Beginner Bodyweight Workout: How To Train Smart And Get Results
Bodyweight fitness can be a great way to build a Greek God physique.
That is, if you know how to train correctly.
Are you dreaming of exercises such as the muscle-up, or an athletic body with a ripped musculature? Then we have a beginner bodyweight workout that will bring you results...
If you are willing to put in the effort.
These may feel like far away dreams, but we can assure you they are closer than you think.
Having a good workout routine will take you there, and we are here to give you the routine that will lead you down a fast track...
As well as all the information you need to keep progressing.
Beginner bodyweight workout
We will start with the routine because that is what you are here for.
Note that you may not be able to do all the repetitions in this workout, which is alright. Your aim is to keep training until you can do three sets of 12 in each exercise, respectively 15 squats.
- 2-3 minutes light jogging
- 15 arm rotations forward and backward
- 15 shoulder rotations forward and backward
- 15 elbow rotations
- 15 wrist rotations
2. Strength work
- 3 x (8-12) Pull-ups
- 3 x (8-12) Dips
- 3 x (8-12) Inverted rows
- 3 x (8-12) Push ups
- 3 x (8-12) Lying leg raises
- 3 x (10-15) Squats
- Frequency: 3 times per week with a day break in between - M/W/F or Tu/Thur/Sat
- Rest: 1-2 minutes between sets and 2-3 minutes between exercises
- 1 minute deep breathing
- Any flexibility work you may want to do
Now that you've seen it, we recommend you to read the rest of the article to learn:
Given that this is a workout structured for beginners, it is a full body routine.
It is better for beginners to start training using a full body routine, rather than a split. Beginner trainees have to get used to the exercises and a full body workout allows a higher frequency with adequate rest between workout sessions.
Besides, higher frequency may be better for hypertrophy (a.k.a. gainz in the broscience world).
As seen in this study.
Let's explain each of the phases:
- Strength work
Properly warming up before exercising is crucial for injury prevention and performance.
For one, beginner bodyweight workouts are relatively easy on joints. However, it takes only one snap before you are out of the game for a few months and you have to do rehabilitation exercises.
Secondly, when your muscles are warmed up, they can exert more power which leads to a better workout.
The best warm-up exercises for a beginner are the basic ones such as:
- Light jogging, jumping jacks, and any other light exercise that increases your hear rate
- Joint rotations: arms, shoulders, elbows, wrists
As your work capacity increases (i.e., you can do more exercises or more difficult exercises) your warm-up will change accordingly.
Right now, this is a beginner bodyweight workout so we’ll keep the warm-up at a beginner level.
Again, properly warming up is possibly the most crucial part of the whole workout.
At the beginning of your journey, you will want to focus on the basic exercises.
Before working towards harder progressions, like front lever, back lever, and planche, you will need to build a strong foundation.
The harder progressions are built upon the basics.
Let’s imagine you want to do muscle ups, but you are unable to perform at least three high pull-ups...
You will find it close to impossible because you lack strength in one of the core movements of the muscle up.
A weak base will have you go back to strengthen it. Do your due diligence now instead of wasting time later.
So which are the basics?
According to Paul Wade, the author of “Convict Conditioning,” there are six main exercises - the foundation of bodyweight training.
- Push ups
- Leg raises
- Handstand push ups
We disagree, because we would certainly include the inverted row (or Australian pull-up) as one of the basic exercises.
It is not only a progression towards the pull-up but it is a very important movement pattern to avoid any muscles imbalances.
Makes sense? Not yet? Keep on reading and it will make sense.
In our beginner bodyweight workout, there are two pulling movements (pull-ups and inverted rows), two pushing movements (push-ups and dips) one exercise for the abdominal muscles (leg raises) and one leg exercise (squats).
In the section below we will further explain why we have chosen these exercises and how you can change the intensity of each one of them to suit your needs..
This phase is overlooked by many people, which is not wise.
