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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  • Zoe

    Not so difficult as I thought but still tiring. I wonder how much I should do this routine to start a more advanced one. Thanks by the way!

  • Amanda

    Just stumbled across this website…love the video and tried the exercises today. For me it was quite challenging. I am a single mom and in school. Sad to say this isn’t baby fat I am caring. I went back to 140 as soon as baby girl was born, I started gaining weight just before I started college and now I am up 175. I don’t care about the numbers as much has I care about not being able to fit into the clothes I have bought because of my weight gain. I am going to keep this on my favorites. Thank You:)

  • lex_lewther

    Hi, I wanted to ask for your opinion on my current workout schedule (posted below)

    Sunday – Workout Routine (From the “How to Build Your Own Workout Routine” article)
    Monday – Interval Training
    Tuesday – Rest
    Wednesday – Body Weight Circuit
    Thursday – Interval Training
    Friday – Workout Routine
    Saturday – Interval Training

    Should I cut back or is this a good schedule?

  • Chris

    The exercise is a good workout and is really helping me out. I workout and run a lot when I’m all for it, but keep falling in a rut and then next week start again.

    On day 4 of the email workout plan and am feeling a lot better and finding it muck more easy to fit the things in to my schedul and stay motivated.

  • Kiana

    What I think could help would be if you put up a page for a whole heap of routines or whatever and then put up a sign up button or something so that then if people sign up for a certain workout routine they can receive emails every day or so telling them what they should be doing, etc. Because I really like this site but I can never find the workouts and then even if I do, I don’t really know what I’m doing. But i really appreciate this site!!! Keep up the good work!!! :) :)

  • Jacob Mc

    I am quite overweight (380 lbs, 6’6″) and worry about injuring myself when attempting to perform exercises. Because of the nature of the communities, most videos feature people who are already in excellent shape and cater to people who are smaller or not quite so overweight. Do you have any suggestions/modifications for someone who is at a very low fitness level, but seeking to lose weight and build muscle?

  • Matt Z.

    Started: 378.2 lbs.
    Right now: 340.2 (2 months in)
    Been eating great, and cardio nearly everyday (can maintain anaerobic (high heart rate) for 40+ min now. And I feel great.

    Hitting a plateau so decided strngth training would pair great with cardio (stationary bike soon to be outdoor bike). Stumbled upon this, and I could barely do one circuit. Looks like I have another goal on every other day, other than a 30 mile bike ride I hope to complete this summer in 2 and a half hours.

    I own no equipment, so this was a great video to show me how without all the fancy gyms around me. You are awesome for this.

  • Harry.W

    Cardio only increases endurance and stamina, walking and running burn near enough the same calories.
    Personally I prefer calisthenic workouts because they target all muscles and are mainly compound movements whereas gym equipment usually only uses isolation movements so it takes longer to build that muscle.

  • Chris

    No but you my be going to hard you want the burning feeling but if it’s really bad try less and work your way up

  • Chris

    I helped a friend who had a similar fear definitely sign up for the email list and do the 10 min walk every day if you are worried about a certain exercise then try doing only one or two then move up to three and so on it doesn’t have to be a quick process just the facit your doing it is great

  • Jessica Berry

    I live in a second floor apartment. Is there some thing else I can do besides jumping jacks and being severely obnoxious to my downstairs neighbor?

  • Hermione Candaele

    I was overweight and tried so many things. Different things work for different people and I was lucky enough to find one that worked for me. I lost 20 pounds in one month without any exercise and it has been a life changer. I’m a little embarrased to post my before and after photos here but if anyone actually cares to hear what I’ve been doing then I’d be happy to help in any way. Just shoot me an email at [email protected] and I’ll show you my before and after photos, and tell you about how things are going for me with the stuff I’ve tried. I wish someone would have helped me out when I was struggling to find a solution so if I can help you then it would make my day

  • christopher Debo

    Steve – I have always avoided the gym myself. There are so many ways to workout without always feeling like I am being stared at because “I don’t belong in their gym”. Your point about working out only working with a good diet is so true. I could not find any posting links rules, so if this is not acceptable, I apologize.

  • achafai

    Thank you for this. I am a completely newbie. Since finished university I have been gaining weight and wanted to get back into shape. Just done this work out for the 1st time today although i ache I feel great for doing it. what are the best stretches to do after the work out? (sorry I’m a newbie) Thanks for this video. I feel i am on the right track now :)

  • Jack

    I take it you can intensify the workout by going from a 15s plank to a 1min plank etc?

  • Sam

    How many calories does this exercise burn?

  • Monika

    Good video! I have bad knees, and wonder what exercises I could do. Squats and lunges are painful. (50 year old female, in bad shape, and overweight). I have a training program in place, but want to add body weight strength training to it. Thanks!

