It’s usually a good rule of thumb for your workout of choice to not give you nostalgic vibes. Jazzersize, step aerobics, the Thighmaster — you might remember these fondly, but you shouldn’t try to bring them back. These fitness fads didn’t actually get people fit because they hit the same muscle groups over and over with an intensity that never varied. Here’s an exception to the rule: Calisthenics, those moves you did on your high school PE test, is worth reviving. Calisthenics offer virtually everything your body needs to grow muscle, boost cardio, and improve your flexibility. And you don’t need an instruction manual to do it.
In a nutshell, calisthenics involves rudimentary fitness activities like hopping, lunging, and stretching. These exercises focus on major muscle groups like biceps and quads, but because they are full-body movements, they also engage secondary muscles for stability and balance, giving you a well-rounded workout.
Calisthenics’ major selling point, its simplicity, can also be its biggest drawback: Too much repetition of the same easy move can be boring. That’s why we’ve put together a plan that lets you mix and match moves to create a whole host of different routines.
The build-your-own calisthenics workout
Choose one move from each category, with a goal of pairing together 4 exercises to create one full circuit, which you will perform three times through for a complete workout.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Angelica I. Annastas)
1. Calisthenic moves for arm strength
Pushups: Drop and give us 30. That’s right, 30.
Pullups: Grabbing the overhead bar with an underhand grip, hoist your body weight skyward until you clear the bar with your head. 10 reps.
Dips: Using a set of parallel bars, place a hand on either bar, palms facing in, and straighten arms until your feet are off the floor and your body is suspended in the air. Bend elbows and lower yourself down toward the floor without touching. Straight arms. Repeat 10 times.
Pulldowns: Lie with your chest directly beneath a bar or table edge. Reach up and grab the bar with an overhand grip, keeping your arms straight and body in a long straight line. Bend elbows and raise your chest toward the bar. Straighten arms back to start. 10 reps.
2. Calisthenics moves for core strength
Situps: Start the stopwatch. Do as many of this classic gut-buster as you can in 60 seconds, aiming for 40.
Plank: From an extended pushups position, drop so that your elbows are resting on the floor beneath your shoulders. Maintaining one long, straight line from your feet to your head, hold this position for 60 seconds.
Hanging knee lifts: Using a set of parallel bars with elbow rests (wrap a towel around the bars if there is no padding), place a forearm on either bar and rest your weight on it. Lift your feet off the ground and bend your knees, raising them as high to your chest as you can before straightening legs. Do not let your feet touch the floor between reps. 10 reps.
L-shape lifts: Start by hanging from the pullup bar with your arms straight. Engage your core muscles as you lift your legs in unison in front of you, keeping them straight, until they are parallel (or as close as you can get them) to the floor. Release. 6-8 reps.
3. Calisthenics moves for leg strength
Squats: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Bend elbows and tuck your hands to your chest as you bend your knees and squat down as if you are about to sit in a low chair. Stop when your thighs are parallel to the floor. Straight back up to the start. 12 reps.
Lunges: Stand with feet parallel, arms by your sides. Take a large step forward with your right leg, shifting your weight forward and landing with a bent right knee. Let your back left knee bend until it hovers above the floor. Push through your right foot and return to standing tall. Repeat on left side for one complete rep. 12 reps.
Leg raises: Lie with your back on the floor, legs extended. Place your hands by your sides or under the small of your back for support. Engaging your core, raise legs in unison off the floor and directly above your hips, keeping them straight. Lower back to floor. 8 reps.
Wall sit: Stand with your back to a wall. Pressing your back flat against the wall, bend your knees until your legs form a right angle and your thighs are parallel to the floor. (You will need to walk your feet forward about a foot so that your knees are directly over your toes in this position.) Hold for 90 seconds.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Corey Dabney)
4. Calisthenics moves for cardio
Jumping jacks: Feet apart and together, arms overhead each time. Aim for 40 in 60 seconds.
Jump rope: Single bounce, no stopping. 60 seconds.
Burpees: Start in an extended pushup position. Push through your toes, bend your knees, and hop your feet forward so they land close to your hands. Immediately spring up vertically off the floor, arms overhead. When you land, drop back down into a crouch with your hands on the floor, and jump your feet back to the starting pushup position. 20 reps.
Long jump/High jump: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Swing your arms behind you, bend your knees, and propel your body forward as far as you can in a two-leg long jump. Immediately, bend knees deeply and jump as high as you can vertically. Repeat long/high jump sequence 10 times.
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