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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  • Bill

    You can also do push-ups with your knees on the floor to make it easier.. If that is still too tough you can do it with your arms up on a bench and knees/feet on the floor to put less weight on your arms/chest.

  • Samantha Cubbage

    Fellow Vandy grad here! Thanks for such a clear, helpful workout. Definitely a beginner, but doing this routine 3 times a week for 3 weeks has doubled the number of pushups I can do! Helping me reach a goal of becoming stronger. Thanks again!

  • Extimes

    My wife went through physical therapy for patella tracking, so it’s fixable. If you can afford it, t’s probably a good idea to see a doctor and get a script for PT. This is a problem that can easily get worse, so I’d be reluctant to follow advice on specific exercises off the internet.

  • Extimes

    Unless you’re already muscular, following these exercises, with the recommended low carb diet will see your overall measurements shrink, including your hips.

  • Marleeen

    I did not start yet but all this seems like a good routine. It is not too hard and I will definitely challenge myself to more. I am way younger than you (13) but I am really looking forward to do this until I can go a step higher.

  • Antonio Gabrić

    Great article!
    “You don’t build muscle when you’re exercising, you build muscle when you’re resting.” That sentence is worth of gold. I’ve struggle with this in the past and I see a lot of beginners struggle with this.

  • Siddharth

    Can I replace the rows with 2-3 dead hang pull ups?
    and is there a certain beginner strength training routine or plan as well?

  • Jakub

    Amazing workout. Had a blast the other day, although I changed jumping jacks to roep skipping because of my weak knee.

  • Raj Nadar

    Hi, I’d like to add the beginner body workout on cronometer and would like to know how to estimate the calories burned….any ideas?

  • Daniel

    Great information you have here!
    I just wanted to know if it is okay to make abdominals instead of the interval training that you suggested for the in-between days. Or does it include muscles that you already used in this body weight workout, so I shouldn’t do it? It is just that I am starting to workout now, and as you mention in the interval training page, we should not do it if we are not in some shape. But I still wanted to do something in the days between the body weight workout days.

  • Mike

    Some experience in the past with working out but way way out of shape. Got through two circuits. I love this workout and I love how you make this a gradual process of getting back into shape. I’m excited!

  • Karolina Bramwell

    Hi Steve! I tried this workout and found it too easy :/ I ran up and down my stairs for 3 minutes to warm up and I felt it way more the workout itself. What would be a good way to make it harder without going to the advanced workout? Thanks a bunch!
    Ps. I’m an 18 year old female, I weigh about 120lb and I’m 5’7. I’m looking to build some muscle and just get active every day. In a word, I want to get “toned” even though you hate the word XD

  • thesi kalaidasan

    Steve, what are the benefits of sit-ups?

  • David Joseph Post

    It might be more than 8 weeks later, she only stated she lost the 24kg in the first 8 weeks. If this is now week 16 she could have lost the other 10kg. Would have been nice to have the method named in the report. Too bad that it didn’t seem to have fixed her high cholesterol though.

  • Eli Henderson

    Is there an alternative to the dumbbell rows? One that is purely bodywieght?

  • Eli Henderson

    Is there an alternative to the dumbbell rows? One that is purely bodywieght?

  • Lisa Sorenson

    Someone might have other suggestions, but I know that a really simple way to make almost any exercise like this more challenging is to add weights to it. For pushups maybe try a more difficult variation of pushup (there are many out there), like the one where you tap your opposite shoulder each rep (down, up tap, down, up tap). For Plank hold it longer. For Jumping Jacks try adding in some star jumps, those are killer.

  • Lisa Sorenson

    I got curious about this as well, and this is the closest thing that I could find (I saw it suggested multiple times):

  • Anne Robbins

    I’m a bit unfit and found 2 reps difficult. Also have not long finished work and am 51.might take me longer than most.

  • Jessica

    Just started your workout today. What an ass kicker for me as a begginer haha. But it was exactly what i was looking for. It is perfect for being a stay at home mom and the exercises are not too bad or confusing. Thanks for this awesome workout. Ill post again with updates further along :)

  • Derek Davis

    You mentioned in your article to pedal on a stationary bike as a means of getting a warm up. If you do not have a stationary bike at home, they can also be rented. Another low cost option is to grab a bike trainer from a department store and sit your road bike onto it. ( )

  • Yahya Saadaoui