Calisthenics – What Are Calisthenics and Common Calisthenic Exercises

What Are Calisthenics?

Calisthenics are exercises consisting of a variety of gross motor movements; often rhythmical and generally without equipment or apparatus. They are, in essence, body-weight training. They are intended to increase body strength, body fitness, and flexibility, through movements such as pulling or pushing oneself up, bending, jumping, or swinging, using only one’s body weight for resistance; usually conducted in concert with stretches. When performed vigorously and with variety, calisthenics can provide the benefits of muscular and aerobic conditioning, in addition to improving psychomotor skills such as balance, agility and coordination.

Why Calisthenics?

Body weight exercises are probably the simplest moves to do whether you’re a beginner, you’re on the road with no equipment or you don’t have much equipment at home.

Your body can easily be enough resistance to help you build strength and endurance, depending on the exercise and how hard you work at it.

Common Calisthenic Exercises

In addition to the various stretches, some of the more common calisthenic exercises include:

  • Lunges

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Performed by bringing one leg forward and almost kneeling on the back leg. Once the front leg creates a perfect 90 degree angle, stand up and alternate legs, keeping the back straight and chest out.
  • Jumping Jacks (Star Jumps/Stride Jumps)

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Performed by jumping to a position with the legs spread wide and the hands touching overhead and then returning to a position with the feet together and the arms at the sides. Sometimes known as jumping jacks and stride jumps or side-straddle hops in the US military.
  • Squat jumps (Toyotas/Box Jumps)

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Performed by entering a squatting position, then using a plyometric jumping movement to jump as high as possible.
  • Sit-ups

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Performed by lying down with the back on the floor, knees bent, and bottoms of feet against the floor. The shoulders are then lifted off the floor by tightening abdominal muscles and bringing the chest closer to the knees. The final movement is to lower the back to the floor with a smooth movement. This trains the abdominal muscles.
  • Crunches

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Like the sit-up, except instead of bringing the whole torso area closer to the knees, only a concentrated but shorter movement of the abdominals is performed. Shoulder blades are lifted off the floor, and abdominals tightened.
  • Push-ups

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Performed face down on the floor, palms against floor under the shoulders, toes curled upwards against the floor. The arms are used to lift the body while maintaining a straight line from head to heel. The arms of the subject should go from fully extended in the high position to nearly fully flexed in the low position, while the subject makes sure to avoid resting on the floor. Resting is only done in the high position of the exercise. Chest, shoulders, and triceps are trained with this exercise. By furthering the range of motion, what is often called a push up +, by pushing the shoulders downwards at the top the serratus anterior comes further into play.
  • Pull-ups

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An overhead bar (sometimes called a chin-up bar) is grasped using a shoulder-width grip. The subject lifts their body up, chin level with the bar, and keeping the back straight throughout. The bar remains in front of the subject at all times. The subject then slowly returns to starting position in a slow controlled manner. This primarily trains the lats or upper back muscles, as well as the forearms. An underhand grip variation or chin-up trains both the back and biceps.
  • Squats

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Standing with feet shoulder width apart, the subject squats down as far as possible, bringing the arms forward parallel to the floor. The subject then returns to standing position. Squats train the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and gluteals.
  • Calf-raises

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Standing on a platform with an edge where the heels can hang (e.g. a curb), lift the body on the balls of the feet. The subject then slowly returns to starting position. This trains the gastrocnemius and to a lesser degree the soleus. A seated calf-raise trains the soleus.
  • Dips

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Done between parallel bars or facing either direction of trapezoid bars found in some gyms. Feet are crossed with either foot in front and the body is lowered until the elbows are in line with the shoulders. The subject then pushes up until the arms are fully extended, but without locking the elbows. Dips focus primarily on the chest, triceps, and deltoids, especially the anterior portion.
  • Hyperextensions

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Performed in a prone position on the ground, the individual raises the legs, arms and upper body off the ground.
  • Leg raises

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Lying on the back, hands in fists under buttocks, move feet up and down.
  • Plank

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This is the name for holding the ‘top’ position of a push-up for extended periods of time. The primary muscle involved in this exercise is the rectus abdominis.

Calisthenic Workouts

The great thing about calisthenics is that you can do them anywhere – In your hotel room, your grandma’s basement, your kitchen while you’re cooking or while you’re watching TV.  They’re a great way to exercise and stay active all day long.

  • When you get up in the morning – Try doing pushups or crunches when you get up to wake your body up and get the blood flowing
  • When you’re taking a break from work – Every time you take a break, pick 5 exercises and do each one 10 times.  Can’t do them at work?  Try these office exercises.
  •  When you’re doing chores – Add squats every time you pick something up off the floor.  Lift the laundry basket over head a few times or do lunges on the way to the laundry room.
  • While you’re making dinner – Waiting for water to boil?  See how many squats you can do.  While waiting for the chicken to bake, do a circuit – Pushups, squats, lunges, dips, jumping jacks and a plank. Do each one for 10-15 reps (hold the plank for as long as you can) and then see how many rounds you can do.
  • While watching TV – Instead of zoning out while you’re watching TV, get down on the floor for some pushups or crunches.  See how many dips you can do off the couch.  Challenge your spouse to a pushup competition.

You can also create an entire workout out of calisthenic exercises.  Take the exercises listed above and do each one for 10-5 reps, one after the other without resting (if you can).  When you get to the end, see if you can do it all again for a tough, total body workout.

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