Calisthenics are versatile exercises that let you create fat-burning, toning and bodybuilding workouts simply by changing how you perform the exercises. Modifying difficult exercises helps you build strength and endurance while you target muscles to create a sexier shape. Try different workouts using these body-weight exercises to meet all of your fitness goals.
Calisthenics, or body-weight exercises, require little or no equipment, using your body’s weight to provide resistance and your arms, legs and core to create the movements that raise your heart rate for cardio workouts. These exercises let you target your tummy, thighs, calves, arms, shoulders and back for body shaping. For example, work your arms and shoulders with a variety of pushups that let you increase the difficulty of the exercise as you build strength.
The three main calisthenics workouts are low-resistance aerobic routines, moderate-resistance toning workouts and high-resistance bodybuilding. Performing exercises such as jumping jacks, jogging in place, skipping rope, running stairs, butt kicks, cross-body toe touches, burpees, mountain climbers, lunges and squats at rapid pace, you raise your heart rate and keep it elevated to burn fat. Performing exercises such as pullups, chinups, pushups, dips and crunches builds muscle and helps you target problem areas such as the backs of your arms and stomach. Performing exercises such as squats and lunges slowly increases your muscle use and resistance.
If your goal is to burn fat, perform low- and moderate-resistance exercises with few or no breaks so you can keep your heart rate high. Move from exercise to exercise every one to two minutes, staying in your target heart rate range, or close to the maximum heart rate you can maintain without having to stop to take long breaks. Alternate low-resistance exercises, such as jogging in place and jumping jacks, with moderate-resistance exercises, such as pushups performed on your knees or quick crunches. Perform exercises that use more muscular effort at a moderate speed to reduce the resistance by letting momentum help you.
Create a circuit-training workout if your goal is toning. Toning consists of burning fat while you build muscle. Keep your heart rate high by performing pullups, pushups, chair and couch dips, crunches, V-ups, bicycle kicks and taking stairs two at a time for 60 seconds. Take a quick 15- or 30-second break, then start the next exercise. Perform your exercises using a resistance level that won’t fatigue you to failure in less than 30 minutes. For example, perform pushups on your knees if you don’t have the strength to do them for 60 seconds. Start pullups, chinups and chair dips by jumping up to raise your head above the bar, or to raise yourself between two chairs, then perform only the lowering portion of the exercise. Don’t pause between reps during core exercises if that causes your stomach muscles to become too tight to continue.
If your primary goal is to build maximal muscle, perform multiple sets of high-resistance calisthenics slowly. Perform each exercise using muscular effort to raise and lower yourself, pausing between each rep to prevent momentum from assisting you. Perform the exercise until you can’t perform any more, then take a two- or three-minute break before repeating the set. Perform three consecutive sets of each exercise. Write down the number of reps you did for each set in a workout journal and try to increase your reps each week. If you can’t perform a pullup, dip or pushup, keep trying. The stress you place on your muscles creates helpful muscle contractions that will result in increased strength as you continue to try them.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.