Beginner Body Weight Workout: Burn Fat, Build Muscle

So you want to get in shape, but you have no gym membership.

That’s fine, screw gyms!

They’re loaded with chumps, meatheads, pushy salesmen, and people who suck at working out.  (If you DO go to a gym, here’s how to make sure you DON’T suck at working out).  Luckily, you can burn fat, build muscle, and get a great workout using just your body weight.  Learn why cardio is one of the least efficient methods of burning calories, and how you can get a lot done in a little bit of time.  By doing body weight circuits, where you complete one exercise right after the other without stopping, you’re both building muscle and getting a cardiovascular workout.

Why Body Weight Circuits Kick Ass

What makes body weight circuits work so well? Every exercise involved utilizes multiple muscle groups, gets your heart rate pumping, and burns tons of calories.  Check out this interview from Jason Ferruggia and Alwyn Cosgrove, two fitness gurus whose opinions and research I highly respect.  Essentially, circuit weight training burns more calories than interval training, which burns WAY more calories than steady cardio.  Essentially, if you’re trying to lose weight, spending hours doing cardio on a treadmill is a really crappy use of your time.

I’m going to take you through a basic workout today that can be completed in your house, apartment, out at a park, in your parents’ basement, wherever.  As always, make sure you are cleared by your personal physician for physical activity before attempting these exercises.    Proceed at your own risk!

Beginner Body Weight Workout

This is a basic body weight circuit. In a circuit routine, you’ll do each exercise in succession without a break in between (if you’re able).  Once you’ve finished all exercises in the circuit, you do it again.  If you’re still able after the 2nd run through, go for a third.  Because all of these exercises come one after another, you’re bound to get tired.  It’s better to stop and take a break than to do an exercise incorrectly.  If you can’t do all three circuits without stopping, that gives you something to build towards.

Before you start, WARM UP - Never ever ever ever forget to warm up.  Make sure to get your heart rate pumping and get your muscles warm or you’re just asking for injury.  If you’re strapped for time, cut short your workout, not your warm up.  You can run in place, jump rope, do a few push ups, pedal on a stationary bike, jog up and down your stairs, etc.  Don’t wear yourself out completely, but get your heart rate elevated and little bit of sweat never hurt anybody.  After the warm up, here is exactly what you need to do:

Beginner Body Weight Circuit Video

And so you can write it down, here is the write up for the exercise routine.

  • 20 body weight squats
  • 10 push ups
  • 20 walking lunges
  • 10 dumbbell rows (using a gallon milk jug)
  • 15 second plank
  • 30 Jumping Jacks

After you’ve completed your workout, make sure you stretch. All of your muscles have been contracted from lifting and need to be stretched back out and rebuilt.

For either the body weight squats or lunges, if you can’t do them properly yet, it’s okay to put your hand on a support to keep your balance.

For the body weight squats, think of it like sitting back into a chair. If you can sit down onto a chair, and then stand immediately right back up without having to lean forward, you are in balance.

For the lunges, keep your eyes ahead and your upper body completely vertical. I had a slight bend at times in the video due to trying to exercise and explain at the same time.

I used a milk jug for my dumbbell, but you can use whatever is heavy enough for you. Find something that is challenging to lift 10 times in a row.

Do this routine 2-3 times a week, but never on consecutive days.  You don’t build muscle when you’re exercising, you build muscle when you’re resting.  Generally I follow a pattern of strength training on one day, then 20 minutes of interval training on the next, then strength training, then interval training, and so on.  You never want to do a strength routine two days straight (of the same muscle groups), as your muscles haven’t had time to recover.

Along with this routine, you need to make sure you’re eating properly! A good workout and crappy diet will not get you anywhere.  Lots of real foods (fruits, vegetables, lean meat, nuts, etc.).  Eat natural, whole foods whenever possible, and leave the soda, candy, and junk food out of your system.  Your diet is at least 80% of your success or failure.

Help Me Help You

Leave a comment and let me know how it was for you, and your fitness level (total n00b, beginner, some experience, etc.). If you can get through all three circuits, let me know how long it took you.

If you have a YouTube account, you can subscribe to the NerdFitness channel, which will alert you any time I put out a new video.

If this routine is too easy for you, I have an Advanced Body Weight Circuit too.  You’ve been warned :)


PS: If you’re looking for a little more direction, high definition video demonstrations of each exercise, more than a dozen more workouts, and a full guide on how to eat properly, check out the Nerd Fitness Academy!  I’m really proud of what we’ve put together.


picture: Joe Shlabotnik

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  • Alex

    Thank you so much for this! I’ve been trying this workout for 2 weeks now. At first I could only do it one time in a row, but today I finally got to 2 rows and I’m super proud of myself!

  • sherif
  • Joey Kamans

    I see this video is kindo old, but I must confess I love it. Im not in the greatest shape at the moment, but this is a routine I can keep up with. So thanks for the vid!

  • Jules

    How am I just now finding this?! I love it. Fitness for normal people!!

  • Zac

    Hi , you did a very good job on the video, but i have some question to ask.
    am i suitable for this routine since i am very skinny and can i replace the plank with sit up instead?

