Whether PE was your favorite subject or worst nightmare, you surely remember slogging through gym classes full of jumping jacks, push-ups, chin-ups and crunches. The Presidential Fitness Test may be a thing of your past, but that doesn’t mean these exercises — also known as calisthenics — should be relegated to the area of your brain reserved for algebra. Calisthenics, simply defined as physical exercises done using mostly your bodyweight, have serious health benefits. In fact, new research shows that they may beat standing or walking as the best way to break up long periods of sitting during your day.
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Researchers at the University of Essex had 20 healthy participants interrupt 30 minutes of sitting by either standing, walking on a treadmill at 2.5 mph or doing a set of calisthenics (including squats and lunges), for two minutes. Overall, they found that calisthenics were most effective at both raising participants’ heart rates and burning calories. That’s right, according to researchers, doing a mini workout at your desk could improve your cardiovascular health and maybe even help you lose a few pounds (as long as your desk snacks don’t include candy).
The results aren’t surprising, says Cari Shoemate, co-creator of Bombshell Bootcamp in Houston. “Calisthenics exercises elevate your heart rate and usually work multiple muscle groups. Some of them also include a stretching element — so you get the benefit of strength training and a dynamic stretch in one move.”
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Next time you’re feeling cramped at your desk, take a walk or head somewhere quiet and bust out this simple two-minute routine devised by Shoemate. If jumping jacks aren’t your thing (or will cause too much of a scene), simply step side to side while moving your arms overhead.
2-Minute Calisthenics Workout
Can’t complete a regular push-up? Plant your hands on the side of your desk, or on a wall to make the movement easier. Bend your arms until they’re at a 90-degree angle, bringing your upper body close to the wall or desk. Return to starting position.
15-Minute Calisthenics HIIT Workout
If you’d rather save your squats and push-ups for the gym, you’ll get a great full-body workout from these simple exercises. According to Michele Olson, PhD, a principal researcher at the Auburn University at Montgomery Kinesiology Laboratory, calisthenics are the perfect exercises for high-intensity interval training and Tabata workouts, too. “When doing these types of workouts you want to recruit as many muscles as possible. That’s what helps raise the intensity,” she says. Calisthenics are a full-body challenge — so break out your best high-knees.
How to: Start in standing position, feet hip-width distance apart (a). Begin jogging in place, lifting your knees to waist-level (b). Continue lifting knees, pumping your arms as you go or tapping your knees with your hands.
How to: Start in standing position, feet hip-width distance apart (a). Shifting your weight into your heels, lower your buttocks like you are sitting in a chair, keeping your knees in line with your toes (b). Engage your glutes to return to standing.
How to: Start in a standing position (a). Raising your arms, jump into the air (b). Upon landing, get into a push-up position and lower your body to the ground (c). Return to standing, repeat.
How to: Get in reverse tabletop position, arms planted on the floor with your fingers facing your toes and feet planted on the ground (a). Bending your elbows, lower your glutes towards the floor (b). Push back up into tabletop. Repeat four times (c). After the fourth rep, remain in tabletop, release right hand and reach it to touch your left foot. Repeat on opposite side.
How to: Modify your pull-ups using an assisted pull-up machine or band (a). Choke your band around the pull-up bar, inserting one foot into the hanging end of the band (b). Use the band to help ease the resistance as you pull yourself up to the bar.
How to: Stand, holding a dumbbell in each hand (optional) (a). Slowly rise up into your toes, squeezing through your calf muscles (b). Return to starting position, repeat.
How to: Get in a plank position, either with your arms fully extended (push-up position), or resting on your elbows (a). Hold plank, keeping abs engaged, while slowly lifting alternating legs a few inches off the ground.
How to: Lay on the ground, feet planted on the floor, knees bent, hands behind head (a). Engaging your abs, lift your shoulder blades off the floor (b). With control, lower back down to the ground.