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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  • Jennifer

    Hi! I’ve been doing pilates twice a week for a year and I love it, I’ve lost loads of weight in a very comfortable and healthy way (of course dieting properly). The place where I used to go closed a few days ago and I incidently found this at the same time, I’m going to try it out.
    But I’ve been wondering if pilates is considered this kind of exercise, I’m just curious to know if it’s what I’ve been doing.

  • Amanda

    I’ve been going back and forth on workouts for the past several years, and I finally found a book called Body by You by Mark Lauren. I started it at the beginning of 2014 and dropped 20 lbs before I finally got bored with it because I wasn’t gaining any upper body strength. My lower body was progressing fine, being able to do more challenging squats and lunges, but my upper body just won’t change. Any thoughts as to why it is harder for women to gain upper body strength?

  • Kristie Grubb

    Hey Steve et al, like the video and I’m optimistic! But I’m a total noob (you said you wanted to know!), and it’s a little hard to tell if my form is okay as I’m trying to get started. I’d like to avoid creating bad habits, though, any suggestions?

  • Shabaity

    I’m not Steve but a mirror could help with your form.

  • Naomi Naomi

    =) that’s why you do planks until you can properly do push ups

  • Guest

    I haven’t tried this yet, but it definitely looks like a work out I will be happy to start with. Most certainly a beginners set =). I’ll let you know how it goes in the morning.

  • Naomi Naomi

    I haven’t tried this yet, but it definitely looks like a work out that I wont give up on. I am a beginner and the is for sure a beginners work out. Not to tough but targets the major muscles of the body for a more extreme work out. I’ll be trying it tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes =)

  • Robbie Blaylock

    ok I did this the other day, I did 3 sets… OMG my legs and my butt hurt so bad, I love this workout but going from nothing to 3 sets was probably a bit much. I feel like I am learning how to walk cause my legs do weird things now lol

  • Lori Urban

    Oh My….I just did your beginner work out…..I am soooo sooo out of shape….but Thank You

  • Mate

    Burn some fat, build some muscle?

    How misleading. This is one of the hardest things to make your body do, it only ever really happens in very overweight people or those who are genetically gifted.

  • Jon

    My fitness level is solidly resting at “noob,” but I’m gonna see how far I can push it forward this next week! I got through 1 & 1/2 circuits before my thighs threatened to cramp. Great beginner workout. Challenging, without being hard to understand.

  • Tanzina123

    Good work done. There are also some effective free hand exercise which helps to lose weight. I tried those and it was helpful. To learn the exercise go to the link below:

    weight loss exercise

  • Natasha Sellner

    So I know this was posted a long time ago, but I figured I’d chime in as well. I’m 5’1″, 155lbs and 32 years old. I haven’t exercised in YEARS other than walking. I managed to get through all 3 circuits, in 20 minutes no less. I only stopped a few times for seconds at a time. The only part I found extremely difficult was the lunges (apparently my knees don’t like this idea too much, they almost gave out a few times). Other than that, I have to say the hardest part of this entire thing? The next two days. I’m on day 2 after that workout. I’ve barely been able to move. I work a desk job which doesn’t help (since my muscles aren’t being used and want to lock up–making it difficult to stand back up again). Talk about not used to this. Maybe I pushed too hard for the first go-round? I’m going to attempt some light cardio tonight, and hopefully do this circuit again tomorrow (right now I believe my muscles would just go on strike if I tried it tonight). Any advice?

  • Ray Gustafson

    So Steve, I’m new to NF and am enjoying the site immensely. Following a paleo diet, I’ve shed 60 lbs and am now trying to gain strength. I’ve found both the beginner’s body weight workout and the Angry Birds workout on the site and am wondering if you’d advise one over the other for a mid-60′s guy trying to get in better shape.

  • Rosa Bun

    Just had my 3rd daughter, who is 5 months old. Started to get into shape, but then found out I was preggos. So NOW I am struggling to get my ass back in shape. As a single momma with 3 girls, I need my endurance back pronto!! Time is VERY important for me so. I’m not one of those 2hr long gym members anymore. I’m more of a youtube, outdoorsy, and small group class kind of chic lol I came across this video and I like the workout combinations you put together. So, I’ll be trying this out-thanks!

