Beginner Body Weight Workout: Lose Weight, Build Muscle ANYWHERE!

So you want to get in shape, but you have no gym membership. Ruh roh…

That’s fine, you don’t need one to get in great shape! You can work out anywhere, like me in the photo above, doing push-ups on a cliff in South Africa.

I usually find that commercial gyms are tough places to work out anyways, as they’re home to pushy salesman, can be intimidating, and other members might not be very welcoming. (If you DO go to a gym, here’s how to successfully navigate a commercial gym).

Luckily, you can burn fat, build muscle, and get a great workout using just your body weight.  In fact, Learn why cardio can often be 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.

Combine that with a good diet and you got yourself a kick-ass plan to follow!

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:

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.


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  • Rahman

    Steve, this workout is amazing. I’ve combined this with the Basics of Parkour workout and I can just feel myself gaining exp 🙂 I just finished my workout and wanted to let you know that you do an amazing job! Keep up the good work! For the rebellion!

  • BoswellSister

    Are you thinking Should I do this? Could I do this? If so, read on.

    After the death of my sister, followed shortly thereafter by the death of my mother, my health collapsed. After spending 3 years getting the medication for my hypothyroid settled, and everything looking okay, I was finally able to start working out consistently. Treadmill – weight machines – good diet, I should be feeling better and losing weight, shouldn’t I? When I wasn’t, I decided it was time to take action – I went looking for some better workout advice and stumbled upon NerdFitness. Wow! Exactly what I was looking for; the boost that was going to lift me out of the mental and physical hole I was in.

    Seven weeks ago, I joined up and got started. Circuits twice a week; intervals twice a week; one longer, easier cardio. I didn’t quite do things by the book (sorry ‘bout that Steve) – I’m just taking my download week this week (Yoga); next week I’m moving to a mix of workouts. How am I doing? I am now feeling better than I have felt in literally years. I can focus at work again, I have more energy. I have lost nearly 5 lbs!

    Join up, read up, and pick a combination that looks fun at your level. Don’t skip the warm-ups and stretches. Don’t worry if you can’t do many reps, or you’re working with no weights. I’ve had to dial a couple of things way back, but I’m getting results and improving. In case you’re wondering, I’m 55 and I’m the kid that was always the last one picked for anything that required athletic ability. So truly, if I can do this – you can.

    I’ve seen several other posts asking about reps, and sets, so maybe it’ll help to tell you what I did. The first day is sort of a guess, but I was aiming at completing all three circuits. For my 1st two circuits, I did what was hard, but not killer. Lunges kill me, so I only did 2 of those. For my 3rd circuit, I did what I had the energy for. In the case of lunges, it was only 1. I put a little “+” next to items I need to do more/heavier next time, and a “-“ where I bit off more than I could chew. After stretching, I was feeling good and tired; still sweating but not dead. The next day, I had a twinge or two but wasn’t walking like Boris Karloff.

  • winterbreezy

    This is exactly what I needed to read <3

  • winterbreezy

    Whoops, wrote on the wrong article. But I did start this on Monday. Lifted a 4lb wrench or something, and today I used a 9.4lb weight that my dad had in his workout area. Definitely challenged me, and so far only doing one set of each. I still have trouble with planking though, my body cannot support my 300+lb body :/ But this is really helpful for me and to help me with getting some strength training in! 🙂

  • Covenantguy

    Have been looking for something like this..

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  • CryptoManiac

    I tried this workout yesterday… I am so sore I can barely move. I only got through two cycles, but this definitely kicked my butt. I will try again tomorrow, maybe I’ll get better.

  • Bekka Hohenboken

    Ahhh thank you Steve! I didn’t write down the time exactly, but a 4-5 minute warmup of sprinting up and down my apartment hallway (…) and 5 pushups, then 3 circuits and a stretch, made the whole workout about 32 minutes. I’m somewhere around the intermediate level for fitness experience (crew, ~16yrs dance, several trainers), although my actual fitness level is more like high-beginner/intermediate. (Visualizing with Gen-I Pokémon: EXP = Level 19 Rattata, fitness = Jigglypuff) My house doesn’t have gallon jugs, or if I does I didn’t go hunting for one, so my dumbbell was actually a fully packed schoolbag (~10#). It’s been ten minutes and I’m still sweating. Oh, quick question – is there a particular form for the jacks or are they more for cardio?

