, an 8 of hearts would equal 8 pushups. The ace, jack, queen, and king can be assigned different values based on your preferences. I'll give you two variations on this in my examples below.

3. The two jokers are usually some sort of cardio "rest" where you do jumping jacks or run a mile or something similar. Basically anything that keeps your heart rate elevated but allows your muscles to rest a bit works here. You put one of the jokers dead in the middle of the deck - so the 27th card - and the other gets shuffled in randomly.

4. The goal of the workout is to get through the entire deck as fast as possible.

The beauty of the Deck of Cards Workout is that it is completely customizable. You can pick whatever exercises you want. Typically you'll want to spread out the work your body does, so have at least 1 upper body, 1 lower body, and 1 core exercise assigned to 3 of the 4 suits. Whatever body area you want to particularly torture that day can be used for the 4th suit.

Here are just two of the many versions of this workout that I do:

1. Hearts = Pushups; Diamonds = Burpees; Clubs = Four Count Flutter Kicks; Spades = Squats
Aces = 10; Jack = 11; Queen = 12; King = 13
For clubs (flutter kicks) and spades (squats) I triple the value of the card.
Jokers = 50 Four Count Jumping Jacks

Deck of Cards Workout | Assignment of Exercises | Example Image | Crush the Coast Guard PFT

2. Hearts = Pushups; Diamonds = Situps; Clubs = Mountain Climbers; Spades = Squats
Aces = 1; Jack = 11; Queen = 13; King = 15

For diamonds (situps) I double the value of the card. For clubs (mountain climbers) and spades (squats) I triple the value of the card.

Jokers = 50 Four Count Jumping Jacks

If you use this to train for Coast Guard Boot Camp, I would mostly stick to doing the actual exercises you'll be doing at Cape May. With that being said, throwing in burpees or something else that's very challenging certainly won't hurt your preparation. I will also add that pushups and squats should pretty much be a staple every time. While this is an advanced workout when done as intended, you can certainly modify it to make it a little bit easier if you'd like to try it. Simply add short timed breaks between each card and try to get through the deck that way. As your endurance improves you should be able to take less and less of a break until you no longer require a break and can do the entire deck straight through.

Well there you have it. From my very first time doing the Deck of Cards Workout and to this day, I continue to enjoy it and be challenged by it. I fell in love with it and still do it for the following benefits:

  • It's an excellent measure of total body muscular endurance. It also increases your endurance when you gradually make it more difficult.
  • Every time you do it, it's different. You are at the mercy of the shuffle. There's nothing quite as brutal as being on the 47th card and getting 3 (or even 4) cards in a row that are all high rep burpees.
  • It's flexible. You can adjust it very easily to make it easier or harder. Just double or triple the face value of the cards to increase the difficulty or give yourself small time breaks between each card to make it easier.
  • It's quick. You get an amazing, high-intensity workout in a short period of time - relatively speaking of course. If you are extremely out-of-shape it may take an hour (or more), but you can always start with a half-a-deck to ease into it. You can also add the small timed breaks in between cards as I just mentioned.

Lastly, if you want a good benchmark for how fit you have to be to make Coast Guard Boot Camp relatively (physically) easy, I will tell you that if you can make it through either of the two examples I gave above in under 25 minutes, then you should do fine in Coast Guard Basic Training. It takes a lot of muscle endurance to be able to make it through those in under 25. If you perform at that level there's not much that your Company Commanders will be able to do to you physically that you won't be able to handle. Notice I said physically. They can still torment you mentally and indirectly strip you of precious sleep. If they see that you are a PT stud but your mental preparation is lacking, you'll be doing lots of homework in a bathroom stall while the rest of your company sleeps. So make sure you show up both mentally and physically ready.

I hope you enjoyed reading this lesson and that you will use it to crush the Coast Guard PFT when you get to Cape May. If you'd like, you can return to the Prepare for Coast Guard Boot Camp Physically Page to check out some more FREE lessons on Coast Guard Boot Camp Training. Oh, and if you found this article helpful, please consider spreading the love with others who you think would benefit from it.

As always, thank you for your support.

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