Complimentary Calisthenics

complimentaty-calisthenicsRemember gym class? A calisthenics warm-up followed by drills filled with jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, knee bends…and maybe a few short jogs.

This year, Rochester Phys Ed brings back—or acquaints you with—the benefits of weekly calisthenics in the open air of Soldiers Memorial Field Park every Saturday morning. It’s an informal, sociable, go-atyour-own-pace hour of invigorating exercise to get your heart pumping. And it really is free. The only “must” to join is a signature on a legal waiver.

You can come every week or just drop in on a whim. Wear whatever is comfortable. You don’t even need to bring equipment; your own bodyweight is enough. Just line up and limber up!

Rochester Phys Ed (RPE) is the brainchild of Dr. Michael Joyner, an anesthesiologist and exercise researcher at Mayo Clinic, who was inspired by the free exercise program in Lawrence, Kansas, called “Red Dog’s Dog Days,” which began in 1984. Since then, the Kansas program has grown so big organizers now hold it in the field house or outdoor stadium at the University of Kansas.

“They get hundreds of people that show up at this workout,” says Teri Joyner, RPE co-organizer and Dr. Joyner’s wife.

The Joyners and local physical conditioning expert Wes Emmert, as well as other supporters, decided to launch the drop-in program to attract people “that aren’t necessarily committed to [regular] exercise,” says Teri.

The program started outdoors the first week of January in the dead of winter.

“You’d be surprised how quickly you warm up!” says Teri, remembering a snow-filled Saturday where the participants began by scooping out their exercise spaces. “We did the workout [using] the shovel,” she adds.

A typical session in winter and spring attracted 25 to 30 people, with “at least five new people each time,” says Teri. By early May, participants had increased to about 125, ranging from children as young as 10 to seniors approaching 70 and plenty of 20- to 30-year-olds stopping in for a brisk workout.

Leaders, including the Joyners and Emmert, plan and guide the workouts, but RPE is not competitive. Nobody is counting push-ups or jumping jacks.

“People go through at their own pace,” explains Teri.

The program also offers modified movements for participants who might not have the strength or endurance to complete the standard exercises. That’s one feature that has drawn Nancy Matthews, 69, of Rochester, who has attended all but one session since joining RPE in mid-January.

“I try to do the hardest [version] I can,” she says. “When I started I could maybe do five or six [jumping jacks] without getting winded. Now it’s up to almost 30, so progress is there.”

Matthews also finds the camaraderie encouraging: “Everybody that’s been there has been just a great bunch of people.”

Jennifer Hess, 39, an emergency room physician for Mayo Clinic, also was there at the beginning of Rochester Phys Ed. It’s a workout that often fits her family’s busy lifestyle.

“I think it’s fun that there’s something that the whole family can do,” says Hess, who has competed in triathlons and goes to RPE with her husband and three children (all 8 and younger) joining her at times. “I think what it does is it lulls people into having fun first and then they realize they’re exercising.”

Forgotten how much fun it is to skip? Rochester Phys Ed can jog your memory while invigorating your body.