Short Intense Exercise Routines for Men, Women - Something Old is New Again

It is interesting how often old things get re-invented, re-gigged, renamed and re-branded as new. Advice on exercising has progressed through various stages from simple Callisthenics, to heavy weight training, to aerobics, to resistance bands, to interval training and finally to High Intensity Circuit Training (HICT), which involves intense exercise bursts, mixed with short rest periods with everything done and dusted in 10 minutes or even 5-7 minutes.

It is certainly very convenient for the modern high-tech types for whom everything must be fast. But the new proposed exercise routines for HICT, outside the gym, are certainly not new.

Similar exercises were pushed and promoted 50-100 years ago as classic Callisthenics done without weights and with minimal equipment, generally in groups by children, adults, soldiers and sailors.

The only change for modern HICT callisthenics are that the old routines done at a very fast pace with strict rules so that each type of 12 exercises is done at a very fast pace for only 30 seconds each, with 10 second rest between sets and exercise types.

In about 7 minutes the entire session is finished. The old/new routine is backed up with research that shows that it generally meets guidelines for quantity and quality of exercise, made by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Learn more about HICT callisthenics and what it can do for you.

No Weights - Just using Gravity
No Weights - Just using Gravity. Source: Public Domain

What is Calisthenics

Calisthenics exercises consist of a variety of simple,‭ ‬sometimes rhythmical,‭ ‬movements,‭ ‬generally without using apparatus and equipment.‭ ‬The exercises are designed to increase the flexibility and strength of the muscles of the body, via simple movements such as jumping,‭ ‬bending,‭ ‬swinging, kicking,‭ ‬twisting or stepping and jogging on the spot.

Weights are not used and the only‭ ‬resistance is the weight of the body, arms and legs.‭ ‬The movements also include stretches.‭

Calisthenics when done vigorously can help improve cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and also balance,‭ coordination, flexibility and ‬coordination.

Calisthenics is popular as a group activity and was a precursor of aerobics. Groups such as school classes, sporting teams, fitness groups and military units, often undergo calisthenics as a form of synchronized physical training.‭ Many individuals in the 1900s were devoted to calisthenics to keep fit at home. These exercise routines have been replaced by home gyms, treadmills and rowing machines. Calisthenics was very popular during both World Wars.

What is the‭ ‬7-minute High-intensity Circuit Training Routine‭?

The High-intensity Circuit Routine (HICT) involves a set of 12‭ ‬Calisthenics exercises performed in short bursts of‭ ‬30‭ ‬seconds each, with‭ ‬10-second rest/transition periods before the next type of exercise.‭ T‬he‭ ‬12‭ ‬exercises listed below involve virtually every major muscle group in the body.‭ ‬During the‭ ‬30-second intervals most people can perform‭ ‬15‭ ‬to‭ ‬20‭ ‬repetitions of each‭ exercise. It is high intensity short duration training. The types of exercise a illustrated in the images. ‬For individuals with hypertension or heart disease,‭ ‬the more demanding isometric exercises‭ (‬wall sit,‭ ‬plank,‭ ‬and side plank exercises‭) ‬are not recommended.

Side plank - Turn on your side on the floor and hold your body straight and aligned like a plank with your elbow directly underneath your shoulder. Hold the position with your body straight without dropping your hips. Repeat on the other side.

Plank - Start by facing the floor resting on your elbows and knees with hands locked together. Straighten legs and raise your body in a push-up position supporting your weight on the elbows and the balls of your feet. Position your feet so they are hip-distance apart. Hold the position for 45 seconds or more.

Push-up - Start in the push-up position, with your hands underneath your chest, chin tucked in, elbows facing backwards, abs and glute contracted. Keep your body in a straight, horizontal line. Raise up onto your toes and balance on your hands. Women can rest on their knees, if they lack the strength for a full push-up. Keep a tight core throughout the entire movement. Inhaling, slowly lower yourself towards the floor by bending your elbows until they are at a 90 degree angle. Then exhaling, start pushing back up to the start position. Don't lock out the elbows completely when fully extended upright; keep them slightly bent. Repeat for the required number of repetitions.

Push-up with Rotation - Assume the normal push-up position. As you rise on your hands, rotate your shoulder an hips, so that your body is on its side. Lift your right arm up and extend vertically overhead. Your extended arms (one up and one down) and torso should form a letter 'T'. Return to the starting position, lower your you body down for the push-up action and then as you push-up, and rotate your shoulder and point your left hand towards the ceiling.

Lunge - Keeping your back upright step forward with one leg, landing with your foot flat on the floor. Then slowly lower your body down, so that the other knee almost touches the ground. The legs should form a 90 degree angle at the knees. Don’t step out too much. Push up and return to the to the starting position. Repeat by striding out and bending the other leg. 

Running in Place with High Knees Action - Jog on the spot at moderate pace, lifting the knees as high as you can

Triceps Dip on a Chair - Sit with your hands paced next to your body on the edge of a sturdy chair. Slide your butt off the seat, so that your hands support your body weight. Straighten your right leg while keeping your left leg bent at and angle of about 90-degrees. Bend your elbows back, and lower your butt slowly toward the floor, while keeping your elbows. Your body should just miss the seat as you lower it. Push back up until using your arms, not your legs until your arms are straight. Repeat with your left leg extended.

