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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  • Tyler

    What if we are unable to do these very well? I followed your warm up on this site, and then attempted to do this workout. I got through 1 circuit, and then was only able to do body weight squats and push ups before I felt like dying. Any advice? Or am I just really out of shape and need to keep at it to get better?
    I have had weight training experience before, so I know how to lift properly. However, it’s been about 2-3 years since I’ve done any consistent training.

  • Lizard

    Ohhhhh yes!

  • Miguel

    Great routine steve. I am a personal trainer and I use this routine for my absloute beginner clients before getting them into weightlifting to build up base strength.

  • Jen

    Any suggestions for us disabled peeps? I was born with spina bifida. I can walk, but my leg nerves are screwed and easily irritated. I can do anything from waist up, though. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance.

  • Neo

    Hey Steve, i have been doing doing this workout for 2 weeks.
    Should I go for intermediate workouts now?

  • Sibyllinnea

    Love the workout, did it tonight and I’m feeling good (we’ll see how I feel tomorrow, haha). Question: a lot of the site features stories of people using heavy weights to get great results. It makes sense. I’d love to do that, but I live abroad where there aren’t any (affordable) gyms here, so I have no access to heavy weights really. I don’t mind doing body weight, but is there a way to get some of the results of heavy lifting without ..weights..haha. What do you think? Is there something I can substitute, or do more reps/sets with the bodyweight exercises I do, or do I just have to settle for lessened results?

  • Zaire Harris

    Quick question, is their any certain way to do push ups? The reason why Im asking is because during wrestling season everyone else could do at least 15 without stopping and I always had trouble doing just 5-8. Recently I just couldn’t bear to look at my stomach and fat thighs anymore so I decided that i wouldn’t make any more excuses not to work out on my own. I finally made up my mind… I want to be fit!!!!

  • Dama

    I have to say, this is great. I just started and the first time I did it, my legs were burning for three whole days! I was worried because I wanted to do more but you said that I should wait. But I just did it for second time and god! Even when it still hard (I only did two rounds like the first time) I can already say it’s a little bit easier. The first time I collapsed in my bed and I couldnt move but this time I tried to do the third time (and i fail but i día three extra squats!) anyway. I send you a big thank you from Mexico.

  • Moaz

    good tips , i have a doubt
    i m 16years old ,, i do 3 sets of 15 half push ups and 4 sets of 20 repetition of dumbbells every day ,, and i run 500 m daily and reverse crunch -20 rep ,toe touches -20 rep,plank -30 sec every alternative day ,,, am i over working ??? i badly want 6 pack , do you have any advises for me?? please help !!!

  • Tim Davis

    I don;t know if any of you guys have problems with MOTIVATION and TIME if this is you then check this out

  • Krystique

    I’m an ex powerlifter (my senior year, I was fifth in Texas for my weight class), so I’m not new to working out, or the type of training you’ve suggested (work one set of muscles every other day). We would do arms/upper body on Mondays and Wednesdays, lower body Tuesday and Thursdays and do core (all that plank and crap) every other day-we’d even get homework.

    Either way, this works for me. Perhaps because I’m used to it. That doesn’t mean I enjoy each part of the workout (NO ONE likes lunges), but I do it. I might change it up a bit once I get used to the 3 circuit so I can do it like I did in high school and add to it. I’ll keep you updated on it.

  • Lauren

    Thank you for this, and the whole website. I’m a new mom, and have always been fairly sedentary. I don’t want to pass those bad habits on to my daughter. This is a great place to start. All your hard work is greatly appreciated.

  • Jeff

    What kinds of after-workout stretches do you recommend after this workout?

  • SamZilla

    thanks for the video, it was extremely helpful to a fitness noob. I do have one question though, should I do this type of workout everyday? My muscles are still sore from doing it yesterday, and i just don’t wanna hurt myself.

