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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  • Jasmine

    Hiya Steve!

    Need a little help. I’m 22 and the majority of my relatives on both sides have type II diabetes or heart disease or both. Both of my parents escaped it but instead my dad has high cholesterol and my mom has cancer. So NOT exercising is just not an option for me. I’ve never been overweight but there is one part of my body that has had a little too much fat since I started puberty (yes, my ass. I am talking about my ass). The thing is my mom used to be a nutritionist so I’ve been on the paleo diet since I was able to eat solid foods. As you’ve said before in other posts fat is different than muscle and must be treated so; but despite my diet I can’t seem to lose the excess fat but I think I’m buliding muscle underneath (thanks to yours and Staci’s posts about strength training, deadlifts, and squats). Any tips for things I can do in the gym to get rid of it? Diet doesn’t seem to be enough.

  • Steve’s Dad

    Yes and no. If you do the same exercise over and over again, you will hit a plateau. You will stop getting sore and it will get easy and not much gains will come after that. But. If you increase your workout intensity, giving yourself the best workout possible, you will be sore. This is because your muscles are recovering and becoming stronger.

  • Steve’s Dad

    Yes, you increase the intensity. Or. If you’re ready you can try the advanced body weight workout.

  • Steve’s Dad

    An obvious one would be to check Steve showing you how it’s done and seeing if your doing it right. Try doing it with a friend and ask them if it’s correct or not.

  • Steve’s Dad

    The absolute FIRST thing you need to get under control is your diet – once
    you get that under control and the weight starts to come off, the stress on your knees will be less. Otherwise I would find alternatives to lunges and squats that give you the same workout.

  • Steve’s Dad

    Decrease the intensity of the 10 minute warm up.

  • Steve’s Dad

    *Facepalm* You know how hard me and many people try so hard to get that muscle you call ‘bulky’ if only it was as easy as you say. Anyways unless you spend hours in the gym every day, eat 5000 calories a day and you’re doing steroids you won’t bulk up.

  • Steve’s Dad

    Definitely. You need to give your body time to rest so you can have that awesome after burn which burns calories while you rest+you give your time for your muscles to relax so they can repair.

  • Steve’s Dad

    Up your level when you feel this is easy and you aren’t getting much out of it. It’s all up to you.

  • Steve’s Dad

    Good luck

  • Steve’s Dad

    Only a calorie deficit can make you loose weight. Either try the paleo diet or you must start counting you calories and making sure your eating 500 less then you normally do

  • Celeste

    I can, but the links are still working for me. What’s happening for you when you click on them?

  • Deb

    I’m a roller derby girl recovering from a tib/fib spiral fracture and have been cleared for all activity except contact but told to use pain as my gauge. Thought this would be a good start but a lot of pain on the jumping jacks, is there an alternative less impact exercise I could use instead? The rest is all fine! Thanks!

  • Francisco Sala

    It gave me an error, but now it downloaded fine. Thank you

  • Celeste

    No prob, I hope you find it useful =)

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  • Dan Jupp

    After looking through your site for a couple of days I thought I would give this workout a go. My fitness level is very average, I’m a roofer (so up and down ladders a lot) but i’ve never done any fitness programs or been to the gym ever. I managed the entire workout, all 3 routines (but I added slightly more reps on a 17kg dumbbell). The whole thing took me about 20 minutes and I was dripping with sweat ready to keel over!!! I cant wait to do it again the day after tomorrow!! Keep up with the great work. Best wishes from England