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There are many distractions in our busy lives, and all of them are competing for our time, effort, and attention. All of them become excuses to not exercise. Many people now travel extensively for work, and hotel fitness centers can be hilariously inadequate. Commuting to and from the gym, especially during rush hour, can be a major discouragement. So is trying to find parking and waiting to use equipment. Some people forgo all those impediments and choose to exercise outside. Of course, the outdoors are beautiful…weather permitting.

What do you do when work, traffic, crowds, weather, and other obstacles block your workout mojo? One of the most effective forms of exercise is the broad category known as calisthenics. Also referred to as body weight exercises, these are activities that use your own weight as the source of load and/or tension.

Ashtanga yoga and dance are excellent for developing flexibility, agility, endurance, and focus. They are weight bearing, so they are also good for improving bone density. They develop tensile strength that promotes tone without adding size. There are videos you can use in your private space to do these activities. However, if your goal is to add muscle mass, yoga and dance alone will generally not suffice. Also doing them in a studio class presents many of the same potential challenges as staying motivated enough to go to a gym.

But here is where all your excuses get thrown out the window: Your body is with you everywhere you go. You can hone extremely effective programs without having to rely on equipment availability, without contending with commuting, without being undermined by weather, and without paying for classes and/or memberships that you might not use. Also, the compound movements that form the basis of classical calisthenics can be made progressively more difficult. By honing the number of reps, the number of sets, and the amount of rest between activities, you can choose to build endurance, strength and/or mass in whatever way is best aligned to your personal goals. You can continuously level up while also combining many of the benefits of yoga or dance with the benefits of weight lifting.

Progressive calisthenics is a process of gradually performing fewer reps and sets of harder variations on an exercise. Be sure to look for programs that include push-ups, pull-ups, squats, bridges, inversions and core stabilization. Start with the variations of these exercises that are easiest, focus on developing perfect form and move on to the next level only when you are able to properly complete the current level. Advancing through the levels of your chosen regimen will be a long, slow, grueling process, which is exactly what you want from exercise. It could take you months or years to get through all the steps, so not only is progressive calisthenics convenient, affordable and effective, it is also appropriate for long-term fitness goals.

One Year Calisthenics Progression: Push Ups

Level 1:

Perform 3 sets of 50 reps against a wall, performing the push-up motion while standing.

Level 2:

Perform 3 sets of 40 reps with your hands on a chair/desk/bed and your feet on the floor.

Level 3:

Perform 3 sets of 30 push-ups on the floor, but with your knees touching the ground.

Level 4:

Perform 2 sets of 25 half push-ups with your knees off the floor, but doing only the top half of the range of motion.

Level 5:

Perform 2 sets of 20 full push-ups with your hands below your shoulders.

Level 6:

Perform 2 sets of 15 full push-ups with your hands together below your chest.

Level 7:

Perform 2 sets of 12 push-ups on each side, putting one hand on a block/step/suitcase and the other on the floor (switch the block back and forth after each set of 12 reps).

Level 8:

Perform 2 sets of 10 on each side of one-arm half-push-ups, but doing only the top half of the range of motion.

Level 9:

Perform 2 sets of 8 on each side of one-arm push-ups with one hand on a ball and the other on the floor, allowing the ball to roll in and out against the inside of your forearm as you lever up and down.

Level 10:

Perform 1 set of 6 on each side of unassisted, one-arm push ups.

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Jack Kirven is a mobile personal trainer in Charlotte, NC. He is the owner of INTEGRE8T Wellness.

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