How You Can Avoid the Gym by Using Calisthenics

A non-commissioned officer counts push-up repetitions.
Sgt. 1st Class Sarah Garcia, brigade surgeon non-commissioned officer in charge from Bedford County, Pennsylvania, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad, counts the number of push-up repetitions completed during a competition by 2nd Lt. Jamie Venneman, Oct. 22, 2008, at Forward Operating Base Falcon in southern Baghdad. (Sgt. David Hodge/1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team)

Calisthenics, or body-weight exercises, originated thousands of years ago in ancient Greece and have been a major component of fitness in athletics, military, law enforcement and daily fitness for home workouts without equipment. Here is a request from a Perfect Pushup customer seeking to do more exercises without having to go to a gym.

I need help in making a full-body, body-weight routine. Any advice/sample that you can offer? I am 17 and have been using the Perfect Pushup on and off for a year now. With it, I am able to pump multiple diamond push-ups more than I ever have in the past year.

I have been creating calisthenics-based workout plans for more than 20 years to build muscle stamina, strength and flexibility. By adding a form of cardiovascular activity like running, swimming or biking to complete the workout, you can burn more calories and improve heart and lung circulation. I also like to supplement calisthenics with some form of simple weight training like dumbbells in full-body movements. If you use the Perfect Pushup or the Perfect Pullup with your sets of exercises, you can reduce your repetitions by 50% typically, depending on your fitness level.

Here are some sample routines that focus on both upper-body, lower-body and core exercises:

Upper body warmup:

Repeat 5-10 times.

  • Jumping jacks 10

  • Push-ups 10

*add pull-ups when multiple sets are possible at 5-10 reps per set.

Lower-body warmup:

Repeat 5-10 times.

  • Jumping jacks 10

  • Squats 10

Upper/lower body and cardio combo:

Repeat 3-4 times.

A full body plan like the one below is a fast way to complete a workout, with little or no rest, by resting your upper body by working your lower body and abdominal exercises:

  • Pull-ups max

  • Squats 20-30

  • Push-ups 20-30

  • Lunges 10-15/leg

  • Abs of choice 50

  • Optional cardio of choice 10 minutes

Learn about Supplemental Dumbbell Routine

Lower-body/cardio workout:

Repeat 4-5 times.

Here is a quick and challenging workout to build leg speed and endurance.

  • Run or bike for three minutes.

  • Squats 20 reps

  • Lunges 15/leg reps

  • Heel raises (calves) 20-30

Upper- and lower-back balance cycle:

Repeat 2-3 times.

In order to balance out doing several sets of push-ups or other pushing exercises, add in the below exercises for 2-3 sets at the end of the workout to avoid internal rotation of the shoulder girdle.

  • Reverse push-ups 25

  • Birds 25

  • Plank pose one minute

Check out Balancing Your Push Up Workouts.

Push/pull upper-body cycle:

Repeat 4-5 times.

To work the upper body fully, balance out the pushing muscles (chest, shoulders and triceps) with the pulling muscles (biceps, forearms, back).

  • Push-ups max

  • Reverse push-ups 20

  • Pull-ups max

  • Birds 20

  • Abs of choice 50

Add MJDB#1 for supplemental push / pull exercises

Abdominal cycle:

Do this 2-3 times during the workout and 4-5 times a week. It is fine to do abdominals and cardio exercises several days a week or on consecutive days.

  • Crunches 25

  • Reverse crunches 25

  • Double crunches 25

  • Left crunches 25

  • Right crunches 25

  • Bicycle crunches 25

  • Plank pose one minute

These workouts can be done throughout the week, but as with weights, it is not recommended to do the same major muscle groups on back-to-back days. So picking a calisthenics day and following it with a cardio workout on the next day is the easiest way to create a fitness routine for yourself. If you are new to exercise, just google some of the exercises in the workouts above or visit for articles, pictures and books, complete with workouts and exercise descriptions.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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