Ask Stew: How to structure daily calisthenics and cardio workouts


Finding structure for your workout will make all the difference. My advice is to do a split routine that works with your skills, 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 man who is losing weight, getting in shape, and wants to do a useful split routine using only calisthenics.

Mr Smith, I’m answering. I’ve started doing calisthenics and cardio while not having my normal weight room options this summer. I only have some dumbbells, a pull up/dip bar and a bike. Here’s how I break up my week: Monday I do pushups, dips, abs, and some cycling. Tuesday I do squats, lunges, shoulders, and walk and run up and down hills and stairs. Wednesday I do pull ups, curls and bike. How would you structure calisthenics and cardio? Bobby

Bobby, that’s a good system. There are so many ways to arrange your calisthenics, weights, and cardio options you could fill a book and yet only address a small percentage of the types of split routines and workouts you can do with calisthenics and a couple of dumbbells.

My main question for you is, “Is this current plan working for you?” If so, great. keep doing it If you’re just starting out and have 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. This is one way to do it. If there are any changes I would recommend keeping the shoulders on your upper body tag.

In the typical “bro” lifting split, it’s common to do legs and shoulders on the same day, but that’s not necessary in calisthenics since so many of the upper body movements work the shoulders (chin-ups, dips, push-ups, plank, bear crawls, etc.). Just add the dumbbell movements of the shoulders to the upper body tag. This way, you can give your entire upper body a “day off” if you train your legs, core, and cardio on the days between upper body days.

The good news is that you’re not doing calisthenics every day with the same exercises on consecutive days. When you’re doing workouts that accumulate a higher number of repetitions, you need to rest those muscle groups, just like you would on strength training days.

Sore joints and declining performance usually follow a high-volume routine of daily calisthenics. I also like the harder cardio options you use on your leg days like hills, stairs, or running in the stands.

I typically do two types of split routines for high-rep calisthenics and to increase weekly mileage gain:

Upper/lower division

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

Tuesday: Run or bike mixed with leg PT (squats, lunges, heel raises, jumps, hills or stairs)

Wednesday: mobility day. This is a great way to add a day of recovery but also combine more cycling and stretching than normal. This one is life changing for both longevity and overall fitness performance. Just do five minutes of cycling followed by five minutes of stretching or foam rolling for 45-60 minutes.

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

Friday: Run or bike and leg day again.

Saturday is an optional day. You can opt for an additional mobility day, a cardio and core only day, or a third upper body day. One of my favorite weeks of training is to do 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 I like, especially when I want to see individual performance gains in upper body training.

Monday: Press and core, plus bike and/or swim (pushups, dips, overhead presses, tricep extensions, core variations, and cardio)

Tuesday: Tensile and obliques plus cycling and/or swimming (pull-ups, rows, bicep curls, side planks, etc.)

Wednesday: leg day. Run or bike mixed with leg PT (squats, lunges, heel raises, jumps, hills, or stairs)

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

Friday: push, pull, core, 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 Friday push, Saturday pull, and Sunday as an optional cardio leg day, mobility day, or recovery day if needed.

Saturday: Long 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 enjoy and what gives you the results you want. If you can find something that you both enjoy and get results, then that’s a win-win formula for you to get in shape and lose weight as well.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness writer certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit him Fitness e-book store if you want to start an exercise program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to [email protected].

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