A Lean Life

Calisthenics Workouts to Build a Lean, Muscular Physique

Army Calisthenics

Army Calisthenics

A calisthenics workout uses your own body weight as resistance to build muscle, improve flexibility, and lose fat.  It is the primary form of group exercise in the U.S. Military.  It is a form of exercise that will increase your strength and flexibility, and its history of effectiveness dates back to the early Greeks.

It is usually led by a single instructor, but it can also be done individually.  It is widely used for two reasons:

  • Very effective for increasing strength and flexibility
  • Very simple to perform

These are two good reasons that you can benefit from this workout, and I will show you the most effective routines to maximize your time and effort.

As an Army Ranger and Infantry soldier for many years, I became very accustomed to daily calisthenics workouts as part of life during morning PT (Physical Training).  Our general routine was approximately 45 minutes of stretching and calisthenics, followed by a 30 minute run.  It was a smoker!

This system works very well, but I will adjust the routines to meet the guidelines of my 30on3 Workout regime…30 minute workouts, 3x a week – 30on3 Workouts ● simple, proven, powerful

Some calisthenics workouts emphasize many complex movements and angles within each exercise, but I believe in the military approach…keep it simple, and focus on the fundamentals.

Fundamentals will always win the day, and complicated angles are a good way to strain a muscle.  Some variations are great, and do allow you to work muscles at different angles (and we do that below), but keep it simple for best (and safe) results.

Benefits of Calisthenics

calisthenics1There are many benefits to a calisthenics workout:

  • Does not require any equipment – body resistance is the key
  • Can be performed in a small area
  • Good for building strength and flexibility
  • Simple to perform and understand
  • Builds a lean, muscular physique
  • Builds endurance

Calisthenics Exercises

Jumping Jacks – Starting position is standing erect with feet together and arms at your side.  Jump in the air while spreading your feet slightly more than shoulder width and clapping your hands over head.  Return to starting position.  Perform in quick succession.  This is generally the warm-up for a good calisthenics workout.
Workout Goal: Warm-up, Cardio

Push-ups – Starting position is a horizontal position on the ground with palms on the ground, arms extended, body straight, and toes supporting your lower body.  Bend arms to lower the body until your chest slightly touches the ground (do not rest on the ground), then push up returning to the start position.  Keep the body straight during the movement.
Workout Goal: Build lean muscle and strength – chest, shoulder, triceps

Variation #1: Knee Push-ups – when you start to reach failure you can drop from the toes to your knees as your anchor point, enabling you to do 5 to 10 more push-ups.

Variation #2: Wide Push-ups – increase the width of your hands in the start position to work the chest muscles at a slightly different angle.

Sit-ups – Starting position is lying down with your back on the floor, knees bent, and your feet on the floor.  Rotate your upper body away from the floor by contracting your abdominal muscles, and move the upper body to a vertical position.  Recover to the starting position.
Workout Goal: Build lean muscle and strength – abdominals

Variation #1: “Rocky” sit-ups – rotate the torso on your way up touching the right elbow to left knee, and alternate the next rep – left elbow to right knee.

Crunches for Abs

Crunches

Crunches – Similar to the sit-up (above), but the upper is only curled slightly as the abdominals contract, and lower back/torso remains on the floor.  This exercise has a more intense burn on the abdominals then the sit-up.
Workout Goal: Build lean muscle and strength – abdominals

Flutter Kicks – Starting position is lying on the floor on your back, with your legs extended straight with your feet approximately 6″ off the ground.  The legs are then moved slightly up and down in a scissor motion.  Flutter kicks can be a real smoker when done with intensity, and they are a dreaded workout in Ranger school. I have many memories of great suffering while performing Flutter kicks to ultimate failure.
Workout Goal: Build lean muscle and strength – abdominals

Leg Raises – Starting position is lying on the floor on your back, with your legs extended straight with your feet approximately 6″ off the ground.  Move the legs up to a near vertical position, and then return to start position.
Workout Goal: Build lean muscle and strength – abdominals

Variation #1: If you are working with a partner, when your legs are raised to a vertical position have your partner gently push down the legs in varying directions, and then you return the legs to the vertical position.

Pull-upsPull-ups – Starting position is with your body hanging from a pull-up bar with your arms straight, shoulder width, and palms facing forward in front of you.  You then pull your body up until your head rises above the pull-up bar, and then return to the start position.
Workout Goal: Build lean muscle and strength – back (width), biceps

Variation #1: Wide-grip pull-ups – widen your grip on the pull-up bar to slightly wider than shoulder width (approximately 8″ wider on each side).  This wider grip is excellent to develop the outer lat muscles, and creating the “V” appearance on your back.

Chin-ups – Starting position is with your body hanging from a pull-up bar with your arms straight, shoulder width, and palms facing toward you.  You then pull your body up until your head rises above the pull-up bar, and then return to the start position.
Workout Goal: Build lean muscle and strength – back, biceps

Jogging in place – Cardio workout

Calisthenics Workout Routines

As with any workout routine, always perform proper warm-up and stretching to prepare your muscles for the workout:

#1 Light cardio for a few minutes to warm-up the muscle

  • Jumping Jacks
  • Jogging in place

#2 Dynamic stretching for a few minutes

  • Neck rotations
  • Arm rotations
  • Knee raises
  • Shadow Workouts

#3 Calisthenics Workout Routines

  • 40 Jumping Jacks
  • 30 Push-ups (or perform to muscle failure)
  • 30 Crunches (or perform to muscle failure)
  • 20 Flutter Kicks
  • 5 Pull-ups
  • Jog in Place 3 minutes

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