About three years ago, I took a break from lifting weights for several months. It was the longest I ever went without a workout routine, but it was a break my body needed even though I felt great. I had lost about 20 pounds (an undesired result of detoxification) after being 100 percent raw for a couple of weeks and felt that my body needed the energy to clean and repair itself. Weight training was a large part of my life for 20 years, but I felt it was time to try something new, thanks to two people: a former neighbor and an ex-girlfriend. The neighbor knew how much time I spent at my gym and kept telling me that my bodybuilding routine was not as efficient as it could be. The girlfriend used to refer to me as a Greek sculpture.
Beginning Stages of My Calisthenics Workout
I used to weight train either at home or at a gym for an hour and half to two hours three to five times a week for a total of at least six hours a week. When I started the first series of calisthenics workouts four years ago, it took me about an hour and half to get through each workout, which consisted of 270 repetitions of two different exercises broken up into three sets. I was able to get these workouts down to an hour and, by the end of the month, gained 10 pounds of muscle while consuming about 30 bananas a day and about a pound of greens a day.
Chest and Biceps
The first workout of the week consisted of push-ups for the chest and chin-ups for biceps. I started off by doing 10 push-ups followed immediately (no break) by 10 close-grip chin-ups. After a one- to two-minute break, I did 20 push-ups and 20 chin-ups before taking the next one- to two-minute break and doing 30 reps of each exercise, working my way down to 20 reps and then 10, completing the first set. I took a five-minute break before moving on to the next set, repeating the same exercises, then another five-minute break prior to the set afterward. The sets looked like this: 10/10, 20/20, 30/30, 20/20 and 10/10, with a total of 270 push-ups and 270 chin-ups after three sets. This method was also used in the other workouts.
Shoulders and Trapezoids
Two days later, I would do a shoulders and trapezoids workout called pike push-ups and inverted shrugs on the bar. With pike push-ups, my feet are shoulder width apart and I am bent over with my hands about 2 feet in front of my feet, legs and back straight as I lower myself so my head almost touches the floor and then raise myself until my arms are fully extended. As for the inverted shrugs, I grip the bar like I would in a pull-up and hang on it upside-down, arms straight with my legs a couple of inches under the bar and over my head. I raise and lower myself and concentrate on my shoulders, signaling “I don’t know.” For this reason, I refer to this exercise as “I-don’t-knows.”
Back and Triceps
Wrapping up the workout week would be back and triceps, which I exercised with wide-grip pull-ups and bench dips. I like to have my grip as wide as I can comfortably go on the bar for pull-ups. For bench dips, I use a chair for my hands, placed shoulder width apart and a table for my feet, which are rested slightly higher than my hands. Some people do not like this particular workout, saying the wide-grip pull-up does not work the back like a closer grip pull-up does and that bench dips do not exercise the triceps enough, but it totally depends on muscle flexibility and motion. My back is flexible enough that I can feel it getting the range of motion I desire when doing the wide-grip pull-ups. Besides, the chin-ups that I perform in a separate workout also exercise the back muscles but differently. When doing the bench dips, I find that the more I squeeze my arms toward each other, the more I can feel my triceps.
It was the most efficient bodybuilding workout I did at the time because I always struggled to gain weight in the years prior with various unnatural supplements as fuel on top of a “Healthy American Diet,” (which I call HAD) a slightly healthier version of the Standard American Diet (SAD). The workout was intense enough that I had trouble staying on the bar in the beginning stages of the program. One would have thought I was on steroids after seeing the physical transformation a month later, which I attribute mostly to the amount of bananas and greens I was taking in.
The Maintenance Stages
After I realized I needed a break from working out, I took a week off and developed a less intense workout to maintain my physique. Rather than doing three sets, I did just one set, totaling 100 reps of each exercise, this time adding five reps to each exercise at the beginning and end of the set so it looked like this: 5/5, 10/10, 20/20, 30/30, 20/20, 10/10 and 5/5. This took about a half-hour to perform, and I was happy with the results.
I did a simple abs workout in between the primary workout days two to three times a week. This took five minutes and kept my abs defined. It consisted of four exercises, starting with 25 crunches before resting for a couple of seconds and performing the bicycle, of which 50 reps were performed. I then proceeded with alternating toe touches for 50 reps following a brief rest and then 25 sets of the seated knee raise. Nothing fancy.
I wanted to incorporate a leg workout to build up my legs while staying true to calisthenics principle, so I did legs after each abdominal exercise. Once a week, I did 100 squats in the best form possible, standing shoulder-width apart and lowering myself until my thighs were at least parallel to the ground before raising and repeating the process. I like to do this exercise with my back as straight and upright as possible because it makes the workout more difficult. I keep my toes pointed slightly outward and my knees in line with my toes when in the lowered position. Take caution when doing squats and use the assistance of an experienced trainer if just starting out. Listen to your body and make required adjustments to your form, keeping in mind that no squat is identical. I like to mimic the baby’s squat, for they are the ones who are natural squatters. Squats are great for the quadriceps and also exercise the hamstrings and gluteal muscles.
Once a week, I attacked my calves doing simple calf raises, which is easy to do with both calves, but not so easy with just one. I had a hard time doing three reps of 20 with good form using just one calf at a time. This is an exercise that I like to do on steps, with one heel hanging off the edge, legs straight and raising the heel as high as possible, lowering and then repeating immediately. Because this exercise requires balance, it helps to strengthen the ankles. I have yet to pull off this exercise without using a wall as a brace, which would be a great balancing act!
I wanted to try something new by seeing how quickly I could complete 100 reps of each exercise, so I changed up the subsets, minimizing the breaks, thus shaving off time. For example, I would do five chin-ups, followed by five push-ups, repeat, then do 10 of each and repeat before taking a three-minute break and then completing 20 reps of each. This was followed by another three-minute break and another 20 reps of each before working my way down to 10 and then five for a total of 100 chin-ups and 100 push-ups. In total, this amounted to: 5/5, 5/5, 10/10, 10/10, 20/20, 20/20, 10/10, 10/10, 5/5, 5/5. This workout took 20 minutes.
Right before a workout one day, I wanted to see if I could get in an extra set of 100 reps and how long it would take to complete the workout. I was able to do two sets totaling 200 reps of each exercise in 38 minutes and was so pleased with the results that I continue to do this workout today. I was able to get my time down within 35 minutes the following week. This past week, I successfully completed the workouts—200 reps per muscle group for a total of 400—in 30 minutes, four-and-a-half hours less per week than my old weight-training routine!
Calisthenics has proven to me that with a focused mind and the simplest of diets—even that consisting of just bananas and greens—one can easily achieve twice the results in less than half the time with a bar, a table and a chair or whatever you can find that works just as well. Now, please pardon me while I go work out.
Check out Korey’s transformation story!