8 Calisthenic Exercises and How To Do Them

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Ok. You are on the last set of lunges, but you are feeling exhausted. You’ve got to keep pushing! You’re almost there! That’s when it happens. You lean forward instead of going straight down. You feel the strain in all the wrong muscles. What have you done?


We’ve all done this before. Used incorrect form when performing a calisthenic exercise. At first, you think, it’s not so bad. However, you could be stalling your progress and not even know it! An exercise is only as effective as the way it is performed. Proper form is everything! 


When I first started my fitness journey, I was not sure how to perform certain calisthenic exercises correctly. I also did not know what muscle groups they worked out, or what benefits they offered towards reaching my fitness goals.



Um… What are Calisthenic Exercises?

Calisthenics is a form of exercise that involves a variety of movements that exercise large muscles group. In other words, gross motor movements. Examples of these exercise types are running, standing, grasping, pushing, etc. The exercises are usually performed with repetition and minimal equipment. Another commonly used term for calisthenics is ‘bodyweight exercises’.


How Can I Help You?

Understanding that there are beginners in the fitness world (as well as veteran gymgoers) who are doing the same thing I did years ago, I’ve decided to put together a list of calisthenic exercises that I repeatedly did incorrectly, along with step-by-step instructions on how to correctly perform each exercise. Hopefully the knowledge I have gained will help you on your own fitness journey.


Planks

  • What is it? The plank is an isometric core strength exercise that involves maintaining a position that is similar to a pushup for as long as possible. Isometric meaning that this exercise involves the contraction of a particular group of muscles, which in this case are your abdominal muscles.

  • How do I do it? In order to properly perform a plank, position your palms directly under your shoulders as if you are about to perform a pushup. Instead hold this position for as long as you can. Pop up on your toes and keep your body in a straight line from your head to your toes. Try to focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together. You want them to come together toward the midline of your body, rather than pull away.


  • What should I NOT do? Do not let your midsection dip towards the ground or point your rear upwards. Do not strain your neck upward to prevent injury, and do not hold your breath. 


  • How does it help me? The benefits of this exercise are improved balance, better posture, a strengthened core, increased muscle definition, heightened metabolism, and enhanced bone and joint health. In order to reap the most benefits, try to hold the plank for 3 sets of 60 seconds each. However, if you are new to planking, then don’t risk injuring yourself.


Forearm Planks

  • What is it? The forearm plank is similar to the regular plank. However, it is a static core exercise meaning you get into position and stay there for as long as possible while taking deep breaths. 

  • How do I do it? In order to properly perform a forearm plank, position yourself onto both elbows. Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders and your feet should be hip-width apart. Pop up on your toes and keep your body in a straight line from your head to your toes. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Hold this position for as long as you can. 


  • What should I NOT do? Do not strain your neck upward to prevent injury, and do not hold your breath. Do not let your midsection dip towards the ground or point your rear upwards.  If you feel pain, stop the exercise immediately to prevent injury.


  • How does it help me? Since the forearm plank is similar to the regular plank and therefore offers similar benefits. This exercise engages multiple muscle groups at once, simultaneously building core, back, leg, and arm strength. As with the plank, try to hold the forearm plank for 3 sets of 60 seconds each. However, if you are new to this exercise, then don’t risk injuring yourself.


Situps

  • What is it? A classic amongst abdominal exercises, most people have done a sit-up at least once in their life. This exercise uses your body weight to strengthen and tone the abdominal muscles. 

  • How do I do it? In order to properly perform a situp, lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet placed firmly on the ground to stabilize your lower body. You can either cross your hands to opposite shoulders on your chest or place your hands behind your ears. If the second position cannot be completed without you pulling on your neck, then use the first position. Curl your upper body all the way up toward your knees, and exhale as you lift. Slowly lower yourself down to return to your starting point, and inhale as you lower your upper body. Keep your neck and spine in a neutral position as you perform this exercise.  If you feel pain, stop the exercise immediately to prevent injury.


  • What should I NOT do? Do not hold your breath as you perform this exercise. If you feel any pain or discomfort, stop the exercise immediately to prevent injury.


  • How does it help me? Sit-ups work the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and obliques as well as your hip flexors, chest, and neck. If you are a beginner, you should aim to do 10 reps at a time. If you hook your feet together during a situp, you can also get a decent workout for your lower legs, too!


Pushups

  • What is it? The pushup is a perfect exercise to build both upper-body and core strength. Pushups have a multitude of variations from easy to challenging. If you are a beginner, you may want to start with an easier variation and progress to a standard pushup or more challenging variations as you become stronger.

  • How do I do it? In order to properly perform a pushup, get down on all fours with your hands placed slightly wider than your shoulders, and the lower half of your body propped on your toes. Your palms should be aligned with your shoulders. Straighten your arms and legs. Lower your body until your chest is almost touching the floor. Pause, then push yourself back up. Inhale as lower your body and exhale as you push up.


  • What should I NOT do? Do not let your midsection dip towards the ground or point your rear upwards. Do not place your arms wider than your shoulders. Do not place your palms too far ahead.  If you feel pain, stop the exercise immediately to prevent injury.


  • How does it help me? The pushup is a compound exercise that works the muscles in the chest, shoulders, triceps, abs, back, and even legs. In everyday life, you may need to push against objects, from doors to shopping carts. So, working the stabilizer muscles around the shoulders can help protect you from rotator cuff injuries.


Squats

  • What is it? Squats are a great exercise for the whole body and can help you burn fat. Just like the pushup, squats have a multitude of variations from easy to challenging. If you are a beginner, you may want to start with an easier variation and progress to a standard squat as you become stronger. You can also add weights such as dumbbells or a barbell to make this exercise more challenging and to reap more benefits.