The cooldown has multiple purposes, as follows:
- Return your heart rate and breathing to normal
- Prevents dizziness and fainting
- Prevents or at least minimizes muscle soreness (especially if you stretch)
In our opinion, the best way to go about the cooldown is to do a full body stretching routine that takes around 15 minutes.
The one we particularly enjoy is from Tom Merrick (in the video above).
Now that you understand each section, it is time to briefly explain each exercise, how to keep progressing and what mistakes to avoid in your training.
Workout exercises explained
In this section we will lightly brush over each exercise and tell you how to change their intensity, to suit your level.
If you want to learn even more on the subject, check our article on the best bodyweight exercises.
The exercises were split into:
Additionally, the pushing and pulling exercises were divided into horizontal - push-ups, inverted rows, and vertical - dips, pull-ups.
Keeping an overall balance between the horizontal and vertical planes will help keep the overall health of your shoulders, as well as prevent any muscle imbalances.
The pull-up is considered the king of vertical pulling exercises.
This exercise will bring you the most results in terms of muscle and strength building, so it must be part of any beginner bodyweight workout.
Believe it or not, it makes you engage most of the muscles in your upper body - including chest, triceps, and shoulders. Who would’ve thought?
Pull-ups are really great at building relative strength which translates to harder exercises.
Relative strength refers to how strong you are relative to your size.
Proficiency with pull-ups is imperative to your progress; it will skyrocket the performance you have in other exercises - even if they are not necessarily pulling exercises.
Lastly, they will develop a really nice upper back and give you the V-taper look everyone is seeking.
Check our comprehensive guide on how to do pull-ups if you are unable to do one.
Or keep on reading for a simplified tutorial:
If you cannot do a pull-up yet, you should do eccentric (negative) pull-ups instead.
Start by jumping on top of the bar and lower to a hanging position over a period of three seconds.
At first, they may feel overwhelming, but they will build an insane amount of strength.
As you get better at eccentric pull-ups, you should be able to start doing the full variation.
However, if that doesn’t happen, you can bridge the gap by doing chin-ups. They are just like pull-ups only that the palms are facing you instead of away from you.
It is a subtle difference with a great impact.
During a chin up the biceps is in mechanical advantage and will assist much more than during a pull-up, making the pulling movement easier.
Dips are an excellent vertical pushing exercise that will target your chest, triceps, and shoulders.
Building to a few repetitions will be difficult...
However, as you keep training, you’ll see that it will feel easier, to the point where you will add A LOT of extra weight with ease.
There are people easily dipping 150 lbs (70kg) of extra weight.
The strength you build with dips translates to skills like the planche, so mastering this exercise is a must for advanced levels of bodyweight training.
Furthermore, doing some kind of vertical pushing movement is essential for the integrity of your shoulders, and dips are a perfect choice.
What if you can not do dips yet?
If you are unable to do dips at the moment you may consider doing bench dips.
However, we do not feel like that is enough.
With dips, there are three main muscle groups involved: chest, triceps, and shoulders. Bench dips mainly target the triceps, leaving the other two muscle groups out of the game.
A better approach would be to do eccentric (negative) dips.
Jump on the handles and from the top position slowly lower yourself until there is a 90-degree angle at your elbows.
That is one repetition.
Now repeat for as many times as needed, and with time you will build the necessary strength to do a full repetition.
The inverted row is a horizontal pulling exercise and a first step towards achieving your first pull-up.
What is so great about horizontal pulling exercises is that they can fix a hunchback.
More often than not, a hunchback is an imbalance between the pushing muscles - in this case, chest muscles - and back muscles.
If you have such an issue, inverted rows should help you solve it.
How do you go about making the exercise harder or easier?
With inverted rows the idea is simple: the closer to parallel you are to the ground, the harder the exercise will be.
Therefore, to make them easier, open the angle between you and the ground.
To make them more difficult, close the angle between you and the ground.
You may find it hard to change the intensity if you are using a fixed bar. In that case we recommend you to elevate your legs on a box or any other surface.
If you are training in a conventional gym though, you can quickly change the intensity at the smith machine or using TRX or gymnastics rings.
