A Calisthenics Workout For a Fitter and Leaner Body

Woman doing crunches

Twisting crunches are a popular abs exercise

Calisthenics seem to be a forgotten art. Calisthenics are possibly the best form of exercise for fitness, strength and weight loss. This is because you can perform these exercises anywhere and need no equipment. It is just using your bodyweight to exercise.

Here at MotleyHealth we receive comments quite often like the one left by Carter on the MCD weight loss plan article:

I do not have access to a gym. I was wondering is there any good alternatives for the muscle-building section to do at home and work me from beginner level to advanced?


If you had a traditional Physical Education class when you went to school you should be able to remember performing a series of exercises in the school gym using only your bodyweight. Well, these were calisthenics and they are very effective at making your body fit, strong, healthy and lean. By lean, I mean that they help you to burn fat and lose weight!

I know that the education system seems to constantly change and that it may not be fashionable for “games teachers” these days to teach children how to exercise properly by themselves to keep in shape, but in my day this formed a regular part of P.E. especially in the winter when the weather did not favor cricket or football (soccer).

Calisthenics Workouts

As we mentioned recently, to stay fit and healthy, which is vital if you wish to maintain a healthy weight, you should aim to do around 60 minutes of exercise every day. This can be split into 3 sessions and walking is considered exercise, so do not panic, I am not telling you to run for 60 minutes a day.

The workout is done in a circuit, and it these exercises are often done in circuit training classes today. Many fitness instructors, especially those with a background in the military or martial arts, use calisthenic circuit training to stay fit and strong. Circuit training can also refer to weight training exercises performed in a sequence and then repeated, but usually it is calisthenics.

To simplify this workout further we have provided it in two parts as although no fitness training equipment is required as such, a few exercises do require some apparatus that you may not have access to.

The Basic Calisthenics Circuit

Aim to perform this series of exercises 3 times. Perform each exercise either for 60 seconds or until you can do no more (i.e. muscular failure) before moving on to the next exercise.

Total Bodyweight Workout

  • Jumping Jacks – a good on-the-spot warm up exercise (if you have a skipping rope then you can skip instead or even add skipping as another exercise in the circuit).
  • Squats – stand with feet hip width apart and then squat down as if you are about to sit, then stand up again. Go slow or fast, its up to you, aim for 60 seconds without stopping though.
  • Calf-Raises – The best exercise for toning the calf muscles an helps with running and other activities. Simple stand with toes facing forward and then stand up on the balls of your feet. To increase the range of motion stand with the front of your foot on a step with so that your heels can stretch further down.
  • Push Ups – Push ups are an excellent exercise for the chest, shoulders, back and core. If you cannot do a full push up rest on your knees. Aim to complete as many as possible in 60 seconds.
  • Crunches – Sit ups are no longer fashionable because poor technique puts too much pressure on the back and people tend to force their heads up by the neck which is bad for your spine. So crunches are the new push ups. Perform these by lying on your back, raise your knees so that they are above your hips and then with your hands either crossed on your chest or lightly touching your temples perform a slow and steady “crunch”. Crunches are so-called because your squeeze your abs when performing them as if you are crunching the muscles together.
  • Back Extensions – These exercises really help to compliment crunches and push ups as they strengthen the lower back and core. Lie on your stomach and with hands and arms off the floor (either down by your side or held up by your head) raise your torso off the floor and hold before returning slowly.

Extra Exercises – Some Equipment Required

All the above exercises only require enough floor space to lie down. These additional exercises require some items, ideally dip bars and a pull up bar, but it is possible to improvise.

  • Dips – Dips are a great exercise for the back, shoulders and arms (triceps). You take hold of two parallel bars and then “dip” your body down so that your arms bend, then lift yourself again. Finding two parallel (and sturdy) bars is not easy, so at home you can perform these alternative exercises:
    • Chair Dips – rather than hold bars to each side grasp the front part of a chair seat with your palms on the chair and fingers grasping the edge. Then lower your body down towards the ground and lift up again. The chair needs to be sturdy still, do not try with a lightweight plastic chair as it may flip forward.
  • Pull Ups – Pull ups are possibly the best back exercise. All you need is a high bar parallel to the floor, but it has to be very strong to safely take your weight. You may need to do assisted pull ups that involve resting your feet on a chair so that you do not lift your entire bodyweight.
    • Modified pull ups – These are a great starting exercise as they allow your to perform the pull up exercise before you have the strength to lift your total body weight. They are done by lying underneath a low bar. You should be able to reach the bar while lying down. Then with your body held straight your lift your chest to the bar and assist slightly with a push from your feet. Bending your knees makes the exercise even easier. See our pull up plan for more advice.
This basic calisthenics workout can be done anywhere – at home, as a hotel or holiday workout, in a park or even in the gym. Most gyms have a mat area where you can perform calisthenics – you do not have to use the machine every time you visit!
Do this workout 2 or 3 times a week and repeat the circuit a few times so that you are exercising for around 30 minutes in total. Run, swim, cycle or do other cardio on the other days of the week too, and you will soon find that you are stronger, fitter and leaner. Calisthenics are one of the best ways to lose weight and tone up in the comfort of your own home.

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