What if I told you there's a workout that can help you lose weight, add lean muscle mass and increase strength, flexibility and agility, without ever stepping foot inside a gym or picking up a weight? In fact, you already have everything that you need to get started with this workout AND you can do it virtually anywhere.

Let's start right now.


That's right, I'm talking about calisthenics: simple body-weight exercises that utilize the force of gravity. Push-ups. Pull-ups. Dips. Squats. Lunges. It's an age-old method used by militaries, athletic teams and high school gym teachers alike.

So what are the advantages of calisthenics over free weights or other forms of resistance training?

1. Simplicity. No fancy equipment to use or complicated moves to think about. Just push and pull. Everyone knows the basics.
2. Convenience. Very little space is required, and with a little creativity and ingenuity these exercises can be performed almost anywhere -- perfect if you're crunched for time!
3. Low Cost. No need to buy fancy equipment, watch trendy videos or join a gym, fitness studio, salon or spa. It's just you and that ever-present force of gravity.

As a former gym addict, I spent years slinging weights around five or six times a week, but that came to an end after I set off to travel. So, to maintain some semblance of fitness, I started focusing on calisthenics.

The Basics

Everyone knows how to do these, but few realize that this exercise works a lot more than just your chest. With proper form you can work almost every muscle group in your body, so keep your back straight and your core tight. By playing with your hand position you can isolate your chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps and back.

Push ups to strengthen your upper body

 Push ups are a simple yet effective exercise that not only strengthens the upper body but also the core. Also, by varying the position of the hands one can isolate the shoulders, back, triceps or upper and lower chest.

Pull Ups
Easily one of the best body weight exercises you can do --and hardest! Some folks get frustrated if they cannot do many (or any) of these at first. But don't give up. Just get up...over that bar. Anyway you can. Use a chair or workout partner to lend a boost if these are hard for you at first. Eventually you will build the strength to do them unassisted.

Need a pull up bar? Ever heard of a tree branch? How about the kids' swing set in the backyard or the jungle gym at the park? Still no where to do pull ups? Get a door frame pull up bar and you won't even have to leave the convenience of your home to workout.

Pull ups in a door frame with a pull up bar

Doorframe pull up bars are great for at-home workouts, while a stool can help lend a boost to get up and over the bar.

No, I'm not talking queso here. I'm talking about the exercise that will strengthen your triceps, shoulders and upper chest faster than any piece of equipment in the gym. This exercise can be performed on nearly any elevated surface. Parallel bars. Park benches. Chairs. Tables. The options are limitless, so no excuses! Let's get those arms in shape!

Dips are a Tripcep exercise

Dips are a simple tricep exercise that can be performed virtually anywhere.

This compound exercise works the entire lower body -- quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves -- and will help with any athletic endeavor, especially cycling. Up and down. That's all there is to it, but correct form is key. Keep the back straight and squat until your thighs are parallel with the floor.

Great training for your next hiking trip, this exercise works the same muscles as the squat and hits the glutes, hamstrings and quads especially hard. Form is key here as well. Don't let your front knee extend beyond your foot as your back knee bends to touch the ground. Slow and steady with these. Embrace the burn!

Lunges are a great lower body exercise

Lunges are a terrific lower body exercise that work your hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps.

Looking for more?

What's that, you think push-ups are too easy? Well bravo my friend, you're a beast. But before you do that next set of bench presses, tell me: how many one-arm push-ups can you do? Or how about the one-arm, one-leg variation? Or the no-leg Planche push-up?

That's what I thought.

Reached the point where sets of 15 or 20 pull-ups are no longer enough? Then get crazy! Muscle-ups. Typewriters. One-handed pull-ups. These take brute strength -- beast mode, baby!

Want to make dips harder? Throw some rocks in a backpack. Or for an intense challenge try the L-sit.

For a real lower body challenge, try Bulgarian split squats or pistol squats.

Backroads Trip Leader Austin Render doing muscle ups

Muscle ups are an advanced calisthenic that combines pull ups and dips.

These are simple exercises that are often overlooked in favor of more complex workouts that favor gym memberships, complicated machines or trendy videos. With calisthenics the beauty is in the simplicity. Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime. Try it! What do you have to lose?


2 Responses

  1. Christine Wagoner

    Enjoyed reading this because I preached it for years – we prefer the title P.E. or Phys. Ed. teachers! Always to read or hear that somehow our teaching is getting through to someone. 🙂 Looking forward to our next Backroads trip so I can enjoy the great outdoors and stay fit!

  2. Hi Austin, thanks for sharing this workout.

    I have been going to the gym for the last 12 months and I find it hard to keep myself motivated. So I have found it hard to keep up the schedule and sometimes don’t go to the gym for weeks. On the other hands calisthenic is much more enjoyable. I have been doing it for the last few weeks and I really like this form of exercise.

    But my only concern is muscle isolation. When I am at the gym I know what muscles are exercised by each workout. But in body weight exercises I don’t find exercises that target specific muscles. I recently read an article here > they claim that calisthenics does have exercises that isolate each muscle, is that true? Is muscle isolation possible in calisthenics?

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