  • Emma

    First workout today, only managed one round, but a big improvement on nothing! I’ve spent the last few days getting my head around the site & digesting everything. Tomorrow my challenge is to start clearing up my diet. You guys have really inspired me! Much love from the UK xx

  • Kate

    This happens to me all the time. I have a serious issue with inside-out as well.

  • Killina

    This looks great… Right up until the jumping jacks. :( Is there a no-impact version for folks who are just starting and have a lot of weight to lose? Jumping jacks, burpees, jumping rope (anything that involves my whole body being out of contact with the earth for any amount of time) are all out of the question for people like me. All the rest I can totally do and I’m looking forward to it.

  • Traineé

    Day 1: Managed to do two sets, albeit poorly, had to switch the second set push-ups with knees.

  • Lolowan111

    I barely did it one time , its so hard for me, im a girl & my mucles r hurting n they shake wheverver i do more

  • Izz

    Hey, Im going to start training today and I just want to say thank you to all theese people that have made this webpage. Ive learnt a lot from reading its funny explanations and im going to work hard to get in shape at last. My problem is that im underweight and most of the descriptions talk about how to loose weight and get muscle. I need to get muscle and maybe wome weight on myself. Could you send me a link or something that will help me make a diet to gain muscle and gain fat too? Thanx.

  • Izz

    Isnt this a little bit too general?

  • LMP

    I have not worked out in quite some time (10-15 years to be exact) I am in my early thirties though. In the past 3 months I began jogging but never stuck to a routine. After reading this post, I was inspired. I began a jogging routine on Friday, jogging for 1 minute and walking for 2 minutes – doing 7 sets. I did the circuit above 2 times on Saturday. I then jogged again on Sunday. I am sore to say the least, but proud. I just need to keep it up. You mention that you do strength training on one day and then interval training on the following day. Which is what I have done. I am wondering if I should be using a third day for rest. Any thoughts are welcome – Thank you!!

  • Jason Egan

    I used to work out quite regularly, and back then with this workout, I wouldn’t have even broken a sweat. Now, after around 2 years of a completely sedentary lifestyle, at round 2 it was kicking my ass pretty good. Great intro workout here to tide over until I get my gym membership. I say a job well done, sir.

  • Jennifer

    Great stuff. I really appreciate your thought process and having it explained
    properly. This is really helpful article for beginners. The video is also helpful. :) Thanks for these workouts.
    For gym apparels and accessories –

  • mark bill

    how to build muscle and lose fat

    I feel
    like your ambition is too strong, you have shared such an amazing detail in
    your post, truly great!!

  • Talha

    my weight is 200 lb and I want to loose weight and get in shape within 45 days ..Kindly suggest me some diet or exercise

  • Chris

    Question: I have finished the workout and it is a good one. I consider myself in decent shape, but I have not worked out in a few months. There is considerable soreness after, especially in the legs. Is it adviced to work through the soreness or allow the muscles adequate time to recover? any researched advice is greatly appreciated.

  • David McFadden

    Great Video and I will say I look forward to being able to sign up. I tried the work out from this page and it did its job. Any tips on the lunges as when i step with my left leg i completely loose balance. Again thanks for sharing and I look forward to trying the whole program! As soon as I can of course.

  • Briggs89

    Just completed my first round of this workout. It took me about 30min & definitely got my heartrate up. At one point, during the lunges, I thought my legs would give out…BUT they hung in there for me. I started a life style change in January and have been riding my bike w/ some weight training. I appreciate the simple, small step approach that you offer. Keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. I’d say I am an adventurer right now…been several years since I was actively exercising, so searching for what works best for me now. Thanks for the great program!

  • Will

    If the rep range for strength and size is 5-12, how will doing 20 reps of certain exercises, (squat, lunge), help you increase size and not just endurance? Or am I overthinking it, since muscle “comes from the kitchen”?

  • Leyla

    Thanks for the great article. i really appreciate it. I have been making research on the internet for a very long time and now come up with something useful. it will be a great guide for my thesis here:

  • Kelly

    Hey is this site still going? I mean I’m getting my daily dose of nerd in mail but it looks like 5 years ago the owner responded a lot which is crazy cool! But a lot of times passed since….. Where u at?? Haha **dear nerd , I need change. Now! And am ready… Please help me help myself * thanks Kelly xo

  • Jarrel

    How long will I need to do this work out for to see visible results?

  • Me

    Hi…am 80 lbs over weight….52ys old….never exercised …..can I start out by doing half of each exercise…….

  • Captain

    I’d love to do this but jumping jacks would probably set off my downstairs neighbors. Maybe ill do it minus the jacks until i can find a quiet alternative?

  • Anna

    Good stuff! I like the video! Pro equipment and more! People try to lose weight fast pills too but what about workout !

  • Ally

    I do jacks minus the jump – you start legs together hands down, step out one leg and raise your arm, then go back to the starting position. Doing that quickly gets your heart rate going, and you can switch the leg that’s moving after 15 of them.

  • Dan Brunette

    Hey Everyone! New to the community and just getting started on the next level of my life. I have done this workout and does anyone else feel like it kills your legs, but not your upper body?

    Once I complete the Jumping jacks, I can barely catch my breath, let alone start some more squats. I feel like there needs to be one more upper body workout to allow your legs rest before getting right back into the squats.

    Can anyone share any tweaks you have made to maybe add in and additional upper body exercise?