Beginner bodyweight workout (circuit): Progressions and regressions for all levels of fitness

beginner bodyweight workout

Spending more time at home? Yeah, me too. But that doesn’t mean we need to hit the pause button on our fitness. Today I’ve got a beginner bodyweight workout that includes progressions and regressions for all levels of fitness.

Burn calories, more more, and get stronger all from the comfort of your home. Let’s dive into the beginner bodyweight workout


What are the benefits of bodyweight workouts?

Bodyweight workouts are super convenient and can be done at home, while traveling, or at a park. In fact, being able to exercise outside may provide some psychological benefits that may help motivate and facilitate more physical activity. 

So if you’ve been struggling to build motivation to exercise start with a walk outside, some push-ups and squats at a local park or inverted rows on a swing set might be a great place to start.

Many of my coaching clients use bodyweight circuits as 2 to 5-minute movement snacks to break up a busy workday.

Bodyweight workouts also give you an opportunity to practice exercises or specific movement patterns that may challenge you in the gym.

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Push up
  • Single leg Romanian deadlifts

They are also a safe and effective way to burn calories, build strength,  and help with weight management when combined with the right diet.

Can you build muscle and strength with bodyweight exercises?

Man doing handstand in front of building

Absolutely.

Building muscle and strength mostly comes down to progressive overload.

Without this, it’s virtually impossible to get stronger or build muscle. In order to get stronger, build, or maintain muscle – The stimulus has to be more than it is used to. If you do the same thing over and over again nothing will change.

The team over at Freeletics does a great job of explaining how you can do this.

  • Increasing Intensity: Lifting more weight in your next training session.
  • Increasing Volume: Doing more reps, sets, or exercises for a certain muscle group in your next training.
  • Increasing Frequency: Doing more training sessions than the week before.
  • Increasing Tension: Increasing the duration of each repetition within an exercise. This is usually done by slowing down the eccentric part of the exercise (example: when you lower yourself in a push up)
  • And more…

I know that may be a little confusing. But don’t worry, we’ll be going over how to progress with your training in a little bit.

Also, If you have not worked out in a while or are exercising for the first time you may experience “beginner gains.”

In the first 3 to 6 months and sometimes as much as 12 months. You’ll notice that your strength may increase rapidly. Then all of a sudden it gets harder and harder to get stronger. Leaving you all like 🤯 and 😩 and 😕.

This is totally normal. Almost anything you do is progressive overload at this point and your body responds very quickly to it. You can even get great results with poorly designed programs and random workouts.

You may even notice that some exercises are easier to progress with than others. Again, totally normal. Stick with it –  make adjustments and you’ll be fine.

Will I lose muscle mass or strength if I train with bodyweight after years of training with weights?

It can take about up to 6 weeks for muscle loss to occur if you were to stop training completely. But if you’re training effectively with your bodyweight and applying the principles of progressive overload you may be able to stop this process.

This means to keep up the intensity.

In a study from 2017 researchers looked at 21 studies comparing sets of 5 to 12 reps with higher weight versus 12 to 40 reps with a lower weight. What they found is that there was no difference in muscle growth as long as the sets were taken to failure. I prefer not to go to failure on every set but stopping one rep short.

To sum it up, if progressive overload is applied and intensity remains high you should be able to maintain strength and muscle. 

Beginner bodyweight workout: Movement patterns included in this workout

The beginner bodyweight workout in today’s article focuses on the most basic and functional movement patterns. These are the most common ways we move our bodies on a day to day basis.

You’ll also see some bonus movement patterns

  • Core: Used in just about everything we do
  • Cardiovascular and conditioning: Walking, running, jumping
  • Fun movements: Like crawling and play

The beginner bodyweight workout: Circuit A and B

The beginner bodyweight workout is designed to be done as a circuit. You’ll complete the number of reps for the first exercise, rest as needed, and move on to the second exercise. Continue with this until all exercises have be performed. This is one set.

I’ve also provided exercise variations if you want to decrease or increase the intensity of the level of difficulty. 

