3 Quick, Formidable Calisthenics Exercises for a Freelancer

Parth Misra
Parth Misra

A man doing calisthenics

Could there be anything better than what freelancing promises? Personal freedom, a chance to do something you are genuinely passionate about, and set your own schedule — all wrapped in one! It’s no wonder freelancing is catching up as a preferred career choice the world over.

But, as you settle into your new way of life, a realization dawns — all that freedom is not without a cost, the biggest of which is health. The amount of time and effort freelancers and entrepreneurs spend on their enterprises, particularly when starting out, is already the stuff of legend.

Such an attitude (while no doubt badass) takes a huge toll on health. Finding time to exercise can become difficult. Any professional working long hours sitting in front of a desk is given to a variety of health problems including a heightened risk of heart disease, carpal tunnel syndrome, weak eyesight, anxiety, stress and posture related issues.

Writers, freelancers and bloggers who are always on the move also find it hard to stay in shape as they have difficulty accessing training equipment.

But should this really be the case?

Not in the least! I firmly believe most freelancers (or even regular people) expose themselves to such risks due to a persistent belief that staying fit is all about working out for 1-2 hours at a gym — big mistake!

A study by Boston University found that 10 minute bursts of exercise were just as effective as working out for hours in a gym for adequate overall health, as long as they both add up to the same amount of time spent exercising each week. In fact, by simply committing to 5-10 minutes jaunts of high intensity training, you can mitigate many of the health issues that come with a tied-to-desk lifestyle.

If any of this sounds like why you are still not working out, then calisthenics can be the perfect way to kick your butt back into shape!

And Calisthenics Are…?

Calisthenics are a form of training where you only use your bodyweight to add resistance to an exercise. These exercises have been around for millennia and can be done either as a complete regime, or added to other forms of workout as warm up or warm down.

Calisthenics are particularly useful for freelancers and traveling entrepreneurs as they do not require any equipment, yet can be extremely effective when done right. Indeed, there is a very lively debate as to whether weights are needed at all when we are hulking around with so much weight already!

Before you get started, though, consult with your physician to find out whether you can do the following exercises safely. They will place a lot of stress on your body and if you have or are prone to injuries, it’s best to avoid any movement which can aggravate them.

With that settled, here are three exercises guaranteed to give you a killer tip to toe workout without impinging on your schedule.

Hindu Squats

Without a doubt one of the best leg workouts you will ever do! Hindu squats hit the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors and calves while giving your lungs something to remember as well.

Start by standing with your feet shoulder width apart.

  1. Put your hands in front (as if you were sleepwalking).
  2. Now squat down until your butt almost touches your heels.
  3. Raise your heels slowly as you are going down and swing your arm back, making a rowing motion.
  4. At the lowest point, push off from the balls of your feet and return to the starting position, bringing your arms back in front of you.
  5. Breathe in as you are going down, and breathe out as you are coming back up.

When starting out, aim to complete 20-30 reps in a set at a moderate pace. This should take no more than 40-50 seconds. Slowly work your way up to 100 reps.

The first time I tried the Hindu squats, I was wobbling silly at 40 reps, and I could barely walk for the next few days even though I was working out regularly, so I know at first-hand how effective this exercise is!

A complete lower body exercise in itself, these squats torch fat like there’s no tomorrow and promote lean tissue growth while giving you a pretty thorough aerobic workout.

Here’s an awesome instructional video on how to perform the Hindu squat properly.

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Freelancers can face posture-related problems because of long hours at the desk. Apart from the frontal rectus abdominis muscles, your core also has important muscles including obliques found on the sides of your abdominal section, and spinae erector muscles which run along the length of the spine. All of these muscles help with your posture and can become weak if ignored. A bad posture can lead to backaches and in extreme cases, a herniated spinal column (slip disk) as well.

Unlike sit ups and crunches, planks not only work the frontal abdominal muscles, but the side and back muscle groups as well, making them the perfect full core workout! Other muscles you will engage with the plank will include deltoids, latismus dorsi and glutes.

