Your First Bodyweight Routine – A Beginners Workout

This article is the third part of a series trying to help beginners to resistance training to design their first own workout routines the most effective way. It builds upon the principles stated in “How To Design Your Own Workout Routine – Part 1” and “Your First Workout Routine – A Beginners Workout“. It is advised that if you’re interested in picking up resistance training and want to achieve serious results, you’ll have a read through the previous articles first before moving on to this one.

As stated in the previous articles of this series, bodyweight training (calisthenics) has to be approached slightly different compared to ordinary resistance training using weights and machines.

Progressive Overload once more is the keyword here and it is going to be a bit more complex than with traditional resistance training.

Whilst with weights or machines you are able to progress by simply adding more weight to your lifts over time this option is not really available to you when utilising just your own bodyweight. Luckily there’s an alternative for this: Increasing volume and gradually moving on to harder exercise variations.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the workout proposed in “Your First Workout Routine – A Beginners Workout“:

Day 1

  • Squats 5 x 12
  • Chin-Up 5 x 12
  • Push-Up 5 x 12

Day 2

  • One Legged Romanian Deadlifts 5 x 8
  • Pull-Up 5 x 8
  • Decline Push-Ups 5 x 8

Please note that the set and rep schemes here are designed to also apply to the weighted counterparts of these exercises. My goal when setting up this routine was to enable someone to train no matter whether they were at a gym, at home, in a park or elsewhere. This means that you can also perform this workout with weighted squats instead of bodyweight squats, underhand lat pull-downs instead of chin ups and the bench press instead of push-ups.

Personally, if this was a bodyweight only routine I would set it up in a circuit rather than a traditional set and rep scheme, just because I think it’s more entertaining, challenging and ultimately more enjoyable that way.

An example for such a circuit-based workout routine could look as follows:

Day 1

Lower Body (3 Rounds, no rest in between exercises, rest as long as required between rounds, but rest times shouldn’t exceed 3 minutes, especially if weight loss is one of your goals)

  1. Bodyweight Squats or jump squats if possible x 20 (Focus on accelerating force when getting back up from the squat position)
  2. Lunges x 10 (each leg, focus on slow, controlled and powerful contraction in your legs)
  3. Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts x 12 (Focus on balancing and really feeling the stretch in your hamstrings when going down; contract powerfully when coming back up)

 

Upper Body (3 Rounds, no rest in between exercises, rest as long as required between rounds, but rest times shouldn’t exceed 3 minutes, especially if weight loss is one of your goals)

  1. Push-Ups x 10 (Focus on accelerating force when getting back up; can be done with knees on floor)
  2. Dips x 10 (Push 2 chairs together or use a chair and a table; focus on slow contraction of triceps when coming down and powerful contraction when getting back up)
  3. Crunches x 15 (Focus on really contracting your abs by crunching your spine)

Day 2

Lower Body (3 Rounds, no rest in between exercises, rest as long as required between rounds, but rest times shouldn’t exceed 3 minutes, especially if weight loss is one of your goals)

  1. Split Squats x 10 (each leg, focus on slow and controlled movements and contracting your leg musculature)
  2. Glute Flutter Kicks x 20 (each leg, focus on contraction of posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings))
  3. Mountain Climbers x 15 (Focus on keeping your heart rate up)

 

Upper Body (3 Rounds, no rest in between exercises, rest as long as required between rounds, but rest times shouldn’t exceed 3 minutes, especially if weight loss is one of your goals)

  1. Dands x 10 (Focus on fluent movements and contracting your whole upper body musculature, especially your back muscles)
  2. Decline Push-Ups x 8 (Focus on slow contraction of your upper chest when descending and on accelerating force when coming back up)
  3. Crunches x 15 (Focus on really contracting your abs by crunching your spine)

Apart from the second version being more challenging and thus, in my opinion, more enjoyable, I think that there are a couple of other points to be considered when designing your own bodyweight workout routine and why circuit training might have a slight edge over a more traditional set & rep scheme.

