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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  • Carrie

    I’m afraid to try it. I’m afraid I won’t do it correctly, that I won’t be able to complete the workout or that I will just give up. I seem to always give up. The doctor said I need to lose 2lbs a week until I have lost the weight. But he didn’t give me any directions on how to do it, so I’m on my own. I’m 225lbs and I should be around 130lbs. I spent most of my 20’s drinking soda and playing DAoC, the best game ever. I was very thin. I had my twins, gave up the soda and the game and became a fat housewife. I feel bad for my husband. He’s in great shape, runs, walks and works very hard. I’m lucky to have such a good looking man in my life. I want him to be able to say the same thing. Except the man part lol… what am I so afraid of? Probably failure. I don’t know how to get past that. Any advice?

  • Michelle

    The plank will be the death of me. I’m very top heavy. (Putting it nicely) Is there anything I can do to replace or make this easier until I build up my upper body strength?

  • Shawn Washburn

    Great video and info, Steve. Just starting to get into your site and all that it offers. I love it. Did I hear Carbon Leaf on the video?

  • silverwolf64

    I’m not the author but I had a cross country coach who made us do core/abdominal workouts all the time. An easy way to modify the plank is to go ahead and put your knees down, you’ll want to keep your body at a bit of an angle to keeping working the core though.

  • Comaye Graham

    Awesome workout Steve. I’m new to the rebellion just completed day 4. I’ve got some experience working out on and off over the years but I’ve been inactive the past few years resulting in a big gut. I almost gave up on the 2nd round but I sticked to it and completed all 3 in exactly 20 mins. Aiming to get down to like 12-15% body fat. Thanks for the work you’re doing.

  • mynty

    I like this basic set of movements. However watching you get up and down makes me a little sick. You see I am 67 and have way too many problems including a knee that needs replacing and a body that will not just jump up and down. I am seeing a nutritionist and trying to get my diet on line. I walk in the supermarket with a basket to lean on for balance. Yesterday I walked 1/4 mile with a rest midway. This is the longest distance I’ve walked in a long time ( half up hill and then back down). But your floor exercises are just too hard for me to get down there and then back up from. I’ve had both shoulders operated on and one knee replaced (the other needs it according to the doctors) and my hips don’t work well. I am very overweight and have diabetes as well as other problems. Is there help for me????

  • Jmsintexas

    Just did it for the first time. Looks so easy and effortless in the video. I got through one circuit, and that’s only because I cut the lunges short. Can’t wait to do it a little better in a few days.

  • Diya

    This is a great beginner’s guide! I have a question. I want to work out mainly just to increase my stamina and build some muscle (not lose weight). I’m concerned if there are any vitamins that we would need to take while doing this routine. I get tired easy and my mom often comments that I’m “weak”. Not sure if you can answer this but just want to put it out there!

  • Lowbar77

    Nice, I appreciate that you take into consideration peoples issues and give alternate workout suggestions without judgement. Makes it easy to hear what you are saying. Keep up the great work.

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  • Meechity

    I’d like to sub “let me ins” (door handle pull-ins) or under-table pull-ups for the dumbbell rows. Is that an appropriate substitution?

  • Gayle Abrams

    My doctor gave me 3 exercises to do when I started working out: Squats, bench press (because I couldnt do a push up) and overhead press. I did these three for months, adding weight, but I started getting bored. I did this beginner body weight workout because I was trying to mix it up. I didn’t think it would be hard as I was doing 110lb barbell squats, but man was I sweating! I felt really good after this and I was able to do push ups! Thanks!

  • Vu Hoang Dao

    Steve, so how heavy does my juice bottle have to be to become a dumbbell

  • Kami

    Could I do each exercise to failure or is that detrimental to progression?

  • sureshwalsh

    Good post. You have kept it very simple and the one thing I liked very much is when you said “You build muscle when you rest”. Being new to workouts, I always think that I need to workout daily. I am going to have an off day here and there to give rest for my muscles and allow it to grow. Please visit my blog at and provide your thoughts on the list of high protein foods.

  • Amanda@DefenseSoap

    Hey such an nice post. These exercise is important for beginner’s.

  • Isaac Grosof

    Thank you, this was quite useful.

  • J.S. Faulkner

    Thank you so much for this. Not only the gymless exercises, but the geek themed program, it’s really helping me stick with it so far. 5 day streak isn’t long but trust me it is for me.

  • J.S. Faulkner

    I would say you’re getting in your own way. And I would only say that because I do the exact same thing. The best advice I’ve gotten so far is to not depend on motivation or be deterred by fear. Not doing the exercises correctly is better than no exercise at all. (Within limits, don’t overdo it.) If you’re really that worried about it, shell out $100 once to go see a doctor specifically about how to work out properly. Or join the YMCA for a month and take advantage of their training program just long enough to know how to do things. I hope this helps a little.

  • Caitlin Stephens

    Hi Steve, your blog is really nice and informative. But Steve u most doing something wrong. If you do three to five sets of a few different exercises that hit the same muscle groups u will gain. To much will give u joint problems later in life.

  • Josh Black

    Just found nerd fitness a few days ago and I absolutely love this. Me, my wife and even my kids are into this.