  • Ken

    Wow, i really underestimated this workout. I tried it for the first time today, and i only made 1 1/2 rounds. I wanted to push the last round to it’s finish, but after the second time doing 20 walking lunges i was too exhausted.

  • Dave

    Just started this workout. As far as diet goes, should I be eating on a deficit or should I be eating more than usual?

  • dann

    hey steve
    thanks for the video. just started with it and its very hard at first especially push ups . gym sucks lol

  • Zoe

    I’m on another 6 week bodyweight program, and I occasionally think that would it be better to stick with this one. I’m at the first week and it’s some days upper and some days lower body workouts. There is also a 30 min jog part which I’m going to switch with the interval training I saw here with some sprints afterwards. I hope it’s a good workout but after I finish it I’m getting straight back to this exercise.

    I actually don’t know why I’m writing this since I can guess that you don’t look at the comments these days. So why? Just a way of expressing my worries to others I guess.
    Thanks for the workout by the way!

  • David P,

    It’s so true, a really good bodyweight circuit can really burn those calories and get the muscles used to working and ready for weights further down the line.
    PS I know this post is waaaaaaaaaay old, but good advice never dates!

  • Livo

    Hello from Norway. Yesterday was my first day doing this circuit and I must say that I feel pain in my legs. But it feels great. This blog has been part of kick in the ass to start seriously training, I used to work-out before and I love it, But in one moment of my life I lost my motivation, maybe its not too much but I have 6 kg extra and I have been struggling to get rid of them.
    I have been little by little finding my motivation back, first: my clothes, I have so gorgeous clothes and I want to use them!!! Second, my wedding, third: this blog.!! Great work-out circuit and 100% agree: Food is really important when it comes to lose weight and feel great. I will also follow the advise of doing weight training and cardio in the off days.

  • Chris D.

    Good video, I am a freshman starting baseball, and to be honest… i need to lose some weight… I dont know if you still stay active with these videos anymore, but if you are…i will be posting every so often while i do these workouts :) thanks again

  • Dale

    Same here with me too! Striving for long to come up with a suitable solution. Right now using Mi40x for about 2 months. And guess what, it’s helping me.

  • George

    Should I do this every day or?

  • Me

    This was awesome..Thanks for share

  • Livo

    Hei I have a question, maybe you can help me, I have seen other routines of body weight work outs and I don’t understand one thing, the majority say to rest between sets, but in this nerdfitness routine he doesn’t advise us to rest just to keep going. Why?

  • David Diabolik

    Finally found what I was looking for! Thanks!

  • Guest

    Hi Steve,
    This workout has given me some amazing results. I’m a mom of 3 who ran when in high school and started back up again now along with this workout. I’m up to 65-70 squats, lunges, 2:30-3:00 min planks., 23 rows at 25 lbs, etc…I do still get sore and see good results. I spend an hour completing 4 sets, I also added in chair dips. I’m just wondering if this workout will keep benefiting me or do I need to change it up? Thanks so much! K

  • Kathleen H

    Hi Steve,
    This workout has given me some amazing results. I’m a mom of 3 who ran when in high school and started back up again now along with this workout. I’m up to 65-70 squats, lunges, 2:30-3:00 min planks., 23 rows at 25 lbs, etc…I do still get sore and see good results. I spend an hour completing 4 sets, I also added in chair dips. I’m just wondering if this workout will keep benefiting me or do I need to change it up? Thanks so much! K

  • David P,

    Hi Livo, as you’ll imagine there are several methods to work bodyweight exercises into your routine. On a personal note, I tend to do a certain amount of reps within a set, rest for 30-60 seconds (no longer) and crank out another 4-6 sets… then on to the next exercise and repeat the process.
    Another option is to do 1 x bodyweight exercise set to failure, then the next exercise, then the next – with minimal rest in between, making a super-circuit of sorts. You could then rest for 1-2 minutes and repeat the circuit. Both beneficial, both will burn those calories and tone muscles. Hope this answers your question, Livo.

  • Livo

    Thanks so much for answering me.! I want to get definition, So I have been reading a lot for preparing myself, and no do something stupid that can damage my body. Have a nice day.

  • Emma Elizabeth Shelton

    Hi Steve , Emma here in UK, just completed my first workout you sent me from email. It took me a total of 30 minutes which included the cool down I did (I remembered some cool down moves from a fitness dvd I do) I did the warm up first but I only timed the workout and cool down together lol just so as you know you are going to help me a lot with the workouts you have put together just glad I’ve completed the first one thank you
    Emma xo

  • Emma Elizabeth Shelton

    Oh btw Steve I’m still new to this as I only started my weight loss journey 3 weeks ago I do fitness dvds and I will be doing your plan too as I have a way to go before I look better than I do now lol also need help with my diet as it is ok but could be better as I have an issue with food but that’s another story lol but thanks for the workout and hope for another one tomorrow or whenever you post them. Thank you again Emma or just call me em xo