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.