A Guide to Isometric And Calisthenic Exercises

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Isometric exercising is a form of static stretching resistance training done without the use of any additional equipment. While dynamic stretching works muscles through a full range of motion, isometrics are done without a change of movement.  Not only does isometric exercises improve strength and stability of muscles, but it also lowers blood pressure and resting heart rate, thus helping lower the risk of developing heart disease.

For example of an isometric exercise, let’s look at wall sits. Start by getting into a squat position with your back resting against a wall, knees bent at a 90 degree angle, thighs parallel to the floor. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds or until the muscles are fatigued. Relax and then repeat for a total of three sets.

Lower Body

Isometric exercises generally fall into one of three categories: lower body, upper body and abdominal.  We already looked at one lower body isometric. Another one is leg pull-downs. Start by standing with your back flat against a wall. Now pull one of your legs up until your thigh is parallel with the floor. Interlock your hands underneath your thigh. Pull up with your hands while pushing down with your hamstring to create the resistance isolated to that muscle group.

Upper Body

Upper body isometrics work the chest, biceps and triceps. An example is hand presses. Start by standing with your fingers interlocked and your hands in the praying position. Push your palms together against each other while tightening your chest, biceps and triceps muscles for 10 to 30 seconds or until fatigued. Relax and perform another set to a total of three sets.


These isometric exercises work the obliques and core muscles. A great example of an abdominal isometric are planks. To perform a plank bridge, start by getting into the push-up position but instead of supporting yourself with your hands, do so using your elbows. Keeping your back and legs in a straight line (like a plank board), hold this position for 30 seconds. Relax and repeat three times. A variation of this one is the side bridge plank. Same starting positon as the bridge, but turn to one side and support your body with one arm and elbow. Be sure to switch sides when done.

Isometric exercises are good for older people with joint pain as they do not involve working the joint, but do rehabilitate damaged or arthritic muscles that surround a joint. The exercise performed puts resistance on the muscles but does not work it through a range of motion, thus resulting in less pain.

Calisthenic Exercise

Calisthenics is an all-natural exercise program employing just bodyweight and minimal equipment that not only improves endurance and builds lean muscle, but also increases strength, flexibility, balance and posture. In general, exercises like pull-ups, push-ups, dips, squats, lunges and crunches are popular exercises included in many calisthenic exercise routines.  Because most exercises employ just bodyweight, they can be done almost anywhere at any time making it an exercise program that travels nicely with you.

For example, counter pushups are done by leaning forward against a counter top edge at about a 45 degree angle with your elbows bent. Now push yourself away from the countertop until your elbows are fully extended, Lower yourself back down to the starting position. That’s one repetition.

The time of day you exercise isn’t as important as being consistent in what you do. For beginners, exercising three days per week, with a day in-between each workout, gives your muscles a day of needed.

Exercise routines generally fall into two categories: normal and circuit. While normal routines typically focus on a specific group of muscles, such as arms or legs, a circuit routine is more full body. For example, a normal routine one day might consist of five sets of push-ups with 20 repetitions in each set and a two-minute rest between sets. On the other hand, a circuit routine could include a set of 10 push-ups, followed by 10 chin-ups, 10 crunches and wrapping up with 10 lunges. At the end of the set, rest for 20 seconds and repeat the circuit.

Another circuit routine could be three cycles of 10 pushups, 6 shoulder-width chin-ups, 3 dips, 6 regular pull-ups per cycle. Rest for 4 minutes between cycles, but with minimal rest between exercises. Pull-ups and chin-ups require a horizontal bar, but usually a playground has several of these you can use or you can buy your own and mount it in a doorway. Dips can be done off of the front of a chair, a low retaining wall or any flat horizontal surface around chair seat height.

As with any exercise program, be sure to warm-up before exercising and cool down after. A warm-up routine can consist of almost anything as long as it accomplishes two things: warms up the muscles you intend on working and gets your blood pumping. Arm circles, wrist rotations, touching toes or running for two minutes are all good examples of dynamic types of stretching associated with warming up. To cool down, static stretch by moving the muscles worked to their full extension and holding for a few seconds before relaxing. A couple of minutes both before and after an exercise routine should be all that is needed.

Calisthenic exercises can be full-body or muscle group specific type of bodyweight training. The beauty of it is its simplicity in design and minimal equipment required, making it perfect for the traveler.

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