No time, money or desire to go to a gym? Then, we’ve got the perfect exercise routine for you. A calisthenics workout engages all muscle groups — with no cash, equipment or travel necessary.
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You’ll still need to put in some time, of course, but it can all be done when you want in the comfort of your own home.
So, how do you start? Let’s find out from sports medicine physician Michael Dakkak, DO.
What is calisthenics?
Calisthenics exercises use your body weight as a form of resistance to perform complex, full-body exercises, explains Dr. Dakkak. Depending on the exercises, calisthenics combines strength training, resistance training and a heart-pumping cardiovascular workout.
In other words, you get a little bit of everything.
The benefits of calisthenics
At-home calisthenics are perfect if you’re just starting a fitness routine or resuming physical activity — especially given that there’s a very low risk of injury, says Dr. Dakkak.
But don’t be fooled by the simplicity of these exercises. They can be scaled up to create an excellent workout for seasoned gym-goers and all types of athletes, too. The reason? Versatility.
“You can change the exercises to make them as ‘easy’ or challenging as your strength allows,” Dr. Dakkak says.
Another perk? You don’t need a well-equipped home gym or a bunch of machines in a pay-to-play workout studio to do these exercises. The only piece of equipment you need for calisthenics is … well, your body.
Calisthenics benefits include:
Adjustable workout that meets your needs
A 2022 study showed that a bodyweight workout like calisthenics counts as high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Study participants who did calisthenics exercises at a vigorous pace got the same cardio benefits as interval running, sprinting and walking on a treadmill.
While the study looked at powerful calisthenics exercises like squat jumps, burpees and jumping lunges, you can also modify the exercises and perform them slower for lower-intensity interval training (LIIT).
Improved strength for daily tasks
Because many calisthenics exercises use more than one muscle group, they more accurately mimic how you use your muscles in everyday activities like lifting a box from the floor and placing it on a high shelf.
“These functional exercises improve mobility, balance, coordination and flexibility, which can help prevent falls and injuries as you go about daily life,” notes Dr. Dakkak.
Calisthenics are also a good way to keep your joints healthy.
Better posture and a healthier weight
A 2017 study found that eight weeks of calisthenics can improve your posture, strength and body mass index (BMI). Building muscle through strength training exercises like calisthenics can help you lose unwanted pounds and maintain a healthy weight.
What is a good calisthenics workout plan?
A good calisthenics workout plan should leave you feeling successful yet challenged, says Dr. Dakkak. Adjust your workout based on your fitness level.
“Beginners might start with three sets of five repetitions of each exercise while others might do three sets of 15 reps,” he says. “Aim for two to four days of strength training per week with a day of rest in between the sessions to give your muscles time to repair and get stronger.”
Here are five calisthenics exercises to get you started:
1. Planks for core strength
Planks strengthen the core muscles that support your abdomen, spine and hips. A strong core can lower your risk of back pain and other problems.
- Lie on your stomach with your elbows tucked close to your sides directly underneath your shoulders, palms facing down.
- Push up with your arms, keeping your elbows and forearms connected to the floor while maintaining stiff (straight) legs and torso.
- Hold this position for a count of five and then gradually lower to the floor.
Make it easier: Keep your knees and forearms on the floor.
Make it harder: Straighten your arms and legs.
2. Lunges for lower-body strength
Lunges work the muscles in your butt and hips (“glutes”), thighs (quadriceps and hamstrings) and abdominals.
How to do lunges:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips or arms straight down by your side.
- Keep your back straight and take a step with your right leg. Bend your knees. Your left knee should point down toward the floor, while the right knee should be above your foot.
- Use the muscles in your right (forward) leg to push up and bring the right foot back to meet the left foot until you’re back in a standing position.
Make it easier: Do reverse lunges, stepping backward with each leg and alternating legs.
Make it harder: Do leaping lunges, alternating legs and leaping in between each lunge.
3. Squats for strong legs and butt
Squats work your entire lower body from your abs down, including your calf muscles and shins.
How to do squats:
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes slightly outward and arms down by your side.
- Shift your weight into your heels and brace your core (chest out, back straight).
- Inhale and lower your hips and butt toward the floor. Stop when your thighs are parallel (or almost parallel) to the floor, or your heels start to lift off the floor.
- Evenly distribute your body weight between the balls and heels of your feet and keep your head facing forward.
- Push off through your feet while keeping them flat on the floor, knees aligned over the second toes, until you return to a standing position.
Make it easier: Use a chair to stand from a seated position, using your arms only for balance (not to push off from the chair).
Make it harder: Do a squat jump, jumping into the air from the squat position.
4. Push-ups for a strong upper body
Push-ups work the upper body muscles in your arms (biceps), chest (pectorals) and shoulder muscles.
How to do push-ups:
- Kneel on all fours on the floor, palms flat on the floor, fingers facing forward, hands shoulder-width apart and shoulders over your hands.
- Keep your knees bent for a bent-knee push-up (easier exercise). For a more challenging, full-body push-up, lift your knees off the floor and straighten your legs.
- Bend your elbows and slowly lower your body until your chest or chin touch the floor. While lowering, keep your head and abdomen in line with your spine and your elbows close to your sides.
- Press up through the palm of your hands until your elbows fully extend. While raising your body, keep your head, abdomen and spine in a straight line. Don’t let your hips or back sag.
Make it easier: Perform a push-up against a secured, elevated surface like a desk.
Make it harder: Clap your hands together after pushing up from the floor.
5. Burpees for a full-body workout
Burpees work your muscles from head to toe, incorporating different types of calisthenics exercises like squats, planks and push-ups. In addition to building muscle, burpees also get your heart rate up to provide a great cardio workout.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, back straight, chest out and arms down at your sides.
- Drop into a squat, bending your knees and bringing your butt down.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor and place your hands palms down in front of your feet.
- Kick your legs straight back to go into a plank position.
- Bend your elbows and lower your body toward the floor like you’re doing a push-up.
- Straighten your arms, so you’re back in a plank position.
- Return to a squat position by jumping your legs forward, landing with your feet flat on the floor near your hands.
- Push off with your legs and jump with your arms extended toward the ceiling. Land with your feet hip-width apart and repeat.
Make it easier: Skip the push-up and place your hands on a chair to perform the plank.
Make it harder: Do a knee tuck, jumping into the air and tucking your knees after the push-up.
How to start calisthenics
If you haven’t been physically active for a while, Dr. Dakkak recommends seeing a healthcare provider before getting into calisthenics.
“A provider’s OK is especially important if you have chronic or acute injuries that affect your range of motion or balance,” he says. (They may recommend working with a physical therapist to ensure correct form and protect against additional injury.)
Bottom line? Calisthenics exercises are an excellent way to start your fitness journey or switch up an existing workout routine. And as you can do calisthenics at home without equipment, you can say goodbye to a sedentary lifestyle and hello to a healthier heart and toned muscles.