Using Calisthenics to Reduce Subcutaneous Fat

I read an article a long time ago that summed up how losing fat feels in one word: Uncomfortable.

Note the use of “losing fat” rather than losing weight – this is very deliberate, as I cannot stress enough your weight has little reflection on your health or physical appearance. If you don’t do regular exercise then yes, using your weight or BMI can give you a (very) rough indication of where you are on the fitness scale, yet I have known people who have a higher body fat percentage than me who have better cardiovascular health. We could get into all kinds of details about long and short twitch muscles, endurance, etc; but suffice to say that everyone has a different body, a different way of training, different goals – meaning that no two people’s fitness journeys will be the same. Never compare yourself to others, ESPECIALLY your weight! You might have heard of “body shapes” (apples, pears, goblets, bricks, etc) which are the result of the fact that everyone (of all genders) gain and lose fat in different proportions on their bodies.

In my case, I tend to hold the most fat in my abdominal region, followed by my arms/face, then back, and finally my lower body. To be perfectly honest, the small amount of fat I carry on my stomach has been bothering me of late. It’s frustrating to feel so strong and fit (and I do love the fact that I feel strong and fit) and to be losing fat overall, yet see little evidence of it on my stomach. In a more practical sense it makes finding things like compression gear difficult, as my legs need a tighter compression than my stomach will allow to fit.

As most everyone will tell you, the best way to lose weight is to do cardio. Why not go for a jog? I’ll tell you why.

I don’t like running.

I could give plenty of excuses: easily rolled ankles, a bad knee from coming off an indoor boulder, back pains, self-consciousness… but at the end of the day, I just simply don’t enjoy it. I do sprints every Saturday morning but I knew that I couldn’t self-motivate to do that kind of high-intensity running every day. Stuff that.


Base Measurements

So I made the decision to lose 8% or more of my abdominal girth before the end of the year, using mostly calisthenics. I took girth measurements – my waist (circumference at the “bend” of my abdominal region) was 76.5cm [30 1/8 in] and my stomach (at it’s widest point, which was just under my navel) was 87.5cm [34 1/2 in]. This meant a total loss of 6.5cm [2 9/16 in] off my waist and 7cm [2 3/4 in] off my stomach. In reality, it’s more likely that I will lose girth in different proportions in those two areas but it seemed like an achievable  goal for the 6 weeks that I had.


The 10-Minute Killer

I actually found this workout by chance; it was far too hot to do sprints one morning (not that it stopped Johno, Tim or Dave) so I stayed in the shade and set a interval timer to simulate the short burst sprints that I would usually have done, and translated running into squats. Essentially it worked out as follows:

60 seconds work – Squats without pause
30 seconds Rest
60 seconds work
30 seconds Rest
continued for 7 rounds to a total of 10 minutes

I was dying by the end. I hit 184 reps at the end of the 10 minutes, and since I was so close to 200 I finished the last 16 after the timer to make it even. It was the hardest I’d worked on a Saturday morning sprint session (minus the 400m lunge day) even though it only took 10 minutes. I realised this was a workout I could do everyday, and not just with legs.

Most people will see that this is pretty much Tabata-style training. I extended this to the rest of my loss regime – I shortened my workouts, lowered the strength requirement and increased the amount of reps I do. For the first week, I scaled down push-ups to knee push-ups; pull-ups to assisted pull-ups; L-sits to knee tucks. I found it much easier to self-motivate by lowering the strength needed to complete each rep – oddly, I’ve felt like the increase in strength is much higher than before. My body hurt, but it was easy to convince myself to go just a little further, that it would be over soon, that it was only 10 minutes.

I also used a bit of strategy in choosing which exercises to choose each day. I alternated days between arms and legs, and again between anterior (front) and posterior (back) muscle groups. I found I could even use the Lucky Dip workout as a base if I felt uninspired – just randomly picking any two exercises to do for 10 minute rounds. That way, I could theoretically do the 10-minute rounds everyday and each group would get at least a day of rest. I even tried doing 3 sets, but that knocked me out for 3 days and I decided that two rounds was as much as I could handle for now.

As an example:
Day 1 – Sit-ups (core) and Squats (quads, glutes)
Day 2 – Back Extensions (back) and Knee Push-ups (Biceps/chest)
Day 3 – Knee Tucks (core) and Calf Raises (calves)
Day 4 – Oblique Mountain Climbers (obliques) and Bench Dips (Triceps)
Day 5 – Lying Leg Raises (core) and Sumo Squats (inner quads, glutes)

You might notice that my core work is every second day – this is just because that’s the part of me that I know I can train harder and which requires less recovery time. This is where knowing what your body is capable of will help you the most. That being said, you will never find you limits unless you push them.



Currently I am at the end of week 3 and I am on track with loss – my waist is down to 73cm (from 76.5cm) and my stomach to 83cm (from 87.5cm). Graphing stuff makes it really easy to see how far I have come/to go in terms of both time and loss.



Looking at the results, you need to take in to consideration a few things. Muscle gain in my core area would likely contribute to the distinct slowing of loss – not necessarily a bad thing. I also went through my natural cycle in the second week, leading to an expected spike in measurements likely due to bloating, water retention or needing to rest a few days (I am not the kind of person who likes to train heavily through my cycle).

I also expected to see most of the loss within the first one or two weeks, as my body would be adjusting to the new energy loads. There will be a point where both measurements will not go any smaller, and muscle gain will start significantly increasing the measurements. If we take this into consideration and make the goal lines a little less linear, we see the following:




Note that these aren’t  perfect curves by any means, but it demonstrates the results that I think will be the realistic outcome. It also very clearly shows the spike in measurements in week two, and the carry-on effects of not training as hard in that week – namely the above-needed measurements for this week in waist girth. I don’t really mind this too much, as my focus was mostly on my abdominal region and the waist measurements more of a curious comparison.

What I am really excited about is recording how many reps I’m doing per round (7 rounds in the 10-minute set) and being able to see the improvements in each week. I do knee tucks at the parallel bars every Tuesday, and the progression has definitely made me happy:


The first week I only recorded the final count, but the two weeks after I counted the reps at the end of each round. As you can see, there’s been nearly a hundred rep increase in two weeks! Very happy indeed (though you should never, ever sacrifice form for reps. Ever.). I’m not sure I will see much more improvement from there without starting to lose form, but only time will tell.



If you don’t have a lot of time to spare, or you need a break from your current workout, have a go at it. I struggled at a strength plateau for a few months, and I feel like I’m finally making some decent progress. Tracking and data are your friend if you are feeling like your workouts aren’t cutting it – you will see in plain numbers if what you’re doing isn’t working for you anymore. Keep in mind that all of this is purely anecdotal and really only applies to me and my body shape, and that everyone will need to adjust and take into consideration their own needs, advantages and limitations.


Leave a Reply