To make the exercise harder simply get close to or parallel to the ground, or do the exercise using one arm.
Push-ups are one of the most complete horizontal pushing exercises.
Just as pull-ups, they engage muscles throughout the whole body - including the leg muscles to stay balanced.
There are lots of progressions for this exercise, each one forcing you to reach new grounds in terms of strength, mobility, and balance.
The good thing about push-ups is that the intensity can be changed rather easily through progressions.
Furthermore, the gap between progressions (i.e. the difference in necessary strength) is not big.
As you move on to harder progressions, the difference becomes a bit harder to bridge, but that is for really advanced movements - think planche push ups.
How to make push-ups easier?
If you find push-ups too tricky we recommend you to check our thorough article on how to do a push-up.
To simplify, the intensity can be easily decreased by doing incline push-ups.
Find a surface that is elevated from the ground and do the exercise on that. The taller the surface, the easier the exercise becomes.
Another progression that helps a lot is doing eccentric push-ups.
Start in the top position of the exercise and lower to the bottom position over a period of three seconds.
These two exercises should build the necessary strength to take you to your first full repetition.
Lying leg raises
The leg raise is one of the best dynamic abdominal exercises for a beginner bodyweight workout.
Proper form is easy to nail, and the exercise is not hard to perform. The intensity can be easily changed to suit all fitness levels.
If you want a static exercise, then any variation of the plank is great. Beginners can start with the plank in the push-up position and build up to the elbow plank.
When thinking of abs, most people picture crunches in their mind.
Even though crunches are popular, they are not the most ideal exercise because, inevitably, there will be a lot of pressure placed on the cervical spine.
Leg raises do not have this drawback and, unlike crunches, can be scaled up and down in intensity quite a lot.
How to change the intensity of leg raises?
The lying leg raise is a reasonably easy progression. However, if you have trouble lifting your legs, you can instead bring your knees to your chest.
That will make the exercise way more manageable and will give you a starting point in your journey.
If you want to make the exercise harder, you can start doing hanging knee raises and build up to leg raises, followed by toes to bar.
Toes-to-bar leg raises are the top of the chain. If that’s what you’re aiming for, doing lying leg raises is a good starting point.
Just like pull-ups are to the upper body the squat is to the lower body.
Okay, maybe this comparison sounds odd, but squats are one of the best lower body exercises.
You are using lots of stabilizer muscles when performing this exercise and it engages all of the leg muscle groups to some extent.
Leg training is essential and should be important to anyone that is serious about being an athlete.
For that reason, we strongly encourage you to do MORE than just squats.
This is a beginner bodyweight workout, so having a single leg exercise is fine. However, as you progress, we strongly recommend you to include more leg exercises in your training.
Our legs are stronger as compared to any other part of our body, so only doing bodyweight exercises won’t cut it. We strongly recommend you to eventually use weight training for optimal leg development in both strength and muscle mass.
How to make squats harder?
The easiest way to increase the intensity when squatting is to use one leg instead of two.
There are multiple variations of single legged squats but we recommend the following:
- Bulgarian split squat
- Assisted pistol squat
- Full pistol squat
As for the easier variation...
We am pretty sure any healthy individual can do squats, regardless of whether he has an active sports background or if he’s a couch potato.
Most squat-related issues are not related to strength but actually hip, knee or ankle mobility.
Therefore, before training single leg variations, we recommend you to watch the videos below.
Watch the first video to assess whether you can do the exercise using proper form. Afterwards, watch the second video to fix your mobility issues (if you have any).
Progressing with bodyweight training
Even though it may seem evident that progress is essential, some people have sticking points because they don’t know how to progress effectively.
Everyone knows that you should add more repetitions or that you should increase the resistance...
But what happens when you reach a sticking point?
When I didn’t know how to progress effectively I used to be stuck with four sets of ten repetitions for weeks. I could not get past that.
There are multiple ways of progressing but, as a beginner, the following will bring you the most results:
- Increasing the number of repetitions
- Doing harder progressions
- Adding weight
Let's break them all down below.
