Designing the Perfect Bodyweight Circuit

Bodyweight CircuitProperly designed, a bodyweight circuit can be one of the most efficient and effective workouts you can do. Not only do they have the obvious benefit of not needing a gym, but they can provide tremendous amounts of strength, cardio, and athleticism. This article will show you what goes into putting together the perfect bodyweight circuit.

Anatomy of an Effective Bodyweight Circuit

Many think you can just haphazardly throw bodyweight Exercises together, one after another, in circuit-style fashion, and get an effective workout. While this can make you work hard, you’re leaving a lot of results on the table and not being very efficient with your time. Instead, you’d get much better overall development following a particular structure – both in terms of exercises selected and rep range(s) performed.

Two highly productive templates are as follows:

Bodyweight Circuit Template #1 – upper body

  • upper body pushing exercise x 8-12 reps
  • upper body pulling exercise x 8-12 reps
  • explosive conditioning exercise x 10-15 reps
  • active Rest

*Repeat 3-5x (no rest between exercises, 75-90 seconds rest between rounds)

Bodyweight Circuit Template #2 – Lower Body

  • single Leg Exercise x 8-12 reps
  • explosive conditioning exercise x 10-15 reps
  • active rest

*Repeat 3-5x (no rest between exercises, 75-90 seconds rest between rounds)

Bodyweight Strength and Muscle Building

“Upper body pushing” exercises are all pushup and dip variations – any exercise that targets the chest, shoulders, and Triceps. “Upper body pulling” exercises are any variation of chins, pullups, inverted rows, and the like – any exercise that targets the back and biceps. And “single leg” exercises are any lower body movements done one leg at a time – think any variation of Lunges, step ups, and split squats.

Notice that all these exercises are done for 8-12 reps – this is to target strength and muscle building. As such, you need to pick exercise variations that make sets of 8-12 reps difficult. There are no single “correct” answers in terms of what exercise variation(s) you should or shouldn’t pick, as it’ll depend on how much you weigh and how strong you are. You just have to ensure that the movement you choose keeps you in the 8-12 rep range.

This means if you can do 50 Pushups in a row non-stop, then sets of 8-12 won’t be difficult. You’ll need to choose something that requires more effort such as elevating your feet, putting on a weighted vest, doing dips instead of pushups, doing pushups in an explosive, plyometric fashion, or anything along those lines.

Conversely, if you can’t do an exercise for 8-12 reps, then you shouldn’t choose it. For example, if you can only do three pullups, then they wouldn’t be a proper selection for your “upper body pulling” movement. Instead, you’ll need to choose something easier, such as an inverted row variation.

Bodyweight Cardio and Conditioning

“Explosive conditioning” are exercises that involve doing a lot of work in a fairly explosive and fast-moving manner. Burpees, Squat thrusts, various jumps, and mountain climbers are all excellent choices. As long as the movement involves you moving your body as quickly as possible and gets you breathing hard almost instantly, it’s an adequate choice.

A bodyweight circuit with little rest by nature lends itself to improving cardio and conditioning, so unlike the previous exercise category, these movements don’t have to necessarily feel difficult inside of 10-15 reps. You’ll want to do able to complete your sets without stopping and resting, but as a rule, if 15 reps seems “easy”, you should generally be able to work harder, move faster, and be more explosive in order to increase the difficulty.

For example, if a set of 15 burpees doesn’t require too much effort, then endeavor to do them harder and faster. If 10 jumps seems simple, then jump higher and/or further.

Extra Volume and Calorie Burning

Lastly, “active rest” movements are exercises that keep your body moving as a whole, but aren’t that demanding. This allows you to keep burning calories while letting your heart rate and breathing slow down even though you’re still working. Jumping jacks, seal jacks, and skiers for 40-50 reps all work well. Other choices could be shadowboxing, jogging in place, or easy rope skipping for 30-60 seconds.

These may all seem like a piece of cake, but adding a few (several?) hundred jumping jacks to a single workout ends up being much more difficult than many give it credit for. Each individual set will actually feel easy, especially after having just done one or two strength sets and an explosive conditioning set. But after a few rounds, you’ll find yourself more fatigued than you’d probably expect, and this will be why.

Sample Bodyweight Circuit Workouts

As prescribed above, do 3-5 rounds of each template per workout, and workouts can be done 3-5 days per week. Feel free to select the same exercises every workout if you’re Training on a Mon/Wed/Fri type basis. If you’re doing four workouts per week, picking one set of exercises for Mon/Thurs workouts and another set for Tue/Fri workouts would be a good idea. And if training Mon-Fri, then switch it up daily.

Some sample bodyweight circuit workouts could look like this:

  • Feet elevated pushups x 8-12
  • Chins x 8-12
  • Burpees x 10
  • Jumping jacks x 40
  • Weighted dips x 8-12
  • Weighted pullups x 8-12
  • Box jumps x 15
  • Jogging in place x 45 seconds
  • Suspension Trainer pushups x 8-12
  • Suspension trainer inverted rows x 8-12
  • Mountain climbers x 12 (each leg)
  • Seal jacks x 50
  • Reverse Lunges x 8-12 (each leg)
  • Burpees (with a pushup, but no jump) x 15
  • Shadowboxing x 30 seconds
  • Step ups x 8-12 (each leg)
  • Broad jumps x 12
  • Skiers x 50

Most people think of bodyweight circuits for their versatility, to be done when you don’t have access to equipment, or simply just for people that don’t like the gym. However, when you utilize the above template with the right type of exercises, your results can easily rival that of any gym workout. Give this program a shot for a month and see just how valuable bodyweight exercise can be.