Workout A: 3 to 5 sets of

Bodyweight squat, 8-20 reps

Isometric towel pull apart and row, 8-20 reps

One leg elevated hip thrust, 8-20 reps per leg

Push up, 8-20 reps

Straight arm plank, 20-60 seconds

Bonus – If you have time: 3 rounds, 30-60 seconds of each exercise

Workout B 

Reverse lunge, 8-20 reps per leg

Isometric towel pull apart and pull down, 8-20 reps

Hamstring or glute bridge walking, 8-20 reps

Plank to down dog, 8-20 reps

Forearm plank, 20-60 seconds

Bonus – If you have time: 3 rounds, 30-60 seconds of each exercise

How to follow the beginner bodyweight workout

There are a number of ways you can fit the beginner bodyweight workout into your schedule. Work with whatever your life demands. But here are a few ways the workout could fit into your schedule.

Option 1

  • Monday: Workout A
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Workout B
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Workout A
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

On the following Monday, you would pick up with Workout B and repeat the process.

Option 2

  • Monday: Workout A
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Workout B
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Workout A
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Workout B

On the following Monday, you would rest and on Tuesday you would pick back up with Workout A

Option 3

  • Monday: Workout A
  • Tuesday: Workout B
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Workout A
  • Friday: Workout B
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

Increasing difficulty and how to progress with the beginner bodyweight workout

After a few weeks of consistently completing the beginner bodyweight workout, you may need to make it more difficult. There are a few ways you can do this. 

1). Reduce the amount of rest after each exercise and or after each set. This will increase muscular fatigue which will make each exercise harder to do.

2). Slow down the movement (or tempo). Instead of moving your body as fast as you can during an exercise try slowing it down. This will increase muscular tension and make the exercise more difficult. This can be done both on the eccentric part of the movement (lowering) or concentric part of the movement (the lifting). For example, try taking 3 to 5 seconds to lower yourself while doing a push-up. Or try to take 3 to 5 seconds while pressing yourself up.

3). Increase the reps. In the workouts, I provide rep ranges that are a great place to start for most people. But as you keep exercising this will feel too easy. Increase reps until you get 1 rep before failure. Make a note of how many you got and try to beat it by one rep in an upcoming workout.

4). Choose harder variations of the exercise. For example, decline push-ups are harder than regular push-ups, which are harder than knee or elevated push-ups. To use the lower body as an example, Bulgarian splits squats are harder than bodyweight squats which are harder than assisted bodyweight squats.

5). Superset exercises that work the same muscle groups or have a similar movement pattern. For example, complete a set of reverse lunges and immediately go into a set of bodyweight squats. The muscular fatigue from the lunges will make thee squats much more difficult.

Conversely, if you need to reduce the level of difficulty of the workouts you can.

  • Increase rest after exercises or sets
  • Reduce the number of reps
  • Choose easier variations of the exercise

Subtle nutrition changes you can use to help lose fat and get stronger

When it comes to fat loss, long term weight management, and building muscle and strength nutrition is a very important part of the process. Maybe more so then the exercise component.

Create calorie awareness

You don’t have to count calories to be successful, but calories do matter when it comes to fat loss. In order to lose body fat, you have to create a calorie deficit.

You can do this in a number of ways, a few below.

  • Weighing portions and tracking your calories in an app.
  • Follow a specific diet like keto, paleo, intermittent fasting, or vegan and eliminate entire food groups (or macronutrients like carbs or animal protein) to do this.
  • Improving the quality of foods you eat, eating less calorie-dense foods, and controlling portion sizes by using your hands

Today we’re looking to improve calorie awareness by taking on two small tasks.

  • Reading labels or looking up nutrition info online or in an app
  • Learning about calorie density and choosing foods that fill us up without a ton of calories

Read labels and look up nutrition online.

We are notoriously bad at estimating how much we’re eating. So this week we’re going to create better awareness but learning about the calories in the foods we make at home and when we go out to eat.

If you’re eating anything with a label pay attention to the serving sizes and calories per serving.

calorie density

If you’re eating anything without a label (an apple for example) look it up in an app like MyFitnesPal or Calorie King. Simply type in the food and learn about the calories in different serving sizes.

Before going out to eat see if the restaurant provides nutrition info online and choose what to get before you arrive. If not, see if they have the nutrition info on the menu when you get there. Interesting that the salad you were thinking of getting is actually 1,000 calories 😲

Choose less calorie-dense foods

Calorie density can simply be summed up as more food with fewer calories.

