Would you like to take advantage of the three most popular “new” forms of exercise, each of which has its own advantages in terms of aerobic fitness, muscle flexibility and strength building? I was surprised to learn that three of the trendiest workout crazes in gyms all over the U.S. are nothing more than repackaged versions of old-world favorites like calisthenics, yoga and low-impact aerobics.
So, why all the fuss? Have gym owners run out of ideas, or are consumers simply thirsting for “real” fitness after decades of questionable classes on newfangled (and very expensive) machines that offered little more than traditional exercise?
The fact of the matter is that these three forms of exercise, under carefully altered names in many cases, are among the biggest hits at fitness clubs, whose owners are always happy to do whatever brings in customers and keeps classes full.
Clever names like “Body-weight muscle-building,” “Traditional full-body workouts,” “Power yoga,” “Joint-safe exercise routines,” are just a few of the marketing terms used to disguise the less-glamorous sounding names: calisthenics, yoga, low-impact aerobics. This is a major case of old products (but very good ones!) in new packages.
What are the pros and cons of each of these time-tested fitness warriors? Here’s the low-down on the three newest, oldest fitness crazes:
Calisthenics: The Good and the Bad
Exercise physiologists are in general agreement that calisthenics are an almost ideal form of exercise, when done properly. The only downside to this type of workout is when people use incorrect form and run the risk of injury.
But when done properly, calisthenics are a smart, simple way to work out the entire body with no equipment. Old-school favorites like jumping jacks, sit-ups, push-ups, and squats are probably the four best-known calisthenics in the entire repertoire of hundreds of exercises.
Because properly-executed calisthenics work muscles through their entire range of motion, the routines can be designed for a head-to-toe routine that hits all the major muscle groups.
Beginners need to be careful not to overdo pushups or sit-ups, as it is possible to cause dangerous amounts of stress to the lower-back (with sit-ups) and the elbows (with pushups). But with those two exceptions, most calisthenics can be done with little to no risk of injury. Fatigue usually acts as the limiting factor for most of the exercises, as in the case of jumping jacks.
Not only can calisthenics offer a good muscle-building workout, but if done rapidly, with high repetitions, can be an effective form of aerobic exercise as well.
Yoga’s Pros and Cons
Yoga, when done with proper form or under the watchful eye of a competent instructor, can offer a whole-body stretch that both invigorates and relaxes the body. Neither a muscle-building nor an aerobic type of exercise, yoga has other benefits that make it a worthy component of a complete fitness regimen.
Perhaps no other form of exercise offers such a complete body stretch as yoga. Not only that, Indian Ayurvedic medicine promotes various yoga postures as remedies for certain maladies like stomach cramps, headaches, sleeplessness and constipation. While many of these remedies have yet to be approved by Western medical experts, they have been used effectively for centuries by people in the East, India in particular.
Most yoga enthusiasts say that the regularity of daily exercise routines can help with general well-being, both physical and mental. There must be something to it, because millions of people all over the world practice yoga regularly.
After the bouncing, high-impact aerobics craze of the 1970s died down, research showed that low-impact forms of this type of exercise could offer all the benefits of high-impact but without the dangers that came with all the joint-rattling bouncing.
Nowadays, low-impact aerobics classes are making a big comeback, as are 30 and 60-minute routines that were popular more than 3 decades ago, but without the bouncing and dangerous repetitive jumping. LI aerobic workouts are an ideal way to get a vigorous exercise session with little or no equipment, and in the privacy of your own home. You can also join a class for the social aspect, but the fact remains that low-impact aerobics are one of the hottest “new” trends in modern fitness clubs.
Figure 2: A few of the advantages of calisthenics, yoga and low-impact aerobics
Exercise Your Mind
Low-impact workouts, calisthenics and yoga have all been a part of the world’s health and exercise culture for centuries. Here are some of the best, unbiased guides on each. Note that many books use terms like “new yoga,” and “modern calisthenics,” as a way to make the practices appear to be re-worked or altered in some magical, advantageous way.
Sure, new wrinkles might be added to certain routines and exercises, but for the most part, these three ancient ways of staying in shape don’t need any tweaking to get the job done. Here are some comprehensive books that would make a smart addition to anyone’s exercise library.
It’s a welcome relief to have an uncomplicated yoga book that offers simple routines for beginners. Yes, you can “enhance fitness” with yoga, when done properly, but you need to start out slowly and take the author’s advice: be very careful about breath control, and be sure to limit your first few routines to a comfortable length.
Yoga’s advantages are gained primarily with regular, daily practice, so one of the most important lessons is to not bite off more than you can do every day. Many yoga enthusiasts do their routine 7 or 6 days per week. Unlike many other forms of exercise, yoga is not so “draining” that you’ll need many rest days. In fact, some view yoga as a form of rest, taking their time with each pose and using the routine as a way to rejuvenate the body and mind.
Don’t forget that you can add yoga to your regular workout routine, but it’s best to do so after you’ve cooled down and had time to relax. Then, a bout of yoga poses can really help you recover from a strenuous calisthenics or weight workout.
This is the definitive “big book” of calisthenics. The advantage of the book is that it’s so comprehensive with regard to body parts and specialized exercises, you can literally build your own routine from the hundreds offered. Want to beef up your calves? There are several exercises for doing so. Just pick the one or two you prefer. The same goes for each body part, whether it’s biceps, triceps, abdominals, whatever. Try out all the choices so you can find the ideal ones for your particular routine. If you don’t want to build a routine, that’s fine too. The author offers several for your consideration.
People of a certain age (currently over 50) likely grew up with school gym classes that emphasized calisthenics. These are the smarter, more precise versions of many of those golden oldies that will have you huffing and puffing your way to total body fitness within a few weeks of regular practice.
Like yoga and aerobics, calisthenics are a low-cost, simple way to exercise because you don’t need any equipment or special clothing. All that’s needed is enough space to do your thing. Don’t forget to have plenty of cold water on hand because body-weight exercise can be deceptively strenuous.
Not a book but a video, filmed in Maui, Gilad is at his best here offering a 30 and 60-minute pair of workouts that are low-impact but quite challenging. Included are special sets of toning exercises for lower, middle, and upper body regions. After all the hype of hard-core, high-impact aerobics during the 1970s, Gilad’s DVD is a breath of fresh air because it is not only easy on the joints, but can be done anywhere you’re free to move.
The 30-minute workout is preparation for the 60-minute version, but is a total-body challenge all on its own. The beauty of low-impact aerobics is that you can get a simple routine or routines, like these, memorize them, and do them each day whenever you have time. No need to go outside, wear special gear, or even have a partner. For people who live alone and for those who just prefer to exercise by themselves, low-impact aerobics can be an ideal choice.
Everything Old is New Again
To give the “new” versions of yoga, calisthenics and low-impact exercise its due, there is much more scientific understanding behind the practices than there was just a few decades ago. Yoga has been shown to be a good way to increase overall flexibility for people of all ages, while body-weight exercise (calisthenics) can be a smart way for people of all ages to achieve and maintain basic fitness. Finally, low-impact aerobic workouts have won over many early high-impact devotees who now understand the benefits of “going easy” on the knees, hips and other joints.
Whatever your preferred method of exercise is, share your experiences in the comment section below or on our Facebook page. There are as many workout routines as there are people, so it always helps readers to see what others are doing. We look forward to hearing your ideas about these three “reincarnated” forms of exercise.