Step-up onto a Chair - Stand a reasonable distance away from a sturdy kitchen chair, facing the seat. make sure the chair will remain steady when you stand on it. Slowly lift your right leg and place your foot flat on the seat. Push yourself up, so that you are standing high on the chair. Then, lower your body down after returning your left foot to the floor. Repeat with the other leg first.

Squat - Stand with your feet just slightly more than the width of your shoulders apart. Keep your knees centered over your feet and your back in a neutral and relaxed position, but not hunched over. Slowly bend your legs at the knees, ankles and hips, and lower your body towards the floor until you get to a 90 degree angle. Then lift your body to the starting position. Remember to breathe out as you return to starting position and to breathe in as you lower your body down.

Wall sit - Start by aligning yourself with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart and about and 2 feet (60cm) out from the wall. Slowly slide your back down against the wall until the thighs are parallel to the ground and your knees are at 90 degrees.Your back should be flat against the wall, with your heels flat on the ground. Hold the position for 20 - 60 seconds, rest for about 30 seconds, and repeat.

Jumping jacks - Stand with knees slightly bent, feet together and arms resting to the side. Jump up while raising arms and springing the legs to the sides. Land on the forefeet with arms overhead and legs apart. Jump back, returning legs to the midline and the arms to the side of the body. Repeat for the required number of repetitions.

Sequence of Exercises for the Circuit

Try to do the exercises in a way that allows opposing muscle groups to alternate between working and resting.‭ ‬For example,‭ ‬a squat‭ (‬lower body‭) would be followed by a ‬push-up‭ (‬upper body‭)‬.‭ ‬Also follow a demanding exercise that gets the heart pumping, with one that is more about strength. ‭ ‬For example,‭ ‬follow jumping squats with a plank or abdominal crunch exercises.

The objective is speed but you need to maintain good form throughout. You want high intensity with minimal rest between exercises. Aim for a level of 8 out of 10 on a discomfort scale. The duration is only seven minutes, but the exercise should be bordering‭ ‬on being unpleasant and very challenging.‭

‭Objectives of the ‬HICT Exercise Routine

When the HICT Exercise Routine is performed at a high intensity the routine complies with the American College of Sports Medicine‭ (‬ACSM‭) ‬recommendations for vigorous physical activity. It fulfills the various criteria summarized in the table below.

Recommendations on Quantity and Quality of Exercise - The American College of Sports Medicine 2011

Type of Exercise
Total Weekly Requirement
Minimum Session Length/Activity
Cardiorespiratory Exercise
Total of 150 minutes moderate to vigorous
Minimum of 10 minutes for each ession
5 days per week do 30-60 minutes moderate exercise
3 Days a week do 20-60 minutes vigorous intensity activity
Resistance Exercise - (All muscle groups)
2-3 days per week; 2-4 sets in each session
For each exercise do 8-15 repetitions for strength and power, and 15-20 repititions to improve muscular endurance
Fexibility Exercises - Various types are suitable such as Static, Dynamic, Ballistic or PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) stretching)
2-3 days per week; 2-4 sets in each session
Each stretch held for 10-30 seconds till muscle tightens; repeat each stretch 2-4 times with total of 60 seconds per stretcth
Neuromotor (functional fitness training)
2-3 days per week
20-30 minutes per day that includes motor skills (balance, coordination, agility, and gait). Exercise types such as tai ji and yoga style exercises are recommended to improve physical function and agility.

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School Class exercises
School Class exercises. Source: Public Domain
Callisthenics builds agility and strength
Callisthenics builds agility and strength. Source: Public Domain
Callisthenics was very popular during the War years
Callisthenics was very popular during the War years. Source: Public Domain
Callisthenics Exercise 1
Callisthenics Exercise 1. Source: Public Domain
Callisthenics Exercise 2
Callisthenics Exercise 2. Source: Public Domain
Callisthenics Exercise 3
Callisthenics Exercise 3. Source: Public Domain
Callisthenics Exercise 4
Callisthenics Exercise 4. Source: Public Domain
Callisthenics Exercise 5
Callisthenics Exercise 5. Source: Public Domain
Callisthenics Exercise 6
Callisthenics Exercise 6. Source: Public Domain
Callisthenics Exercise 7
Callisthenics Exercise 7. Source: Public Domain
The work required for push ups can be easily increased using resistance bands without raising the legs higher.
The work required for push ups can be easily increased using resistance bands without raising the legs higher. Source: Public Domain
Outdoor callisthenics is a great way to break up a walk or run
Outdoor callisthenics is a great way to break up a walk or run. Source: Public Domain
Creative callisthenics
Creative callisthenics. Source: Public Domain
Callisthenics exercise routine for personal training
Callisthenics exercise routine for personal training. Source: Public Domain
Full body workout using callisthenics
Full body workout using callisthenics. Source: Public Domain