  • Peter Bock

    Woah, didn’t know how much I was out of shape till I tried this !
    Managed 2 circuits before my legs nearly decided to give out under me…
    Will try again saturday !

    -Peter, nevest convert (“Me wana be Assassin When a grow up!”)

  • Sean

    I just did this cycle 3 times, stretched. I am “Skinny Fat” I am 15, 144 pounds’ and I consist of 13% fat, I am trying this to get it to a 10% or lower. I have a big gut, you know? I know some recipes I can cook. I am thinking of doing this 1 day, then tomorrow a 3 or 4 mile jog, then, after a month or so, is it okay to switch to the advanced workout? i would do the advanced one day, then next day, about 4-5 miles of jogging. Then after that month, is there anything else that can give me more of a challenge? And a link to advanced version on nerd fitness and a harder one with a link would be spectacular! I am on my first day, I am ready to turn my flabs of fat into lean upper body muscle.

  • Hanrlaw

    I did 3 sets of this yesterday in around 15-20 minutes. I have trouble with pushups but can do the squats and lunges with my hands behind my head no problem. Is there a way to make those harder or should I just up the reps I do?

  • stacey

    I’m definitely gonna throw this in with my routine, I just recently started 30 day shred, which has some body weight moves along with cardio, so thanks for sharing this cause I now know that what I’m doing is going to improve my body. I can’t wait to throw this in! Thanks!

  • pk080990

    Nice blog and video, it was really helpful for me. I stumbled upon your blog because I was looking for some guidance on strength training.

    I am 187cm tall, 90kg (used to be 119kg). I altered the routine a bit because I am terrible at doing push ups but I plan on sticking to this routine and doing it how you suggested

    For my first attempt I did a 5 minute warm up on an exercise bike then did as follows:
    - 20 body weight squats
    - 5 push ups
    - 20 lunges
    - 20 8kg dumb bell rows (by mistake, I didn’t realise I was supposed to do 10)
    - 30 jumping jacks

    I did 3 runs of this and it took me 15:10.

    I will continue this routine for a while and post any updates/improvements that I have.



  • Scott Maxwell

    I’ve tried working out to similar routines because I just don’t have the luxury of time to go to a gym regularly. You may also think it’s impractical to purchase equipment, just as gym membership fees are a total waste(when you think about having to get there constantly and how it can be difficult to go through with your busy schedule), but going with a smith machine could actually be the best decision you will ever make if fitness is your number one concern. Find out why: Check this out

  • Darks

    This video made me discover your website. Im slowly digging into it and everything i’ve read so far was very interresting! Good job on your work! :)

  • Corey Edwards

    Really looking forward to trying this out. I’ve been reading your articles on here for a few months and I’m finally ready to get my feet wet. I think this is a great starting point.

  • Crystal

    Did the workout yesterday, doin it again tomorrow, was really huffin and puffin by the end, thigh muscles and butt muscles hurt today, but as they say no pain no gain, right? Thanks for the video!!!

  • loulou

    I like that you don’t use pro equipment, dude, those things are mucho $$$$

  • Amanda Evans

    Just did my first one was intense, definitely will do it tomorrow.

  • Alfredo J Vannucchi

    even better ..let call all the héroes jajajaja…you guys forgot the huck and terminator….but seriously those exercises make a difference along the way …GOOD JOB STEVE!

  • getfit83

    These are Awesome! But I’ve found 5 unique bodyweight workouts that burns fat ,gain muscle, and increase your overall performance.­eightexe

  • tway83
  • Grish

    Just make sure the toddler׳s mom isn’t in the area

  • Grish

    How do you do stretching after this. I haven’t done this in a few years

  • Maria Fernanda G

    Hi! first time doing this. Took me 18mins with 48 segs (including 5 secs of jumping jacks and intense on place jogging) did 2 rounds of the circuit + half of the 3rd. (squats + 5 push ups + 10 lunges) then i kinda just died haha. not so bad though.

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