Your Complete Beginner Bodyweight Circuit

You’ve probably heard the old travel cliche that says every journey begins with a single step. It’s true of course — how could it not be? But one crucial bit is always left out. No one ever tells you how utterly frightening those first steps can be. You’re setting out into the unknown, to a place where you don’t understand the language, and you’re pushing your comfort zones in ways that cause you to grow and evolve. When you reach your destination you’re no longer the person who set out. The road has changed you, and you can never go back.

The same is true of your lifelong health and fitness journey. Those first few days are the toughest part. That’s when you’re at greatest risk of giving up. You feel clumsy and uncoordinated. You ache in strange places — perhaps you even ache for the comfort of that armchair in the corner. But something urges you to see it through.

If you can just get past the first few sessions, you’ll begin to feel better and experience more vitality. Repetition will groove those new healthier habits, and you’ll build the forward momentum to propel you towards your goal.

Let’s Ease Into It Together…

We want to make your early phase as easy as possible.

Today’s blog is for you guys and gals who are just starting out, or who might be standing at the trailhead scoping out the first leg of your journey. It’s a beginner’s bodyweight circuit that anyone can do, anytime or anywhere.

Check out this video tutorial and study the detailed performance cues for each movement:

As a reminder:

Your Beginner Bodyweight Circuit is:

  • Press Up 10 – 12 reps
  • McGill Crunch 10 – 12 reps (switch legs halfway)
  • Side Plank 15 – 45 seconds (each side)
  • Split Squat 10 – 12 reps (each side)
  • Optional: Suspension Row 10 – 12 reps

One time through the list is one circuit. Rest for 1 minute and start again from the top. Complete 3 to 5 rounds for a full, head to toe beginner bodyweight exercise session.

Use the Regressions

We’ve provided a number of ways to make each exercise accessible, no matter what your level of experience or fitness. Use the regressions when you need them. Keep working to wean yourself off of them one circuit at a time. And if you find yourself hitting the wall during a training session, drop down a level to the point where you can maintain good form. That’s your bottom line. Blasting out reps with poor form only increases your likelihood of injury, and it makes bad habits repeatable.

Options for Cycling This Workout

If you’re just starting out and are using this circuit as your main exercise modality, we suggest doing 3 sessions per week. If you’ve already been working out for a few weeks but are new to our type of bodyweight exercise, you could do this workout as often as every second day.

If you don’t want to make this your main exercise modality, you can still schedule it into your existing program. Use it to replace your conventional “cardio” session, or make it your backup solution for business trips, vacations, or for those busy times when you just can’t get to a gym.

Spend 2 to 3 weeks building a foundation with this beginner’s circuit, and then go ahead and try some of the more advanced stuff you’ll find on our blog.

Finally, if you’ve got questions please post them in the comment section below. We’d be happy to answer them.

Happy training!

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Facebook Comments

{ 28 comments… add one }

  • Peter McCann January 26, 2011, 4:19 am

    Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Canada, demonstrates a few core exercises that emphasize all the major muscles that support the spine.
    http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/06/17/magazine/1194841000095/core-values.html

    Reply
  • Reinaldo Novoa Jr. January 26, 2011, 5:35 am

    Great beginner tips !
    Keep up the good work

    Reply
  • Michael January 26, 2011, 6:33 am

    Adam
    What i like about your site is that you are always bang up to date with the latest thinking and techniques, you dont just follow trends. Your ideas are based on good solid research which is supported by evidence.

    Thanks Mate
    Mike (UK)

    Reply
  • Smitty January 26, 2011, 8:59 am

    That’s not a TRX, right? Which suspension system is that brother?

    Reply
    • Adam January 26, 2011, 9:14 pm

      Hey Smitty,
      It’s a Jungle Gym XT and it’s awesome. Really easy to adjust. Great grip and handle configuration. Really high quality construction.
      Cheers,
      Adam

      Reply
  • Frank A January 26, 2011, 11:23 am

    Adam,

    It would be really GREAT ;-) if there was a transcript describing the exercises you presented. I know you work with Dr. K at times and it is like you two can see many possibilities of taking a basic exercise and making so many different variations from it – both regressing and adding sophistication (making it more challenging). Dr. K provides how to do that in his DEFL.

    But for those of us who don’t want to or have the time to make the modifications, it is always appreciated that there are those – like you and Ryan that can do it for us. Of course other fitness experts do it also – Scott Sonnon, Craig Ballantyne, Arnel & Roman, Joel Marion, Vince Del Monte and Lee Hayward, etc.

    Thanks guys for making it easier for us to have workouts that we can refer to. Not to leave out Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Body – which provides some interesting insights) and Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove with their new books The New Rules of Lifting Six Basic Moves for Maximum Muscle, For Women, and For Abs. Also Mike Lauren has a bodyweight book.

