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 =)

  • Pingback: 10 Months. 128 Pounds Lost. The Best Transformation I’ve Ever Seen. | Nerd Fitness

  • 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

  • SD

    This is so much harder than it looks! lol I’m SUPER sore after doing it yesterday, but no injuries. I played 3 sports in high school, and I was never “thin” or “super fit” looking. I was 5’5 and probably 190 lbs. Of course, I came from a bit of a disadvantaged upbringing, and we only ate processed foods. I went to college and gained 100lbs my freshman year. I wasn’t eating any differently from high school. My sleeping habits were terrible of course. I’ve been 300 lbs since then…that was 2007. I absolutely love basketball, and now I have access to play it frequently. It’s not even that I want to get back to the way I looked in high school. I want to feel better. The 200lbs I weighed then wasn’t “healthy”.

    I don’t have any health issues. I just have some slight pain in my right foot that I’ve had from the numerous ankle/foot injuries I had playing basketball in high school, but these past 2 weeks it’s gotten significantly better. I have a generally muscular build which annoys me as a woman. I’ve been on the paleo diet for 2 weeks. Last week I became UBER strict with it. I can say for certain I feel 100000% better (I suppose this could be all mental) physically. I’m really holding myself accountable though it’d be nice to have someone I was doing this with.

    I really appreciate this site. It makes sense to me because well I’m a nerd! I’m a total biological sciences person so I love how everything is broken down! I have every intention of reaching my goal, and I don’t care how long it takes. I’m all in.

  • Conception .

    Hello. I tried this workout but I don’t think it trained my abs. It mostly worked the glutes (with the jumping jacks and lunges) and pecs and biceps. Anyone know of good ab workouts?

  • Veronica Harber

    Is there an alternative to lunges for a person with crappy knees?

  • Carleen De Armon

    This is a decent workout. My only problem is I do dumbbell rows in my strength training at the gym and a gallon of milk isn’t heavy enough. Anything heavier would be too unwieldy. Should I just invest in some dumbbells?

    I’m a big fan of the HIIT workout, but I always am trying to find other workouts to do on days when I can’t make it to the gym. :) Thanks for the suggestions.

  • Doc Herman

    I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now and am really happy with it. Thank you. I was struggling to do 1 set and now I’m working towards doing 3.

  • Andre Tibbs

    Thanks for the pointers your site is extremely user friendly and you provide great explanations

  • Danielle Gilbert

    I do the insanity workout program. Is that similar to the body weight circuit?

  • Mr. Glembovski

    I only just discovered this. I’m about 240 lbs, and while I have some upper body strength, I’m nowhere near as fit as I used to be when I was 19-21. 13 years of no real exercise, just doing 1 routine of this absolutely exhausted me. However, that was the first time I’ve ever enjoyed exercising and I’m going to be keeping up with this for sure.

    Thank you for posting this online, it’s definitely helped me. I’m also going to be switching to the Paleo diet. I cannot thank you enough. I’ve never been motivated to exercise, but this has kick started my motivation.

  • Quiet Entertainer

    I’m using my bowling ball for the dumbbell

  • Nol

    Really great workout, thank you! It took me 40 minutes to complete it 3 times with a minute hydration break in between and counting warm up and stretching (I’m a beginner). I feel so proud of myself for being able to do 10 push-ups (ok, only on the knees), that was unthinkable a few months ago.

  • Maddie

    Hello, my name is Maddie! love this routine! love the simplicity, yet ability to make it as easy or challenging as you want/need. My issue is, some of these exercises are super easy, while others are extremely hard. I need to equalize my body but don’t know how. For example, I can easily do 200 squats with perfect form, and all different variations, yet I struggle to do one perfect pushup. My upper body stopped growing/developing early and has always been extremely weak because of that, but I am working to strengthen it, with the exception of my back which is incredibly strong (I am a rock climber) I would say my fitness level is pretty experienced. My mother was a personal trainer and bodybuilder for some time, so I grew up learning all about diet and form, and took up rock climbing and martial arts along with at home exercising. Push ups and ab exercises have always scared me, and now I am planning on joining the US Naval Sea Cadet Corps and need to be able to nail perfect navy form pushups. any advice?

  • Allix Stachar

    I have a few questions, im a young mother and i am severely over weight, i need to loose 50-60 lbs to be healthy ive been trying to loose it by dieting and light workouts such as walking only because i don’t really have a lot of time during the day to focus on a long workout, ive never actually done a routine before and would like to know if you could recommend a routine i could do in say 30 min that would still benefit me but leave me able to care for my 2 year old. Please help a fellow nerd to live healthy!! Thank you

  • IJ

    How long should I do the beginner body weight work out for? A couple of months? Or until it no longer makes me sore the day after? How do I know when to proceed to the advanced one? :)

  • voigtstr

    What can I do instead of plank. Apparently if you have diastasis recti (and a small umbilical hernia) you are not supposed to do exercises that increase the pressure on your abdomen.

  • Parker Waldrop

    Well I just realized how out of shape I am. I pushed myself through all 3 sets and while stretching had an undesirable side effect of working too hard as my first workout. My question is what, if anything, do you recommend eating prior to and/or after workout? Thanks for the workout, I may have to do less next time or take a little longer break to allow my body not to go into shock from the workout :-)

  • George

    Just did this workout and somehow managed to push through all 3 reps, thoroughly enjoyed it though (even if I was dripping in sweat by the end)… my question is, how often should I do it? Once a day? Three times a week? I don’t know :(

  • Seetal Udeshi

    Hey! I’ve been doing this beginner workout and it takes me about 25-30 min to do 3 rounds of it.

    It might take a little long if you are just starting out, but it will definitely get you sweating and heart rate pumping.

    I was very sore after day 1 but my body is now used to it (i’ve done it 3 times so far with one day rest in between) so it shouldn’t take long. just remember to stretch!

    Good luck!

  • Achint

    It says so in the text. 2-3 times a week but never on consecutive days.

  • Maria

    Great introductory workout! I’m ready to start doing this in place of my daily jogs which I’ve found have been incredibly monotonous and draining.
    Looking forward to getting stronger!

  • jodi

    I really appreciate your approach. I am a total beginner and need to do something to get myself back in shape. Thank you for your positive and encouraging message!

  • LW

    I just tried my first one. I managed one circuit but only 5 push-ups.

  • Jennifer Bishop

    Hello! Just did this circuit yesterday for the first time and man, do my quads hurt. Any tips on overcoming soreness so i can continue on this path? Thank you!

  • TinyLivingMama

    Three circuits, modified pushups on knees, 15 minutes in between watching your great video. Thanks Steve, why was I so hesitant of starting?

  • Melissa

    Thank you for this!! Finally something easy to understand and to follow. Great job. Hopefully I’ll be ready for advanced in a few months :)

  • Adrion

    Hi Steve, I really appreciate your blog. It becomes very helpful for those who have started doing exercise. Thanks for sharing such a useful video.

  • witchoria

    What is an effective way to balance this and cardio? Is it too much on the body to go directly from this type of workout directly into a run? Do you need to switch off days?

    I just got a gym membership and I have no idea what the f*ck I am doing when I show up there.