Calisthenics are cool again

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Calisthenics/bodyweight exercises are making a comeback. If you do a quick search online you can see hundreds of videos with shredded athletes doing incredible push-up variations, flips, pull-up moves that look like dancing, and much more. It's a stark contrast to the old school, original fitness guru, Jane Fonda-type leg lifts. I use full-body exercises that are simple, effective, and free. You don't need a gym for cardio or strength training.


Let's start with cardiovascular training, which is important for your heart, lungs, weight control, stress reduction, and much more. The simplest exercise, which is easy on your joints and only requires comfortable shoes, is walking. Another benefit to walking is the minimal sweat factor. Unless it's super hot out, you can skip the shower and do it before work, lunch time, or in the evening. Running might help you burn more calories, but it also makes you hungrier, which might lead to eating all those calories right back. I'm not knocking running. It's a great workout -- just make sure you refuel with healthy fats, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates like quinoa or sweet potatoes.

Depending on your joints, jumping rope is relatively inexpensive and a great workout. After only a few minutes, your heart rate is elevated and you are sweating. If you are a beginner, start off slow, jumping for 30 seconds and then resting for 30 before jumping again. Start in moderation with 10 minutes of jumping, allowing your body to adjust to the exercise before upping five minutes a week.

Another option -- my favorite workout -- is shadow boxing. This is a great way to blow off steam. You throw punches such as jabs, crosses, hooks, and uppercuts in the air. A quick YouTube search and you can learn all the punches. I like to throw punches for two minutes straight and then take a 30-second break, and then repeat the cycle for 10-20 minutes.

Strength Training:

Along with building a strong heart, it's important to build strong muscle. Building your muscles strengthens your bones, which is very important as you age; having muscle burns calories more efficiently helping you get leaner; it's great for reducing stress and there are so many other benefits. A few of my favorite bodyweight exercises are pull-up holds, push-up holds, hip lifts, and squats.

A pull-up hold is simply holding yourself up over a bar for 20-30 seconds. This is a great way to build up the strength to do a pull-up, and even if you can do pull-ups, it's still challenging. If you do not have access to a park or pull-up bar, an alternative is a single-arm doorway row. For this you put one hand on the side of the doorway (usually above the lock), lean back, and the exercise is pulling yourself towards the door. If you are a beginner, start off with 20-30 seconds per side and build up to 45 seconds.

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Push-up holds, a.k.a. push-up planks, are holding yourself up on your hands and feet (shoulder width apart). Hold the position for 30 seconds to a minute. This movement builds your core and upper body. I start off my clients doing this before we do push-ups and I love it for young children.

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Hip lifts are great for your stomach, backside and hamstrings. Lying on your back with your feet on the floor, lift your butt off the ground, and then repeat. To make this exercise harder, you can elevate your feet on a couch or put your feet on a medicine ball or Swiss ball. Try this movement for 30 seconds to a minute. You can also lift up one leg to make it harder and do single leg lifts.

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The last exercise is squatting. What I love about bodyweight squats is that there's no added pressure on your spine from the weights. We squat every time we get off a chair. Every time you sit in your office chair, you could hammer out 10-15 squats. I like using something like a couch or chair (not on wheels) because that usually forces you to bring your butt back and down.

Put all these movements together for a quick and easy workout. This is a great circuit: start off with squats, pull-up holds, hip lifts, and end with a push-up hold. Repeat this circuit 3-4 times, doing each move for 30-45 seconds. When it gets easy, get creative by either adding more time under tension or using one arm/one leg.

As with all exercise, check with your doctor before adding or changing your routine, and don't exercise through pain. Once all these exercises become too easy, YouTube "bodyweight training" and look for exercises that are challenging but not crazy.

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Ron Krit has been giving seminars, training clients, and writing about fitness for over 15 years! His philosophy centers on making fitness fun so that you look forward to working out and getting healthy. Ron has trained 4-year-olds up to 90-year-olds, of all a... Read More

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