  • grannie

    Hi can you please tell me if this beginner weight training will help a fourty something woman with a terribly embarrassing c section belly

  • Karen

    I had two major surgeries and 12 blood transfusions in December. I had 11 pound tumor removed from abdomen and 2 pound one removed from stomache no cancer! I started at 212 pounds i am now 160 and kicking but as a beginer and healing well thanks to this diet! I am doing the video and walking a mile a day on treadmill. My doctors are impressed and all of them agree the diet is helping me heal faster than other patients. I am also off insulin and many medications now! My hormone patch is made with sweet potatoe extract and other natural products since i also had a full hysterectomy

  • workoutfreak

    can i do this back to back days

  • Cari

    Fist pumps in the air on that video……it’s made me rethink, simple is the way to go (KISS-keep it simple sexy). Can you blog something about stretches just to make sure there is no short falls on what is needed.

    After long cold winters up here, I see hope for getting sexy back!

  • Sarah

    Hi Ashley, it’s been months since you asked this, but I thought I’d respond anyway.

    I’m not on the paleo diet, but I’ve been Type 1 for 25 years and started reading about it. It’s absolutely fine to do paleo as a diabetic, and if you were really interested, I’d recommend the book Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo. It’s got sections dedicated to how paleo helps and works with different diseases and maladies.

    (There’s a section for both blood sugar regulation and autoimmune diseases, but the information kind of overlaps, so it’s good!)

  • Chan

    I like the workout. It helped me gain a lot of momentum, and I am now solid with at least carrying myself around. The only thing is, I’m finding it difficult to make the jump from beginner’s to advanced. Is there an intermediate route you would suggest?

  • Alexandria Field

    So if I’m starting out with the bodyweight workouts but am a little confused as to how often I should do them. can I do them every other day like you recommend it or should I follow the rule of thumb in strength 101 and wait 48hrs between the bodyweight workouts?

  • Soon2behealthymom

    Starting the journey to becoming healthier! I have not worked out in forever and your routine looks so simple and not to time consuming. I will start today 04-06-2014 and post my progress in a month. Thank you

  • Morphine

    This looks great, I’d love to get started. But I have a bad knee. My right knee has severe osteoarthritis, and I can’t do squats, lunges, or jumping jacks. Any alternatives?

  • Meghan T

    Great workout! Always love something that is easy to do at home (so as to avoid the excuse of not being able to work out). Also, love the Carbon Leaf background music!

    Thanks for the video/tips!

  • majed bahaj


  • Morphine

    I have a bad knee. I can’t really do the lunges or the jumping jacks. What can I do instead?

  • Christopher Eleftheriou

    I find when I do the dumbbell rows that I feel my back actually doing a portion of the work. Am I doing something wrong?

  • Umph

    I just started this program and it’s working great.
    The only problem I have it that my right arm is significanly stronger than my left. Is there anyway to balance my arms while still doing the routine?

  • eelledge

    Is there a good substitute for the 20 walking lunges? I just do not have the balance to be able to do them. I have a muscle disorder in my right side that makes it a little smaller and weaker than my left side and this throws my balance off. GREAT video – Thanks

  • Chris

    I realize this is kind of an old post.. I’ve started using it though and I have a question. Gallon milk jugs full of water (or milk) aren’t heavy enough for me for the rows. I have a set of 25lb dumbbells and those aren’t heavy enough either. I can do about 20 reps without too with only slight difficulty.

    Is there an alternative to the dumbbell rows that will get similar results without having to use any equipment or extra weight at all?

  • Seetal Udeshi

    Hey Steve, I’ve literally spent the last 4 hours reading around your website. Great advice for us who are starting out in fitness and have little understanding. I am going to try this workout, however I have a question?

    I can’t lunge! Not for the fact I am rubbish, but when I do go into a lunge I get a very sharp pain in my lower back. I’ve had a PT before and they have completely omitted it from my workout as I just can’t do them. Is there a substitute for this workout? Or do you recommend I omit them completely?

  • Carl

    Can you tell me a workout for vertical jump?

  • Dave Kujawski

    So it’s recommended too do this every other day, I was just curious, what’s something to fill in the other days of the week. Also glad I came across this, as A: I am a nerd, well gamer. and B: Your not a Goliath, which is a complement because every other strength training page I’ve found is the blood Hulk on steroids.