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1. Volume with Bodyweight Routines

From my experience trainees can handle more overall volume when training just utilising their own bodyweight than when training with weights and machines.

This might be due to not taking exercises quite as close to failure , less stress on tendons and ligaments, or just not generally accumulating as much fatigue due to less stress on the body’s central nervous system.

Whatever might be the reason, when performing several sets of the Bench Press versus performing several sets of the Push-Up and taking all of these sets to failure, the body seems to recover faster from the Push-Ups than from the Bench Press. Which is why I’d advise to simply perform more sets of the Push-Up to achieve the same results or to pair it with a similar exercise, like a dip.

This will ensure that you’re pushing yourself hard enough to provide a sufficient stimulus for growth.


2. Rest Times in Between Sets and Workouts with Bodyweight Routines

As mentioned under point 1. the body seems to recover faster from bodyweight exercises and workouts than from weighted exercises, which is why I would recommend keeping the rest times between sets shorter, especially if your goal is to lose weight.

While there is a practical reason for keeping the rest times relatively short, there is also the point of keeping the workouts challenging on the one hand to provide a sufficient stimulus for your body to change and on the other hand enjoyable to keep you motivated. Both can be achieved by shorter rest times in my experience. That is, if a challenge equals fun to you.

Another bonus: Shorter rest times keep your heart rate elevated and help you burn more calories, if that’s one of your goals.

Furthermore, it is my opinion that even a complete beginner can perform a routine like this 3 times a week because of less overall stress on the body, and because of easier to learn and less taxing movements. Just make sure to take at least one day off for rest and recovery in between your workouts – after all, these are still full body workouts.

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3. Progressive Overload With Bodyweight Exercises

If you don’t have access to a gym, bodyweight exercises are an excellent tool to stay fit and healthy and will transform your physique in the long run.

Progressive Overload however, has to be approached differently compared to training using weights or machines. Obviously you can’t just increase your own bodyweight, at least not at a rate required to keep the exercises sufficiently challenging for you. Thus you will have to increase the sets and reps overtime and at one point you will also have to move on to harder variations of these exercises.

Where you start in terms of exercise variation or total number of sets & reps is entirely up to you and ultimately depends on your fitness level. Whilst some people can perform 10, 20, 30 or even 50 Push-Ups no problem, others will struggle to perform even one. For the latter, performing Push-Ups with their knees on the floor or dips to strengthen their upper body musculature first is probably the way to go. However, for more experienced trainees, moving on to wide-handed, decline or maybe even one-handed Push-Ups will probably yield greater results.

Let me put this in an example for you:

Individual A

1st Week: 3 Sets of 10/8/6 kneeling Push-Ups

2nd Week: 4 sets of 10/10/9/8 kneeling Push-Ups

4th Week: 7 sets of 15/13/11/10/10/9/8 kneeling Push-Ups

8th Week: 3 sets of 10/9/7 Standard Push-Ups

And so on…

As you can see “Individual A” started out performing 3 sets of kneeling Push-Ups and was able to perform 10 reps in his/her first set, 8 reps in his second, and 6 reps in her last. Over time however, Individual A managed to increase the number of reps and sets to such a degree that the exercise wasn’t really challenging for him anymore, so he moved on to performing Standard Push-Ups.

Because these are quite a bit harder than kneeling Push-Ups however, Individual A had to decrease the volume. In a matter of the next couple of weeks he will be able to increase the volume and make further progress and eventually will have to move on to a harder exercise variation of the Push-Up to keep stimulating muscle hypertrophy.


Whilst you can definitely stick to the first workout routine in this article and make reasonable progress I believe that workout number two will be more suitable for you if you don’t want to go to a gym or you simply don’t have access to one.


Thanks for reading!

If you liked the article or found it informative please feel free to leave a comment or share it with your friends.

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