  1. Start by placing yourself on the floor facing down, resting on your forearms and toes. Your feet should be slightly apart.
  2. Do not arch your back as it will put a lot of pressure on your lower spine. Keep it as straight as you can.
  3. Now, tuck your tummy in (as if someone was about to kick you) and keep it in that position for 30 seconds.

Work it up to 2 minutes. As you reach the end of your set, you will feel a burning sensation in your abdominal; when this feeling becomes unbearable, stop.

This video explains how to plank properly, and common mistakes to avoid.

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Military Push-ups

The venerable push-up is a staple of any fitness program, and is rightly considered the king of upper body workouts. Military push-ups are different from regular push-ups in the sense you are required to bring your arms directly beneath your shoulders, while tucking your elbows inside.

These push-ups hit the deltoid, latismus dorsi, triceps and pectoral muscles more completely than the regular version. Your range of motion increases substantially when you bring your arms closer together, giving you a better workout per rep.

  1. Start by getting into a traditional push-up position, keeping your arms at shoulder width.
  2. Tuck your elbows inside and slowly lower yourself to the floor.
  3. Now push yourself back up until your arms are straight.
  4. Don’t arch your back and keep the glutes tight throughout the rep (same as in planking).
  5. Breathe in while going down, and breathe out while coming back up.

Aim to get to 20 reps in one set. If you do this right, your triceps, shoulders and chest will begin to fatigue after 15-odd push-ups. If it is too hard, then you can start by doing regular, wide arm push-ups first where you place your hands slightly farther apart than shoulder width. Your elbows also need not be tucked in. Once you have built some strength, try the military push-up again.

This video explains the proper way to do military push-ups.

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Tying Everything Together

You will want to perform each of these exercises in quick succession to get a thorough, full body workout.

  1. Start with one set of 20 Hindu squats.
  2. 30 second break.
  3. Hold a plank for 30 seconds.
  4. 30 second break.
  5. 10 military push-ups.

Do this 3 times over, taking 30 seconds breaks between each routine for an 8.5 minute long session. Repeat this 3 times a day for about 25 minutes of no-holds-barred, fat-melting workout!

If three times seems hard, then start with as much as you can manage at first. Above all, do not go gung-ho right off the bat! That’s a surefire way of losing your motivation and giving up.

Instead, for the first month do only as much as you can handle without getting tired. The idea is to make a habit first and overcome the resistance which you will face as you attempt something new.

Once you can do 100 hindu squats, 2 minute planks and 20 push-ups in a routine with 30 second breaks, it’s time to crank it up a notch. Doing more reps will take more time and we don’t want to spend any more than is necessary. You can either…

  1. Complete a set faster. Or…
  2. Switch to a harder exercise.

In case you decide to go for the latter, you might consider:

  • Bulgarian split squats: Attempt a squat one-legged while resting the other foot on a chair behind you. Here’s a video.
  • Raised foot planks: Plank with one foot raised. Here’s a video.
  • Diamond push-ups: Bring your hands closer together until they make like a diamond and push-up from that position. Another video.

Closing Thoughts

Given to the all-or-nothing attitude, freelancers either commit completely, or not at all. It’s the thrill of the chase that drives them. While such an attitude helps you keep up with the demands of the trade, it can become a detriment when you are trying to develop a habit. What happens when you don’t feel like it that gloomy morning?

Hitting the ground running is not the best way to go about this, particularly because our health is a lifelong commitment and we do not want to leave it at the mercy of our mood. Instead, focus on slowly getting a habit in place.

The first few weeks will be the hardest as your body will feel sore all over. Do as many reps as you can, even if it means just 10 squats, a 20 second plank and 5 push-ups. But make sure these are done every single day.

It will take several weeks to months (it varies for everyone) for your body to become acclimatized to your new lifestyle to the point where it no longer requires any intervention from you. Make sure your nutrition is adequate to support recovery. Once you find yourself missing your workout, that’s the cue to start turning up the heat!