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  • Steve

    Hi, Is split muscle training better for a beginner, or a routine that includes all of the muscles so that it can be done in one day? I heard working all the muscles in one routine is better at the start since the muscles recover faster when you start weight training?

  • Ethan Baldwin

    Wowie Zowie –

    I just took my lunch break to try out this beginner’s bodyweight workout, and hot damn I am feeling it.

    I’ve always been a pretty active big guy: danced my whole life, started doing gymnastics, played football and was a wrestler, and now play dodgeball a few times a week. However, I’ve never been a toned guy and I’ve always felt like a n00b around a plethora of weights. And now, with the career hitting a good but incredibly busy pace, I’ve starting feeling my fitness levels slip, and I would always come up with a good excuse to not workout (1 more hour on the design project…networking at happy hour…didn’t sleep last night so go home and play some Marvel Vs. Capcom)

    However, this beginner workout made me sweat than any other attempt on weight training I’ve done in the past. Those lunges were killer, but I was able to make it through all 3 circuits in about 40 minutes. I definitely think I can get it down time-wise. Best part – I have so much energy this afternoon!

    I’m an official NF Fan 🙂

  • XtremeStack

    Great post for the noobs…If you don’t have a gym membership and you are short on dough at the same time, another quick fix is making a homemade T-Handle or Hungarian Core Blaster. It’s essentially a poor mans Kettlebell for doing 2 handed swings, which are one of the BEST exercises you can do to get lean and mean fast. I put up a post that shows the shopping list and a video to assemble it. Costs substantially less than a RKC original, and you feel kinda like Macgyver.

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  • Alda

    First time trying this, I’m dripping – I only got through two sets, but only because I couldn’t resist the temptation to go right on Facebook to brag about it after the second one and didn’t have the courage to stand up again -_- Since I’m French and we don’t have gallons here, I used a bag containing the full box sets of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars ep. IV.V.VI and Doctor Who series 6. Is this sufficiently nerdy?

    (I just started chronicling my attempt in pictures, you’re namedropped here )

  • MikeinSanJose

    Ohmigwad! First workout in YEARS. Only got through 1 circuit. Thought I was going to die after the lunges… But I feel great! This kicked my ass today. Probably will for a few more days, but I’m going for it. Just do it, right? I’m feeling really good about the whole plan and the prospect of doing it more and more and it getting easier and easier and then making it more challenging until >Ding!<

    So glad I found Nerd Fitness…

  • irishdancer

    I did this workout for the first time today. I am now a) exhausted, b) totally psyched about the fact that I did 30 REAL pushups today, and c) irrationally in love with Steve and body weight workouts 🙂 I’m about a month and a half into messing with body weight stuff and I feel better than I have in a long time. Woohoo!

  • MikeinSanJose

    I’ve got a shopping bag with a bunch of empty glass jars. As I progress I can start filling the jars so I have the same size with increasing weight…

  • jedimindless

    Just did my first day of the bodyweight workout! Damn, they’re a killer but I’m feeling loose and good!

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  • Tanya

    I am so excited to have found your site, Paleo, and also your video. I need to start this NOW. I am over 40.. Overweight by about 50 pounds and so out of shape I can’t climb a set of stairs without feeling like I am climbing Mt. Everest. I hurt all over.. My shoulders especially. Without going to a doctor, I think I am just way way out of shape and my joints need strengthening. And then there is the added benefit of feeling better about how you look when you lose weight. Your site got passed on to me from a Facebook post of someone else that does the Paleo diet. My whole family is going to start it this weekend.. Including the kids.. Its “all natural” for us in our house and we are getting rid of the junk.. and I am picking up a treadmill today to take home so I can Move (we get very heavy snow here, so walking outside will not be an option) And also I am going to start the beginners workout.. Thank you so much.. 🙂 Tanya in snowy Wyoming

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  • Tanya

    I just did this work out for the first time, and I am shocked at how much it kicked my butt. UGH! I was not able to do as many of any of the exercises as prescribed yet… I got some working up to it.. But for as simple as it is… it really works the muscles.. i am gonna be sore later.. 🙂

  • Lauren

    I’ve been doing this for 2 weeks now and I love it! My gym is shut at the moment for a refurb so it’s great to get a workout in my living room. I use my toolbox for the dumbbell rows and have already noticed a HUGE difference in my upper body strength. I still can’t get past 2 circuits, once I get to squat number 5 on my 3rd circuit my legs turn to absolute jelly and I end up falling all over the place. Maybe I’ll do shortened sets in the 3rd circuit and build them up every time? Anyway Steve, thanks for a great video and web site – I’d strongly (ha!) recommend anyone and everyone do this, it’s made more of a difference in my body shape and strength than the 6 months I’ve spent in the gym!

