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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  • Jennifer

    Hi! I’ve been doing pilates twice a week for a year and I love it, I’ve lost loads of weight in a very comfortable and healthy way (of course dieting properly). The place where I used to go closed a few days ago and I incidently found this at the same time, I’m going to try it out.
    But I’ve been wondering if pilates is considered this kind of exercise, I’m just curious to know if it’s what I’ve been doing.

  • Amanda

    I’ve been going back and forth on workouts for the past several years, and I finally found a book called Body by You by Mark Lauren. I started it at the beginning of 2014 and dropped 20 lbs before I finally got bored with it because I wasn’t gaining any upper body strength. My lower body was progressing fine, being able to do more challenging squats and lunges, but my upper body just won’t change. Any thoughts as to why it is harder for women to gain upper body strength?

  • Kristie Grubb

    Hey Steve et al, like the video and I’m optimistic! But I’m a total noob (you said you wanted to know!), and it’s a little hard to tell if my form is okay as I’m trying to get started. I’d like to avoid creating bad habits, though, any suggestions?

  • Shabaity

    I’m not Steve but a mirror could help with your form.

  • Naomi Naomi

    =) that’s why you do planks until you can properly do push ups

  • Guest

    I haven’t tried this yet, but it definitely looks like a work out I will be happy to start with. Most certainly a beginners set =). I’ll let you know how it goes in the morning.

  • Naomi Naomi

    I haven’t tried this yet, but it definitely looks like a work out that I wont give up on. I am a beginner and the is for sure a beginners work out. Not to tough but targets the major muscles of the body for a more extreme work out. I’ll be trying it tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes =)

  • Robbie Blaylock

    ok I did this the other day, I did 3 sets… OMG my legs and my butt hurt so bad, I love this workout but going from nothing to 3 sets was probably a bit much. I feel like I am learning how to walk cause my legs do weird things now lol

  • Lori Urban

    Oh My….I just did your beginner work out…..I am soooo sooo out of shape….but Thank You

  • Mate

    Burn some fat, build some muscle?

    How misleading. This is one of the hardest things to make your body do, it only ever really happens in very overweight people or those who are genetically gifted.

  • Jon

    My fitness level is solidly resting at “noob,” but I’m gonna see how far I can push it forward this next week! I got through 1 & 1/2 circuits before my thighs threatened to cramp. Great beginner workout. Challenging, without being hard to understand.