These days, you probably concentrate your exercise efforts on using state-of-the-art equipment at the health club. However, calisthenics -- a form of exercise using simple, repetitive movements -- are still an effective way to get or stay in shape. It works most of your body's major muscle groups and can get your heart rate up in the bargain -- and all without any fancy-schmancy equipment.
Calisthenics that work your lower body can be incorporated into a leg day with free weights or used exclusively for a lower-body workout that will be just as effective and challenging as weight training. A lower-body calisthenic workout would include bodyweight squats, lunges, leg lifts, heel raises and a set of heart-pumping squat jumps, also known as burpees. Include some jumping jacks, too -- they work your shoulders but mostly focus on your ankles, knees and hips. Do 20 to 30 reps of each exercise.
There are a number of calisthenic exercises that target different areas of your upper body. Perform pushups, parallel bar dips, planks and wide- and neutral-grip pullups. Execute three sets of 10 to 15 reps, or go until failure, pumping out the maximum number of reps you can.
Calisthenics such as situps are the go-to exercise for building strength in your torso, giving you a strong and stable core. Work your upper and lower abs, along with your obliques with variations of supine bicyclers -- fixed, as well as twisting. Add the bicyclers to sets of situps, crunches, V-ups and tuckups, and you'll have a powerful calisthenics workout that will strengthen your core.
The Military Connection
The military still uses the bodyweight exercises known as calisthenics beginning in basic training. That's not only because calisthenics provide a challenging workout, but also because most of the exercises can be performed anywhere and at any time, without the need for equipment, making them an effective way to stay in shape when troops have down time while in remote areas. Some of the calisthenics listed in the Army Field Manual for Physical Fitness Training include side straddle hops, ski jumps, mule kicks, flutter kicks, knee bends and swimmers.
Things to Consider
While the advantages of calisthenics are clear, the disadvantages are a little harder to see. It's true that you don't need equipment to perform most calisthenics, but when your bodyweight is the resistance, you can't increase weight for more intensity, you can only increase the number of reps you do. Doing so will still benefit you, but as you push your body to intensify the challenge, keep your focus on proper form. When your body starts getting fatigued, it's easy to get sloppy and slipping into risky form. Additionally, calisthenic exercises are simple and there are a limited number of them; however, because of the simplicity of calisthenics, they're ideal exercises to incorporate into a circuit workout that can easily be done at home, the gym or anywhere else. Start by doing pushups, followed by twisting situps, close-hand pushups, crunches or regular situps, alternating leg lunges, flutter kicks, wide-hand push-ups and supine bicyclers. Do each exercise for 30 seconds and immediately move on to the next exercise going through the circuit at least once, but up to three times.
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.