1. Increase the number of repetitions
The easiest way to progress if you are a beginner bodyweight athlete is to increase the number of repetitions.
You may not be ready to add extra weight to your body at the moment, and doing the exercises slower (increasing the time under tension) may be too difficult for you.
If you are a total beginner your body is not used to having tension all around its muscles.
Doing an exercise slower will not work. You will simply not be able to control the movement.
So let’s have a look at a few ways of increasing the number of repetitions.
1.1. Increase all sets
The first and possibly the most efficient method is to increase the repetitions in every single set, every workout.
Let’s imagine that today is your first day of training and you have done three sets of six pull-ups (3x6).
The following workout you will do three sets of seven pull-ups (3x7) for a total of three additional reps throughout the workout.
Then the next training session you do 3x8.
- Day 1 - Monday: 6, 6, 6
- Day 2 - Wednesday: 7, 7, 7
- Day 3 - Friday: 8, 8, 8
Even though it may seem too good to be true, you will be able to progress that fast if you are a complete beginner.
In the first year of training, your body will adapt to most stimuli so you will see fast results even if you don’t have a good enough diet.
But what happens if you don’t progress that fast?
1.2. Increase just a set
This approach takes more time than the method above. Instead of progressing to 3x8 in a couple of sessions, it will take up to two weeks to achieve that number.
- Day 1 - M: 6, 6, 6
- Day 2 - W: 7, 6, 6
- Day 3 - F: 7, 7, 6
- Day 4 - M: 7, 7, 7
- Day 5- W: 8, 7, 7
- Day 6 - F: 8, 8, 7
- Day 7 - M: 8, 8, 8
If you see that you cannot employ the first method and have to use this one, don’t get discouraged.
We all want to make fast progress, but that is not in our control at all times.
The only thing we have under control is the consistency, which we’ll be discussing in the section for common mistakes.
1.3. Additional set
The last method I’m going to present in this section consists of adding one more set if you see that you haven’t made any progress from the previous workout.
- Day 1 - M: 6, 6, 6
- Day 2 - W: 6, 6, 6, 6
- Day 3 - F: 7, 7, 7
For this method, we assume that in your 2nd day of training you have strived to do more than 3x6 but were unable to.
For this reason, you’ve done an extra set to force your body to adapt to more volume. This, in turn, bridged the gap and helped you do 3x7.
These above are only examples. In the real world, the numbers will not always be as round and ideal as we have presented them above. At the end of the day, you should strive to progress every single session - even if it’s just one extra repetition.
2. Do harder progressions
What we love most about bodyweight training is the endless choices when it comes to exercises.
All exercises have multiple progressions that are more and more difficult, giving you the option to work towards lots of goals.
With that being said, there are strength gaps between progressions, and sometimes it’s hard to bridge them.
Below we will present a couple methods to bridge them and keep progressing with your workout.
2.1. Eccentric training
As mentioned throughout the article, the phase of a repetition that puts the most strain on the muscle is the eccentric (negative) movement.
Think about being in the top position of a push-up and descending towards the bottom position. That is the eccentric.
In the eccentric phase of an exercise your muscles act as a breaking system under the load.
You will often see that, even though you can not complete a full repetition of an exercise, you will be able to perform the negative phase.
Our muscles are the strongest in that phase.
Let’s imagine that you are unable to do any push-ups. This is what your training would look like:
- Day 1 - M: 3-5 x 3 x 5s push-up eccentrics
- Day 2 - W: 3-5 x 3 x 6s push-up eccentrics
- Day 3 - F: 3-5 x 3 x 7s push-up eccentrics
So on Monday, you will be doing three to five sets of three reps of eccentric push-ups, for five seconds each.
On Wednesday you increase the time by one second, and so on.
With time you will see that you will gain the necessary strength to perform one full repetition.
After you get that one repetition you may go to the second method of progressing, which is:
2.2. Mixing full repetitions with eccentric training
With the above example in mind, you are now able to do one push-up.
There’s still a long way to go before you reach the eight to twelve mark, but you are getting there.