More specifically, it’s the number of calories in a given weight of the food. A food high in calorie density has a large number of calories in a small weight of food (i.e. olive oil). A food low in calorie density would have a small number of calories in the same weight of food (i.e. broccoli).

Choosing foods lower in calorie density is important because these foods are satiating and fill our stomachs without adding tons of calories to our diet.

How calories fill up the stomach

Generally speaking, vegetables and fruit are the lowest in calorie density, followed by whole food starches, animal proteins, and finally liquid calories, nuts, seeds, and oils. Highly processed foods like cookies, candy, ice cream, and fries would also be calorie-dense foods.

Now, this doesn’t mean we can never eat these foods. It just means to be aware of them, eat them in moderation, and adjust the consumption them based on our current goals.

Swap liquid calories for zero-calorie drinks

The following list is the average amount of calories in some of our favorite beverages (calorie king).

  • Fruit juice (8oz.): 115 calories, 29 grams of carbohydrates, and 27 grams of sugar
  • Soda (12oz.): 140 calories, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 39 grams of sugar
  • Vitamin Water (20oz.): 125 calories, 33 grams of sugar
  • Beer: 153 calories, 12 grams of carbohydrate
  • Coffee w/cream & sugar: 120 calories, 19 grams of carbohydrate, 17 grams of sugar

By reducing caloric beverages you can save yourself hundreds and sometimes thousands of calories per day. That’s enough alone to lose a pound or two each week. Ami, a client of mine lost 15 pounds in one month just by swapping a rum and coke each night with water.

Work on your all or nothing mindset using the best friend method

When you’re having a tough time, disappointed in yourself, beating yourself up, or are telling yourself things such as:

  • I have no willpower
  • I’m just not good enough
  • I don’t have the discipline
  • I’m not smart, strong, sexy, or confident

You’ll stop, breathe, and ask yourself what would I tell my best friend right now?

The goal is not to evaluate yourself positively or negatively but to do so honestly and rationally. It’s easier to do this using the best friend method because a lot of personal emotion is taken out of it.

Think about it for a second. We’ve all had a friend that has come to us about a relationship issue. They’re crying, going back and forth about what to do, it’s because so much of them is invested – so much emotion. Meanwhile, in your head, you’re thinking what’s the problem. They’re a dick. Move on. You equal rational. Them, not so much.

Pick a fault or something you constantly crush yourself about. Talk to yourself like a supportive friend, coach, or mentor. Pretend they’re the one that’s beating themselves up and speak to them with compassion. Measure healthy fats

Build balanced plates

nutrition plate for men and women with portions

A balanced plate may look like this

  • Protein: 1-2 palms or about 20-60 grams of protein per meal
  • Veggies: 1-2 fists or about half a plate
  • Carbs: 1-2 cupped handfuls or about 20-60 grams of carbs per meal
  • Healthy fats: 1-2 thumbs or about 7-24 grams of fat per meal
  • Drinks: Mostly zero calorie
  • Adherence: 80-90% of the time, YOLO the other 10-20%

Start with one meal a day and level up from there. Also, keep track of your balanced plates versus YOLO plates. It’s easy to beat yourself up and think you messed up your entire diet with one trip through a fast-food window. Oh well, I blew my diet today. I might as well YOLO, eat my face off, and start all over again on Monday.

But check it out. If you eat 3 meals per day or 21 per week and 3 of those are your plates. You’re looking at a score of 85%. That’s pretty damn good.

I talk more about these concepts and building balanced plates in the getting started diet guide.

What’s next (resistance band workout)

After a few weeks of the beginner bodyweight workout you may be ready for something else. Check out a few of the other routines on the blog.

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Photo by Piero Nigro on Unsplash

Resources
Gladwell, Valerie F et al. “The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all.” Extreme physiology & medicine vol. 2,1 3. 3 Jan. 2013, doi:10.1186/2046-7648-2-3
Fisher, James & Steele, James & Smith, Dave. (2013). Evidence-Based Resistance Training Recommendations for Muscular Hypertrophy. Medicina Sportiva. 17. 217-235. 10.5604/17342260.1081302.
Kubo K, Ikebukuro T, Yata H, Tsunoda N, Kanehisa H. Time course of changes in muscle and tendon properties during strength training and detraining. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(2):322-331. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c865e2
Higher training frequency is important for gaining muscular strength under volume-matched training (1)

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