Calisthenics can be used to exercise most of the major muscle groups of the body. They can help develop coordination, CR and muscular endurance, flexibility, and strength. Poorly-coordinated soldiers, however, will derive the greatest benefit from many of these exercises
Although calisthenics have some value when included in a CR circuit or when exercising to music, for the average soldier, calisthenics such as the bend and reach, squat bender, lunger, knee bender, and side-straddle hop can best be used in the warm-up and cool-down periods. Exercises such as the push-up, sit-up, parallel bar dip, and chin-up/pull-up, on the other hand, can effectively be used in the conditioning period to develop muscular endurance or muscular strength.
Please note that exercises such as the bend and reach, lunger, and leg spreader, which were once deleted from FM 21-20 because of their potential risk to the exerciser, have been modified and reintroduced in this edition. All modifications should be strictly adhered to.
Few exercises are inherently unsafe. Nonetheless, some people, because of predisposing conditions or injuries, may find certain exercises less safe than others. Leaders must consider each of their soldier’s physical limitations and use good judgment before letting a soldier perform these exercises. However, for the average soldier who is of sound body, following the directions written below will produce satisfactory results with a minimum risk of injury.
Finally, some of the calisthenics listed below may be done in cadence. These calisthenics are noted, and directions are provided below with respect to the actions and cadence. When doing exercises at a moderate cadence, use 80 counts per minute. With a slow cadence, use 50 counts per minute unless otherwise directed.
While injury is always possible in any vigorous physical activity, few calisthenic exercises are really unsafe or dangerous. The keys to avoiding injury while gaining training benefits are using correct form and intensity. Also, soldiers with low fitness levels, such as trainees, should not do the advanced exercises highly fit soldiers can do. For example, with the lower back properly supported, flutter kicks are an excellent way to condition the hip flexor muscles. However, without support, the possibility of straining the lower back increases. It is not sensible to have recruits do multiple sets of flutter kicks because they probably are not conditioned for them. On the other hand, a conditioned Ranger company may use multiple sets of flutter’ kicks with good results.
The key to doing calisthenic exercises safely is to use common sense. Also, ballistic (that is, quick-moving) exercises that combine rotation and bending of the spine increase the risk of back injury and should be avoided. This is especially true if someone has had a previous injury to the back. If this type of action is performed, slow stretching exercises, not conditioning drills done to cadence, should be used.
Some soldiers complain of shoulder problems resulting from rope climbing, horizontal ladder, wheelbarrow, and crab-walk exercises. These exercises are beneficial when the soldier is fit and he does them in a regular, progressive manner. However, a certain level of muscular strength is needed to do them safely. Therefore, soldiers should progressively train to build up to these exercises. Using such exercises for unconditioned soldiers increases the risk of injury and accident.
Progression and Recovery
Other important principles for avoiding injury are progression and recovery. Programs that try to do too much too soon invite problems. The day after a “hard” training day, if soldiers are working the same muscle groups and/or fitness components, they should work them at a reduced intensity to minimize stress and permit recovery.
The best technique is to train alternate muscle groups and/or fitness components on different days. For example, if the Monday-Wednesday- Friday (M-W-F) training objective is CR fitness, soldiers can do ability group running at THR with some light calisthenics and stretching. If the Tuesday-Thursday (T-Th) objective is muscular endurance and strength, soldiers can benefit from doing partner-resisted exercises followed by a slow run. To ensure balance and regularity in the program, the next week should have muscle endurance and strength development on M-W-F and training for CR endurance on T-Th. Such a program has variety, develops all the fitness components, and follows the seven principles of exercise while, at the same time, it minimizes injuries caused by overuse.
Leaders should plan PT sessions to get a positive training effect, not to conduct “gut checks.” They should know how to correctly do all the exercises in their program and teach their soldiers to train using good form to help avoid injuries.
Key Points for Safety
Doing safe exercises correctly improves a soldier’s fitness with a minimum risk of injury.
The following are key points for ensuring safety during stretching and calisthenic exercises:
- Stretch slowly and without pain and unnatural stress to a joint. Use static (slow and sustained) stretching for warming up, cooling down, ballistic (bouncy or jerky) stretching movements.
- Do not allow the angle formed by the upper and lower legs to become less than 90 degrees when the legs are bearing weight.
- A combination of spinal rotation and bending should generally be avoided. However, if done, use only slow, controlled movements with little or no extra weight.
Leaders must be aware of the variety of methods they may use to attain their physical training goals. The unit’s Master Fitness Trainer is schooled to provide safe, effective training methods and answer questions about training techniques.
The following are some common calisthenic exercises.
Some large units prefer to use sets of calisthenic exercises as part of their PT sessions. Figure 7-4 shows three calisthenic conditioning drills for both the poorly conditioned and physically fit soldiers. The drills are designed to be done progressively and are intended to supplement muscular strength and endurance training sessions.
Leaders can mix the exercises to provide greater intensity, based on the fitness level of the soldiers being trained. However, they should choose and sequence them to alternate the muscle groups being worked. Soldiers should do each exercise progressively from 15 to 40 or more repetitions (20 to 60 seconds for timed sets) based on their level of conditioning. They may also do each exercise in cadence unless timed sets are specified. For timed sets, soldiers do as many repetitions of an exercise as possible in the allowed time. Using timed sets, both the well conditioned and less-fit soldiers can work themselves to their limits.
The following conditioning drills (Figure 7-4) are arranged according to the phase of training.