Ask Stew: How to Structure Daily Calisthenics and Cardio Workouts

If you can find a structure for your workouts, that will make all the difference. My advice is to do a split routine that works with your abilities, goals, equipment, facilities, time per day, and days per week.

If you use these requirements to create your own workout plan and see the results you want, then you’ve found what works for you. Here’s a question from a young guy who is losing weight, getting back into shape, and wants to do a useful split routine that uses nothing but calisthenics.

Mr. Smith, I’m losing weight. I started doing calisthenics and cardio training while not having my usual weight room options this summer. I only have dumbbells, a pull-up/dip bar and a bike. Here’s how I divide my week: On Mondays, I do push-ups, dips, sit-ups and cycling. On Tuesday I do squats, lunges, shoulders and walk and up and down hills and stairs. On Wednesday, I do pull-ups, curls and cycling. How would you structure calisthenics and cardio? Policeman

Bobby, it’s a good system. There are so many ways to organize your calisthenics, weights, and cardio options that you could fill a book and only touch a small percentage of the types of routines and interval workouts you can do with calisthenics and a few dumbbells.

My main question for you is, “Is this current plan working for you?” If so, great. Carry on with that. If you’ve just started and only been doing it for a week or two, be patient and see if you get the results you want.

The system you use is more of a push/pull/leg split routine. It’s a way of doing it. If there were any changes, I would recommend keeping the shoulders up on your upper body day.

It’s common with the typical “bro” lifting split to do the legs and shoulders on the same day, but it’s not necessary in calisthenics because many upper body movements will work the shoulders (pull-ups , dips, push-ups, plank, crawling bear, etc.). Just add the dumbbell shoulder lifts to the upper body day. This way, you can give your entire upper body a “day off” when training legs, core, and cardio on days in between upper body days.

The good news is that you don’t do daily calisthenics with the same exercises on consecutive days. When you do workouts that rack up a higher number of reps, you need to rest those muscle groups, just like you would on weight days.

Sore joints and lower performance tend to follow a high-volume routine in the daily gym. I also like the harder cardio options you put on leg days like hills, stairs, or bleacher running.

I typically do two types of split routines for high rep calisthenics and increasing weekly running mileage progressions:

Upper/lower separation

Monday: Push, pull, core, run, bike and/or swim (pull-ups, push-ups, dips, variety core and cardio)

Tuesday: Mixed running or cycling with PT leg (squats, lunges, heels, jumps, hills or stairs)

Wednesday: Mobility Day. It’s a great way to add a recovery day, but also to do more cycling and stretching than usual. This one is life changing for both longevity and overall physical performance. Just do five minutes of cycling, followed by five minutes of stretching or foam rolling for 45-60 minutes.

Thursday: push, pull, dig, run or cycle again.

Friday: race or bike and leg day again.

Saturday is an optional day. You can decide to do another mobility day, a cardio and core-only day, or do a third upper body day. One of my favorite weeks of training is doing an Upper Body Pyramid on Monday, a Superset Sub-Max Effort PT on Thursday, and a Max Rep Set Upper-Body PT on Saturday.

Push/Pull/Leg Split

This is another option that I like, especially when I want to see individual performance gains for the upper body.

Monday: Thrusting and abdominal muscles, plus cycling and/or swimming (push-ups, dips, overhead press, triceps extension, basic variety and cardio)

Tuesday: Traction and oblique muscles, plus cycling and/or swimming (pull-ups, rows, biceps curls, side planks, etc.)

Wednesday: Leg day. Running or cycling mixed with PT legs (squats, lunges, heels, jumps, hills or stairs)

Thursday: Mobility Day. I always like to do a mobility day somewhere in the middle of the week because it makes the next 2-3 workouts of the week much better with higher energy levels.

Friday: push, pull, dig, run or cycle again. If you want a second full upper body day, you can choose to mix them up again or split them up with the Friday push, with the Saturday pull and Sunday being an optional day of leg cardio, mobility or recovery, if necessary.

Saturday: Longer cardio day mixed with legs. Do squats and lunges every five minutes of an hour-long cardio session.

As you can see, there are countless ways to do this workout. My final piece of advice is to experiment with each option for a few weeks and see what you like and see what produces the desired results. If you can find something that you both enjoy and that gets results, then that’s a win/win formula for getting in shape and losing weight too.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author Certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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