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Common Sense Calisthenics

In performing daily life skills, your muscles work against the resistance of your body weight. It only makes sense to strength train using your body weight instead of those fancy weights and equipment in the gym:

1) Strengthen Your Foundation. Train Your Lower Body and Legs.

* Squats: With your feet shoulder-width apart, lower your body as if you were sitting back in a chair until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Keep your back straight and lean slighty forward at the waist. Keep your heels on the floor. Squats work the large muscles of the front and back of the leg as well as the buttocks.

* Alternating Lunges: Stand straight with your hands on your hips and your feet together. Take a long step forward with your right leg and bend your left knee down to the ground. Straighten up until your feet are together. Repeat leading with your left foot. Lunges work the same front, back and rear leg muscles as squats but they are a bit more difficult.

* Squat Jumps: Start squat jumps after you've been doing regular squats for a couple of weeks. The mechanics are the same as for regular squats. When you reach the lowered position simply jump up and repeat. They are more explosive and will give you more power as well as work your calf muscles.

2)Strengthen Your Core: Exercise The Area Between Your Shoulders and Your Groin.

* Crunches. Lie on your back with knees bent, back pressed to the floor. Place you fingertips behind your head for gentle support (do not pull). Slowly lift your head and shoulders with your head in a neutral position. This exercise works your upper abs.

* Oblique crunches. Lie on your back, knees bent, hands gently supporting your head. Place one foot on one knee. Gently twist the opposite side toward the knee with the foot on it. Be sure to do both sides. The oblique muscles are your side ab muscles.

* Reverse crunches. Lie on your back and raise your legs straight up with a slight knee bend. Leave your upper body on the floor. The motion is very small. Raise your rear about an inch up off the ground. Reverse crunches work your lower abs.

* Back extensions: Lie on your front with your arms straight down at your sides. Gently lift your head and shoulders up to work your lower back

Note: Once you have mastered these exercises on a flat surface you may want to try an unstable surface like a stability ball.

3)Strengthen Your Upper Body.

* Pushups:Lie face down on the ground. Place your hands a bit wider than shoulder width apart. Keep your feet slightly apart or together and your back straight. Lower yourself until you are almost touching the ground then push back up. Do not lock your elbows. If you have trouble start on your knees. Pushups are a super upper body exercise working your chest, shoulders, back of the arms and the upper, middle, and lower back. For variations change the hand placement from narrow to very wide.

*Dips. You can do these with one chair or table or two. For the easier version place both hands on the chair with both legs straight out front, feet on the floor. Bend the elbows and push back up without locking them out. For more resistance, place both hands on one surface and both feet on the other surface. Again bend the elbows. Dips are another super arm exercise. They work the back of the arms, shoulders and chest.

* Isometric back squeezes. It's difficult to work the back muscles without equipment. You may wish to purchase a set of dumbells just to perform upright rows and reverse flys. Isometric back squeezes will work the lower, middle and upper back. Stand shoulder width apart. Raise hands above head. Pull down very slowly squeezing as hard as you can. When you reach the bottom hold for ten seconds and repeat several times.

You can combine all these calisthenics in many ways. You may simply want to do three sets of ten for each exercise three times a week every other day. This is a strong stimulus load yet allows for enough recovery time. The above exercises are special because they mimic movements in everyday living. Further, they strengthen the body the way nature intended- with it's own body weight. Finally, with the few exceptions noted, the only equipment required is your own body and you don't need to go to a fancy gym to perform these calisthenics.

About the Author: Dr lanny Schaffer is an Exercise Physiologist and the President of The International Fitness Academy. For more cutting edge fitness ideas go to

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