• Calisthenics: Nature's Gym

    Is it possible to get a great workout without lifting a barbell, mounting intimidating gym equipment, or huffing and puffing on cardio equipment? Absolutely.

    The fact is, you don’t need elaborate equipment or a gym membership to get in top physical condition. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, a program of basic calisthenics offers a terrific option for developing overall muscle strength and conditioning.

    What are Calisthenics?

    Calisthenics are exercises that use your own body’s weight as resistance to build muscle and burn fat. In fact, 30 minutes of vigorous calisthenics burns as many calories as a 30-minute circuit training routine using weights. And it’s not just the calorie-burning effects that are great.

    The U.S. Navy SEAL Guide to Fitness and Nutrition advocates incorporating calisthenics as an integral part of the SEAL’s fitness training program because of their effectiveness in developing flexibility, strength, and endurance. If that weren't enough, calisthenics can be performed in almost any location at any time. Here are some basic calisthenics to get you started. You’ll want to perform 10-15 repetitions of each exercise (except the plank). Remember to exhale on the exertion.

    Push-upsphoto courtesy of feli*

    What they work: chest, shoulders, triceps, back, and abs Technique: Lie face down on the floor, body in a straight line. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, palms flat on the floor, elbows pressed against your sides. Slowly rise up until you’re balancing on your hands and the balls of your feet or your knees. Keep your abs tight and don’t let your body sag in the middle. Then lower yourself.

    Squats

    What they work: glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves Technique: Stand with feet hip-width apart - toes, knees, and hips facing front.  Your abdominal muscles should be pulled tight. Slowly bend knees and lower your hips toward the floor. Keep your chest lifted and back straight, not arched. Make certain your buttocks stays above knee level and your knees don’t extend beyond your toes. Return to a standing position.

    Lunges

    What they work: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves Technique: Stand with feet together. Step forward with one leg into a lunge position - knee of the forward leg is aligned with the ankle at a right angle. Heel of rear leg is lifted off floor. Keep the front and back knees at 90 degree angles. Back is neutral. Chin is parallel to the floor. Abdominals are tight. Shoulders and hips are straight. Be certain to keep your weight in your heels as you push slowly back to your starting position.

    Planks

    What they work: core, abdominals, and back Technique: Lie face down, feet flexed. With your abdominals tight, rise up onto your forearms. Be certain your body is correctly aligned so that neck and spine are neutral. Only your toes, forearms, and hands are touching the floor. Your shoulders should be aligned directly over your elbows. Try to hold for 10-30 seconds before lowering yourself back to the floor.

    Arm & Leg Raise

    What they work: core, abdominals, and back Technique: Lie on your stomach with your arms extended over your head. Contract your abdominal muscles. Lift your right arm and left leg, keeping your neck and spine neutral, face looking at the floor. Hold for five seconds. Lower, then repeat with the left arm and right leg. Do not arch your back. Keep your pelvis tucked and your abdominals engaged throughout the exercise.

    Basic Crunch

    What they work: abdominals Technique: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart. Place your fingertips at the back of your head but don’t pull. Contract your abdominal muscles and curl your upper body forward, lifting your shoulder blades off the floor. Keep your chin off your chest and your eyes on the ceiling. Hold. Slowly lower halfway to the floor and repeat. Take your time and don’t rush this. It’s all about control.

    Here are some additional calisthenics you may want to use to round out your workout:

    • Triceps Dips

    • Bridge

    • Side Planks

    • Leg Raises

    • Bicycle

    • Reverse Crunch

    • One-legged Calf Raises

    • Jumping Jacks

    • High-knee Jogging in Place

    How do I incorporate calisthenics into my workout?

    A calisthenics routine may be used alone, as a complete workout. Alternatively, calisthenics offer a great way to warm up the body for more intense workouts. Calisthenics provide a great cross-training option for use in conjunction with weight training and aerobic workouts. When developing a calisthenics routine, it’s important to start slowly to avoid injury. If you’ve never worked out, or it’s been a while, try modified versions of some exercises.

    For example, when doing a jumping jack, it’s not necessary to bring your arms all the way overhead. Try bending your elbows and raising your arms only as far as comfortable. Or, instead of jumping, try stepping to the side using alternate legs.

    The Bottom Line

    Whether you’re just getting started on developing a fitness routine, or you’re looking for a great total body workout, calisthenics are excellent exercise for overall health and fitness.

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