From here on, you can do your maximum repetitions of the push-up (i.e. one) and supplement that with the eccentric training presented above.
- Day 1 - M: 3-5 x 1 full push-up, followed by 5 eccentric push-ups for 5s each
- Day 2 - W: 3-5 x 2 full push-ups, followed by 4 eccentric push-ups for 5s each
- Day 3 - F: 3-5 x 3 full push-ups, followed by 3 eccentric push-ups for 5 s each
With each full push-up acquired you will drop one eccentric push-up.
This is an excellent way of bridging the gap between progressions; a way that most people find on their own as they acquire more knowledge.
2.3. Increase sets and decrease rest
Lastly, using the push-ups example, let’s imagine that you can not do a single push-up...
However, you are able to perform three sets of ten repetitions of incline push-ups (which, of course, are easier) with a two-three minutes rest in between sets.
What you’re going to want to do is increase the number of sets while, at the same time, decreasing the rest break in between them.
- Day 1 - M: 3 x 10 incline push-ups (3 minutes rest)
- Day 2 - W: 4 x 10 incline push-ups (3 minutes rest)
- Day 3 - F: 5 x 10 incline push-ups (3 minutes rest)
- Day 4 - M: 5 x 10 incline push-ups (2 minutes rest)
- Day 5 - W: 5 x 10 incline push-ups (1 minute rest)
Two things happen when you train this way:
- You increase the total work volume to 50 repetitions, instead of 30
- You are decreasing the rest time, forcing your muscles to adapt to more strain
When you are able to do five sets of ten repetitions with such a short rest in between, you are guaranteed to be ready to go to the next progression.
The angle at which you do the incline push-ups will play a role. If you are close to the ground, this method will get you to full push-ups. If you are far from being parallel, it will help you progress get closer and closer to the ground.
3. Add weight
We are starting to stray away from the beginner zone and more into the intermediate phase of your training.
Since this is a beginner bodyweight workout, we won’t deviate much. However, we want to make sure that everyone knows how to add weight to their training safely.
- 1Start small
If you start small, you can use any of the methods above, and the only variable that will change is the weight.
However, if you start too big and injure yourself, you may need to spend a lot of time rehabilitating the injury.
When it comes to working out, slower is always better.
- 2Do more reps
Muscles can adapt fast to new stimuli, but that doesn’t hold true for connective tissue. Doing more reps of an exercise will help your connective tissue to get used to the strain and get stronger.
Doing more repetitions every once in a while will decrease the likelihood of an injury happening.
- 3Focus on the form (more than ever)
You should always focus on the way you perform the exercise.
This is even more important when weight is involved.
Think about the difference in rounding your back when you do bodyweight squats vs. when you do them with 100 lbs (50 kgs) on your back.
That’s not even such a significant weight when it comes to squats, but the results may still be disastrous.
Common bodyweight fitness mistakes
In this section, we will discuss some of the most common mistakes that prevent progressing or that may lead to injury.
Avoiding these mistakes is crucial if you want to get the most of your training.
They may lead to weeks or even months of wasted time.
For some of these mistakes, we will also give you actionable tasks so you can avoid making them.
Mistake #1: Not warming up properly
This is one of the most significant mistakes any trainee or athlete can do.
What you need to keep in mind is that warm-up alone is not enough.
You need to properly warm-up.
Make sure you start slow and gradually increase the temperature of your muscles. Thoroughly warm all the joints you’ll be using in the training session that follows.
I had my fair share of injuries and even now, after months, I am still suffering from pain in my right wrist.
Mistake #2: Bad form
For months at a time, I used to do the exercises with bad form.
For example, when doing pull-ups, I wouldn’t fully extend my arms on the way back.
This is a mistake a lot of beginners do.
Our brain has the tendency to take the path of least resistance.
It all ties up with caveman times when we didn't have food at our disposal and the energy had to be stored for when we actually needed it.
You know, life and death situations.
Anyway, we are still taking the path of least resistance. What we fail to see is that that path is masking lack of strength, mobility, etc.; a weakness that has to be addressed.