  • Kp

    Great workout, last time I tried to do this I started with too many things at once and could not move properly for several days. This time I have been eating a clean paleo diet 96% of the time for 30 days (and that one day off was killer for me the next day so I think it was important for me to see what frankenfood really does to me). My plan is to do what you suggested on your front page, a 1 mile walk each morning with my dog followed by 1 set of this. I am excited to see the results because with the paleo diet alone I lost about 12 pounds in the month and lots of inches, I know this will improve my strength as well as my shape. I am very excited!

  • Caroline

    Awesome and inspiring post… i had a baby 6 mo. ago, and I’m in pretty bad shape these days – but getting stronger! Yesterday I did one rep, with less lunges and less squats, and I felt crappy that I could only do one at first… Your suggestion to cut back on the reps and work up to it made me feel a lot better. Thanks

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  • Brandon

    can i like add a few exercises like weights lifting using gallon milk jugs?

  • Helen

    That’s a great idea – thank you. My silly barbie weights (5lbs) just aren’t doing anything.

  • buffalobeergut

    How often should you be doing these cycles? Every other day? Twice a week? I just started this routine and it’s awesome. I don’t want to over do it though.

  • Ryan

    I’m doing a modified version of this because I’m a total weakling; 50-60 wall push ups (just did 5 kneeling push ups today, though, after a week of doing them on the wall), 3×10 rows/bicep curl and presses/tricep presses, 10 “dead lifts” without a bar (gallon jug in each hand), and just started doing 20 assisted squats with it. I’m hoping to work up to unassisted squats and real push ups someday, and adding super beginner “pull ups” on a door next time.

    I’m also trying to jump rope on alternating days but I suck at that outright and can’t get more than a couple jumps in before I trip on the rope. Still, it’s 10 or so minutes of cardio that I wouldn’t be getting, right?

    I’m sore as hell but thrilled about it.

  • Rebulator

    This is great. I work at a gym, so I often don’t feel like spending any more time there then I have to. I was doing this with my dad though, and his knees started to hurt. Are there any exercises that are similar to the lunges and squats that are a little more knee-friendly?

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  • s3kshun5

    That would be amazing!

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  • frogladyrhonda

    I haven’t started yet…. I have lots of lower back pain. Im also hypothyroid. My meds keeping numbers where they need to be. But showing signs of hershmoto immune desease. I need basic simple exercises that a lazy person can do.

  • Rebekah Encke

    lunges are my achilles heel. I think its just a balance issue more than likely…but I just can’t seem to “get it” and do them without holding on to something, its like my body just wont go through the motions. I have to start holding on, any ideas as to what the hell is the problem?

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  • Walter_C

    My wife sent me a link to this site (hint? hint?) and i tried this workout. I am 34 years old and 266lbs. I work on a desk all day at home. I took me 30 minutes to warm up and do 2 circuits. I “could” have gone for the third circuit but after being immobile for 6 months, I better start slow.

  • MayGray

    Can you help me figure out calories burned from three circuits through with minimal rest? At a weight of 301? I’m a real beginner and don’t even know where to find that info.


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  • Jamie

    Is this work out good to keep for 2-3 days a week and run the other days, or should I switch it up? I am new to the paleo diet. I’m 5’2 150 lbs, I have a very athletic build my ideal weight would be around 130 135, with eating right and doing these exercises help me lose weight? I wanted to go to a crossfit gym but 200 dollars a month isn’t in my budget right now.

  • Teresa Zorn

    well i guess this workout is out for me bummer i have messed up knees so squating and lunging is out of the question is there something else you could recommend to replace squats and lunges?

  • MissB

    I found that when I first started, I had to hold on to something too.
    After a couple weeks of this work out I’m finding that my balance is
    getting better. I don’t have to hold onto something as much, now i just
    need to rest my hand on the back of a chair that’s in reach, at the end
    of the lunge. Small improvement, but I think it might be just a question
    of getting used to the movement, and building up the muscles, just a
    little more, to get it.

    Also, maybe stretching before doing
    lunges will help. I had no idea how much tension I had in my legs until I
    started doing proper stretches, and tension can really through off your

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  • Zach Zundel

    Holy cow!
    I did this last night, 5 times, and I am sure feeling it today! I’m sore all over!