You don’t need to do 1,000 jumping jacks and 1,000 chin-ups in 82 minutes like Jack LaLanne did at age 45, but calisthenics can definitely improve your physical condition.
The most important thing to know about a calisthenics workout is what they are. Exercise expert Paige Waehner of About Health defines calisthenics as “exercises that are done in a rhythmic, systematic way using the body weight for resistance.” In other words, calisthenics are strength training exercises that don’t involve lifting weights per se.
In calisthenics, you are essentially lifting yourself. Thus, chin-ups as well as pull-ups, pushups, and sit-ups are considered calisthenics exercises. Waehner and most other exercise experts also consider jumping jacks a calisthenics exercise.
The second most important thing to know about a calisthenics workout is how often they should be performed. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that healthy people do resistance training exercises two or three days per week. The ACSM also recommends that you do continuous aerobic exercises such as bicycling, running, and walking three to five days per week.
The resistance training exercises can be weightlifting, but they can also be calisthenics. In either case, the ACSM recommends doing eight to 10 exercises that improve each of the major muscle groups during a daily workout. There should be about 10 repetitions, 10 pushups for example, of each calisthenics exercise. You should also rest about one minute between each exercise.
Of course, you can do a lot more repetitions of each exercise if you’re young and/or healthy. Jack LaLanne really proved that. He did a LOT more repetitions.
What can calisthenics do for you? They can:
- Make you stronger
- Make your body more flexible
- Improve your cardiovascular fitness and endurance
- Help you lose weight
Regarding the latter point, the average 185-pound person burns 710 calories per hour (that’s about one-fifth of a pound) doing vigorous calisthenics, according to this Harvard study. You are exercising vigorously when your heart rate is 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, which is 220 heartbeats per minute minus your age. The same person burns 400 calories per hour when he is exercising moderately. You are exercising moderately when your heart rate is 50 to 69 percent of your maximum heart rate.
You probably want to know which exercise strengthens which body part. Here is a list:
- Pushups strengthen your arms, chest and shoulders, according to The American Council on Exercise. More specifically, they can make your triceps, pectorals and deltoids stronger.
- Pull-ups strengthen your arms and back. They can have a very significant impact on your biceps. They can also strengthen your latissimus dorsi muscles. That’s lats to most people.
- Chin-ups basically strengthen the same muscles as pull-ups.
- Sit-ups strengthen your abdominal muscles.
- Jumping jacks (and jumping rope) should make your heart and legs muscles stronger. Do you want more specifics? Well, 30dayfitnesschallenges.com is very specific. It says that jumping jacks strengthen your abdominals, biceps brachia, deltoids, hamstrings, hip abductors, lower trapezius, pectorals major, quadriceps, and upper trapezius. Is that specific enough for you?
The links to all these exercises have very specific tips regarding the best techniques for each exercise. The pushups guide, for example, emphasizes slowly bending your elbows as you move your body downward toward the floor and straightening your elbows as you push up away from the floor. The sit-ups guide emphasizes exhaling as you move your upper body up from the ground and inhaling as you move your body back to the ground.
There are also all sorts of other calisthenics exercises that you can do. The University of West Florida’s report on “Calisthenics/Plyometrics” lists exercises for the upper body and the lower body. The upper body exercises are divided into five categories. There are exercises for your chest, abdomen, lower back, deltoids, and triceps. The lower body exercises are body weight squats, walking lunges, box jumps, and jump tucks.
After reading about what a calisthenics workout can do for you, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try to see how close you can come to matching LaLanne’s feats. He not only lived 96 years, but he was healthy enough to do his regular workout routine the day before he died (of pneumonia).