Do you leap out of bed and get your heart pumping with a few push-ups and jumping jacks? Or do you prefer to do a concentrated, intense workout of advanced burpees and squat jumps? Ultimately, it's the difficulty and intensity of your exercises that determines your calisthenics frequency.
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Your ideal calisthenics frequency depends on the intensity of your workouts. If they feel relatively easy on your muscles but leave you gasping for breath, that's a cardiovascular workout you can get away with doing almost every day, or even through the day. But if you're doing challenging calisthenics that fatigue your muscles, you'll need more rest time between workouts.
Calisthenics as Weight Training
Calisthenics are, by their very nature, fast-moving body-weight exercises that challenge your aerobic endurance, muscular endurance, strength and sometimes flexibility too. A great part of their appeal is that you can do them anytime, anywhere, with only your body and, in a few cases, limited equipment like a pull-up bar.
It's the intensity of the calisthenics exercises you've chosen, relative to your own level of fitness, that determines how much rest and recovery time you need between calisthenics workouts. If your calisthenics exercises are enough to fatigue your muscles, then they'll help you build muscular strength and endurance — but only if you allow your body adequate time to rest between workouts.
Expert organizations including Harvard Health Publishing recommend giving your muscles at least 48 hours of rest between strength-training workouts. Sometimes you'll need more rest if your muscles are still notably sore. If either of those scenarios sound like your situation, you should count your calisthenics workout toward the Department of Health and Human Services recommendation to strength-train all your major muscle groups twice a week.
Speaking of which, if you choose to do a calisthenics and weight training routine, make sure you work all your major muscle groups — that means back, chest, arms, shoulders, legs and core. You can do this with calisthenics exercises like push-ups, pull-ups or inverted rows, dips, burpees, planks, and squats or squat jumps. Or mix in your choice of dumbbell, barbell or lever machine exercises.
Calisthenics as Aerobic Exercise
If, on the other hand, your current fitness level and choice of calisthenics make that workout feel less intense — to the point your muscles are not fatigued — you can count those calisthenics as aerobic activity. As long as you aren't overtraining yourself, you can theoretically do aerobic activity all day long — although in reality, it's best to give yourself at least one solid rest day a week and be aware of signs that you might be overdoing it.
Of course, doing all-day cardiovascular workouts isn't realistic — or even advisable, because working out is just one component of a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle. So, set your sights on the HHS recommendations for cardiovascular activity:
- At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, or
- At least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week.
If you double those amounts to 300 minutes of moderate activity or 150 minutes of vigorous activity, you can look forward to even more health benefits. And the perks of staying physically active are nothing to sneeze at: Those calisthenics and any other cardiovascular workouts you do can contribute to a long list of benefits spelled out by the Mayo Clinic, including better cardiovascular health, a stronger immune system, improved mood, reduced risk of many chronic health conditions and even a longer life.
Certain calisthenics lend themselves more readily to a cardiovascular workout than others. These include exercises such as jumping jacks, side jumps, mountain climbers and light burpees (without a push-up, as demonstrated by ExRx.net).
Read more: Five Types of Fitness Training
Gauging Your Exercise Intensity
How do you know your calisthenics workout is stressing your cardiovascular system enough to count as an actual cardiovascular workout? The Mayo Clinic spells out several ways to gauge your exercise intensity, ranging from monitoring your heart rate to using the "talk test" or rating your perceived level of exertion.
The talk test is particularly useful because it doesn't require any specialized equipment and isn't particularly subjective, either. If you can only get a few words out before you have to pause for breath, you're working out at a vigorous intensity. If you can carry on a two-way conversation but can't sing or deliver a monologue, that correlates with a moderate workout intensity.
Doing Calisthenics Throughout the Day
There's one other catch if you're thinking of doing calisthenics as an aerobic workout: How long do those workouts have to last in order to count? Previous physical activity guidelines from the HHS used to dictate that an aerobic workout should last at least 10 minutes in order to count toward those requirements.
However, in its 2015-2020 guidelines for physical activity, the HHS has reversed its stance. The guidelines now say that every bit of aerobic physical activity counts toward the totals they recommend — so that quick set of push-ups in the morning could be your start toward getting the roughly 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity aerobic activity that'll help you meet the HHS recommendations by the end of the week.
And, yes, calisthenics have the potential to count as both cardio and strength-training in the same workout. Just remember that calisthenics or not, your strength-training workouts won't result in stronger muscles unless you give your body appropriate recovery time. If you've done calisthenics so challenging that your muscles are fatigued, go ahead and rest them for at least 48 hours, as recommended, before doing it again.
Meanwhile you can fill the gap with other fun cardiovascular workouts, whether that means using the exercise machines at your gym or heading out for a walk, hike or run. You can also swim, cycle, dance, play an active sport like soccer, or hit the gym for some organized aerobics classes. Any movement that gets your major muscle groups moving rhythmically for an extended period counts.
- Health.gov: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "7 Tips for a Safe and Successful Strength-Training Program"
- Mayo Clinic: "Exercise Intensity: How to Measure It"
- American Council on Exercise: "9 Signs of Overtraining to Look Out For"
- Mayo Clinic: "Aerobic Exercise: Top 10 Reasons to Get Physical"
- ExRx.net: "Burpee"