Nowadays, this mistake also comes from our ego.
We want to do as many reps as possible, or we want to do more than on a previous occasion.
Do yourself a favor and check your ego at the door. Trust me that it will help you improve faster and more efficiently.
Mistake #3: Lack of goals
Lacking goals will set you back more than you would think.
If you do not have anything to aim towards, you will just do the same old training, maybe trying to do more repetitions of the same old exercises.
Building a foundation is good, and the basic exercises presented above should always be trained - at least once a week but...
As we move from beginner to intermediate, we should move to harder progressions too.
Maybe you want to be able to perform the front lever or the planche.
Perhaps you want to do a muscle up or hold a straight line handstand.
Whatever it is, you should pick some goals and stick to them.
- Be able to do a handstand
- Be good at pull-ups
- Do more dips
- Lose weight
Here is how you should NOT make your goals. Instead, you want them to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely (SMART).
- I want to be able to hold a 10 seconds straight line handstand by the end of the year
- I want to do 20 pull-ups in a row with proper form
- I want to do three more dips per set by the end of the month
- I want to lose 20 pounds in six months
As you can see all of these goals are specific, measurable, they can be attained, perhaps relevant - but that depends on your own personal priorities, and timely - they have a time limit.
If you want to get good at bodyweight fitness, you should have some clear goals. Therefore, we would like to ask you to pull out a sheet of paper or write on your device a few goals.
Do the following:
- Write down your goals. If you want to attain some of the calisthenics exercises, check our article where we present them all and pick one pushing and one pulling exercise (example: planche and front lever).
- Now that you have the goals make them measurable. Instead of wanting to lose weight, you will want to lose 20 pounds. Instead of wanting to do muscle ups, you will want to do X number of muscle ups with good form.
- Set a date by which you should achieve that goal. Be as specific as possible.
- Make sure they are attainable. If you are a complete beginner and want to do a full planche in three months, we guarantee that it won’t happen. If you want to lose 100 pounds in four months that may not happen either.
Now that you have your goals you know what to aim towards.
Once you have a solid foundation (i.e., you are proficient at the basic exercises) you will start working towards achieving the said goals.
Mistake #4: Lack of specificity
If you want to progress in bodyweight fitness, you need to be specific about your training.
If you want to get better at pull-ups, you need to do pull-ups. If you want to attain an L Sit, you need to train the L Sit.
Specificity is critical in training, and lack of it will have you do exercises all over the place with no actual aim.
By now you should have a list of goals.
If one of your goals is to do a straight line handstand, for example, jumping into a handstand and continuously falling over is not considered specific training.
However, holding a handstand against a wall is specific training, because you will actually spend time in that position and your body will get used to it.
Mistake #5: Lacking consistency
Missing consistency is the mistake that prevents tons of people from achieving their goals or simply progressing.
If you are training once a week, or, you are training three weeks then skip two, you will not improve.
We would rather you do two workout sessions per week, every single week than do three sessions for two weeks then skip two weeks.
If you can be consistent in your training, you will make progress.
No matter how much time it takes, you will eventually break through any plateau. You just need to strive for more and be consistent with your efforts.
In this article, you have the beginner bodyweight workout as well as steps on how to progress once you are heading towards the intermediate phase.
By now you should have a list of goals, know how to break through a plateau, and know what mistakes to avoid.
As a little piece of advice, remember that in training less is always more. Pushing your limits may lead to injuries.
Yes, you should still train hard.
However, you should always train smart too.
Lastly, if you want to check other good resources on the topic, we highly recommend the following:
Over to you.
Top 5 Calisthenics Mistakes
A free PDF that will show you how to fix, step-by-step, the most common mistakes that are killing your calisthenics progress.
Upper Body Workout
Build a strong upper body and a Greek God physique (bw)
Develop a big chest and unleash your pushing power (bw)
Strengthen your shoulders and prevent injuries (bw)
Get a strong, wide, and thick back (bw)
Build functional, strong, and aesthetic legs (bw)