  • How do I do it? In order to properly perform a squat, stand straight with your feet a little wider than hip-width apart and your toes pointing forward. Look straight ahead and focus on a spot in front of you. You will want to focus on this point while performing this exercise. Place your arms directly in front of you and parallel to the floor to improve your balance. Lower your body as though you are about to sit in a chair, and focus on keeping your knees above your ankles. Your weight should be on your heels and you should be able to wiggle your toes. Contract and tighten your core as you lower your body, and keep your spine in a neutral position. Squat down until your hip joint is lower than your knees or your thighs are parallel with the floor. Pause, and drive your heels into the ground as you slowly raise your body back to the starting point. Give your glutes an extra squeeze at the top to ensure that you are activating the gluteal muscles. I know that was a long and detailed explanation, but I was doing this exercise incorrectly for years until I received a detailed explanation and demonstration.


  • What should I NOT do? Do not lean forward. Do not look at the floor or the ceiling as you perform this exercise. Do not let your knees go past your toes at any point during this exercise. Do not forget to squeeze your glutes at the top to maximize the workout.  If you feel pain (or uncomfortable pressure) stop the exercise immediately to prevent injury.


  • How does it help me? Squats are a compound movement that uses multiple muscle groups and joins your hip and knee joints to complete. With the utilization of a large number of muscle groups, squats may cause your body to increase its anabolic hormone production, which helps us lose fat and build muscle. Performing squats can help to improve your range of motion, improve stability, strengthen your joints, and tone core muscles. 


Glute Bridges 

  • What is it? When done correctly, the glute bridge is an effective exercise that strengthens the hips and butt. There are multiple variations from easy to challenging. To make this exercise more challenging you can add weights.

  • How do I do it? In order to properly perform a glute bridge, lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Your arms should be at your side with your palms flat to the ground or facing upward. Drive your heels into the ground as you lift your hips off the ground until your knees, hips, and shoulders form a straight line. Pause for 2-3 seconds, then slowly lower your hips back to the ground to return to starting position. If you feel “burning” in any other muscles besides your glutes (such as your thighs), then you will want to adjust the placement of your feet or the spread at which you are lowering back to the starting point. If you feel pain, stop the exercise immediately to prevent injury.


  • What should I NOT do? Do not go too high and overarch the back. Do not let your hamstrings do all the work (these are not called hamstring extensions). Do not go too fast or lose control of your midsection. 


  • How does it help me? The glute bridge offers similar benefits as the squat where it strengthens the gluteal muscles, but an added bonus is that it does not place any pressure on the lower back. This exercise is also a great alternative for people who are not able to perform squats due to back, hip, or knee pain. 


Lunges

  • What is it? The lunge is a single-leg bodyweight exercise that when done correctly can work your hips, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and core. It also gets those hard-to-reach muscles of your inner thigh! This post focuses on the forward lunge, but there are many different variations of this exercise ranging from easy to challenging. As with many other bodyweight exercises, you can add free weights to increase the level of difficulty.

  • How do I do it? In order to properly perform a lunge, start in an upright standing position. Keeping your core engaged and your torso upright, step forward with one leg. Lower your body straight down until both knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. Your knees should hover slightly above the floor but not touch it. Press your front heel into the floor, and slowly push back until you return to the starting point. 


  • What should I NOT do? Do not let your knee pass your ankles. Do not lean forward as you lower your body. Do not overextend your forward leg to prevent strain and injury.  If you feel pain, stop the exercise immediately.


  • How does it help me? Lunges can help you develop lower-body strength, build strong legs, define your gluteal muscles, and build endurance. When done correctly, this exercise can effectively target your lower-body muscles without placing a strain on your joints.


Tricep Dips

  • What is it? This exercise requires core strength, grip, and arm muscles to complete the motion. There are multiple variations of this exercise ranging from easy to difficult. Some variations even include equipment, but the version of the exercise detailed in this post requires no equipment.

  • How do I do it? In order to properly perform a tricep dip, begin in a seated position with your arms behind you with elbows pointing back, palms flat of the floor but aligned with shoulders, and feet firmly on the ground. Your feet should be hip-width apart. Straighten your arms leaving a little bend in your elbows to keep tension off your elbow joints. Slowly bend your elbows to lower your body toward the ground until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Slowly push yourself back to the starting point with controlled movement throughout the range of motion. Keep your neck in a neutral position throughout this exercise.


  • What should I NOT do?  Do not lean too far into the dip or you will work your chest instead of your triceps. Do not dip to low or you will strain your shoulders. Do not lock your elbows. Do not allow your shoulders to go past your ears. If you feel pain, stop the exercise immediately to prevent injury.


  • How does it help me? Tricep dips are one of the most effective exercises to engage your tricep muscles. It also works the shoulders strengthens the core muscles. The triceps muscles are used for pushing, so you may engage them in any daily activities that require pushing. 


The Bottom Line

If you cannot get to a gym or do not have any equipment then these are great exercises to start off your fitness journey. The exercises listed here do not include any equipment, which means you can get a great workout using only your body. If you are not sure about your physical ability to perform these exercises correctly, then be sure to check with your physician before starting any exercise routine. 


Equipment such as dumbbells and resistance bands can make some of these exercise more effective in helping your reach your fitness goals. Interested in building your own home gym? Check out my post on 9 Budget Worthy Workout Essentials for the Home Gym. It may give you a good idea of where to start.


Be sure to check back next week as I will be posting simple exercises you can do from the comfort of your living room. Best of luck on your fitness journey!



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