    Reply
  • Val January 26, 2011, 11:28 am

    Thanks a lot. I really appreciate the beginners workout and all the tips you gave.

    Reply
  • John Sifferman January 26, 2011, 7:37 pm

    This is a great tutorial, Adam. I especially appreciate the simple breakdown of exercises – the more ideas I have to adjust for my clients, the better. I’ve got to get a suspension system one of these days…

    Reply
  • Nathan Cragg January 26, 2011, 9:46 pm

    Dude your arms get bigger everytime I see a new video haha

    I passed this on to the minions and may have to bust out the pushup board ;)

    Reply
  • Deb January 26, 2011, 10:00 pm

    Love your explanation of the exercises Adam. You make this accessible to all levels of fitness which is just terrific! :-)

    Reply
  • Barbell Weights January 27, 2011, 12:50 am

    This is awesome! Looks simple enough to do at home, and something my mom can do too! Great tips.

    Reply
  • Scott Jones January 31, 2011, 10:14 pm

    This is an excellent circuit to recommend for beginners. Thanks.

    Reply
  • Hiit August 25, 2011, 7:30 am

    Great post about bodyweight circuit, thank you for publishing it. Love your site

    Reply
  • John Cruc June 25, 2012, 12:47 am

    Great post!
    Where can I find (someone post a link) an intermediate workout to try after weeks of this one?

    Reply
    • Ryan Murdock June 25, 2012, 6:04 am

      John,

      Go here and enter your email address in the opt in box at the top of the page to access our free Shapeshifter Launchpad program http://www.theshapeshifterblog.com/ It seamlessly combines workouts, diet changes and lifestyle lessons.

      Reply
  • Tadas August 27, 2012, 4:07 am

    This workout is quite a nice one.After 4 circuits I was sweating like never before.A couple questions though:
    1.After the workout I had a headache(specifically my forehead was aching).Is it good/bad?
    2.How do I know if needed to do one more/less circuit(in other words,how do I know if the workout was effective)?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Ryan Murdock August 28, 2012, 6:51 am

      Thanks Tadas, glad you’re enjoying it. Your questions:

      1. Unfortunately we’re not qualified to offer medical advice. A headache after exercise could be a lot of things. Most likely just dehydration, but you don’t want to mess with your health so please see a doctor if you’re concerned. There’s nothing specific about these programs that would cause headache.

      2. You can do several things. Take measurements and track the changes in your body over the course of 3 or 4 weeks, then make modifications and see what happened. You can also rate your session in terms of intensity. Rate each session between 1 and 10, with 10 being the sort of intensity that leaves you lying on the floor panting at the end. Experiment with different levels of intensity, and track how it makes you feel (using a journal), and the changes you see in the mirror. When increasing intensity or rounds, just be sure not to go beyond the point where you can maintain good form in the exercises.

      Hope that helps.

      Reply
      • Tadas August 31, 2012, 1:54 am

        The headache was probably accidental,it had gone away a couple minutes after.
        I’ll take the advice about measuring intensity.
        Thanks for the tips :)

        Reply
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  • Luis Castillo December 2, 2012, 2:17 pm

    Hi Ryan..Thanks a lot for posting it…I will start working with this tomorrow…

    I have two questions…

    1) Can i combined a bodyweight circuit like this (or any more advanced later) with a swimming program? obviously in different days…How would you combine that?

    2) Can you suggest any warm up and cool down tip for this circuits?

    Thanks a lot

    Reply
    • Ryan Murdock December 3, 2012, 5:49 am

      Hi Luis,

      1) Yes, definitely. How often do you swim each week? You could use the beginner bodyweight circuit on the days you don’t swim. Or if you swim each day, try to space the workout apart from your pool session (so swim in the morning, for example, and do bodyweight in the afternoon).

      2) Any quick joint mobility session would work (we have some great examples in our Shapeshifter and Bodyweight Burn programs). And for cool down, a stretching routine that hits all parts of the body, or a basic yoga routine (like Shapeshifter Yoga) are ideal.

      Best wishes,
      Ryan

      Reply
  • Janine March 13, 2013, 2:19 am

    Hi
    I’m just a bit worried that Flavia Del Monte says on her site the following: “Training with light weight, higher reps and primarily bodyweight exercises is not wrong but you must understand it results in myogenic muscle tone, which is not the muscle tone that results in killer definition and curvy body parts.”
    I cant use any weights due to my joints, can only use resistance bands and bodyweight exercises. Will bodyweight exercises give me that soft look and not a defined toned look?
    Thanks,Janine

    Reply
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