36 Best Bodyweight Circuit Exercises to Train Anywhere, Anytime

36 Best Bodyweight Circuit Exercises to Train Anywhere, Anytime

Think you can’t get a tough strength and cardio workout in under half an hour? Think you need to go to the gym or buy a lot of equipment to get fit? Put away the excuses and let us show you how you can build a powerful, effective workout that needs only your commitment and your own body to get the job done.

We’ll show you how you can put together a sequence of bodyweight exercises to build a high intensity circuit that you can do anytime and anywhere, whatever your fitness level. These best bodyweight circuit exercises will get your muscles working and your heart rate up!

Why do Bodyweight Exercises?

Bodyweight exercises are exercises that use your own body weight as the resistance tool. That means you don’t need special equipment to get your workout done! Your own weight is plenty tough enough to move if you choose the right exercises, so don’t think you have to have a set of weights handy to get a real workout in. If you move it right and move it fast, your body will also provide you with enough resistance for a rigorous cardio effort that will get your heart rate up, even in a small space. You don't need a treadmill or a bike to get that speed and endurance workout!

That’s what makes bodyweight workouts great - there are no excuses. You can do them anytime, anywhere. If you are traveling, have a small space, can only workout for a short time or at odd hours, or don’t have (or can't afford) a gym membership or a lot of gym equipment at home, then bodyweight is for you.

What’s Circuit Training All About?

‘Circuit Training’ is based on the concept of ‘High Intensity Interval Training’ (HIIT). This principle is that you get stronger and fitter - faster - by working at a very high intensity for a short period, and interspersing rest intervals between your ‘sets’. This is a proven method for getting the most out of your workout time and reducing your risk of injury.

A ‘circuit’ is a sequence of short movements, repeated a few or several times with a short period of rest in between. With a circuit, you’ll be able to get more reps in, because you only work each muscle area for a short time, but you keep your whole body working hard the whole way through. This allows the lactic acid buildup in your muscles (the ‘burn’) to ease up and keeps your heart working hard moving blood from one muscle group to the next. The best circuits will have you alternating between upper body, core, and lower body movements to keep your heart rate up!

You can also add intense cardio movements to your circuit. These moves don't work any muscle group too hard, and let the lactic acid disperse, but keeps up the effort to get the maximum benefit of the circuit. We’ll show you some of the best bodyweight exercises for each of these - lower body, core, upper body, and cardio - that you can use in a circuit, and best of all, none of them need any special equipment!

9 Lower Body Bodyweight Circuit Exercises

Exercise #1: Squat

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Quadriceps
  • Secondary: Hamstrings, Glutes

Execution method:

  • Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Keeping your back straight, lower your hips to slightly more than a 90-degree angle at your knee. Keep you head up with eyes looking forward, and your knee in line with your toe.
  • Hold briefly, then without changing the straightness of your back and without leaning forward or backward, lift yourself straight back up to the standing position.
  • Perform a set of squats using as many reps as you can manage.

Exercise #2: Single Leg Squat (tougher variation)

Make it tougher!

To modify the basic squat to make it harder, try a single leg squat. The movement is essentially the same as the basic squat, except that as you lower yourself down, you straighten one leg out in front of you, taking your full body weight over the other leg. Make sure you perform the same number of reps with each leg!

Exercise #3: Beginner Squat (easier variation)

Make it easier!

To modify the basic squat for a beginner, simply reduce the distance you lower yourself. Look for an angle of 90 - 135 degrees from your ankle through your knee to your hip.

Exercise #4: Lunge

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Quadriceps
  • Secondary: Hamstrings, Glutes

Execution method:

  • Stand with feet shoulder width apart. With your left leg, step out about two to three feet in front of you. Keeping your head up, eyes looking forward, and your back straight and vertical, lower yourself to the floor until you reach a 90-degree angle at your knee. Keep your knee in line with your foot, but don’t rock forward and let your knee get in front of your toe.
  • Hold briefly, then without changing the straightness of your back and without leaning forward or backward, lift yourself straight back up, and bring your leading leg back until you are at the starting position.
  • Perform a set of lunges with the same number on each leg, either alternating legs or completing the same number at a time on each side.

Exercise #5: Rear Foot Elevated Lunge (tougher variation)

Make it tougher!

To make the basic lunge harder, rest your trailing leg on a low table or chair. You might need to balance yourself with your hand on the wall or the back of a chair until you get the hang of it!

Exercise #6: Beginner Lunge (easier variation)

Make it easier!

Like with the squat, to modify the basic lunge for a beginner, simply reduce the distance you lower yourself. Look for an angle of about 135 degrees from your ankle through your knee to your hip.

Exercise #7: Hip Extension

Basic Hip Extension Form

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Glutes
  • Secondary: Hamstrings, Quadriceps

Execution method:

  • Start on your hands and knees, with a straight spine (this means you should be looking down at the floor).
  • Keeping your back straight, pull your knee up underneath you, toward your chest, and hold.
  • Now, keeping a bend in your knees, swing your leg through and raise your leg up behind you, keeping your knee bent.
  • Hold briefly, and lower your leg back to the start position. Either alternate legs or repeat on the same side, but be sure to do the same number on each side!

Exercise #8: Advanced Hip Extension (tougher variation)

Harder Hip Extension Form

Make it tougher!

To make the hip extension tougher, raise yourself off your knees slightly, to hold your knee about an inch off the floor as you raise the opposite leg.

Exercise #9: Beginner Hip Extension (easier variation)

Easier Hip Extension Form

Make it easier!

The hip extension is fairly straightforward, and most people should be able to complete the basic movement. However, if you do get tired, simply skip the starting movement of bringing your knee to your chest, and begin in the basic position on your hands and knees and return to that between each leg raise.

9 Core Bodyweight Circuit Exercises

Exercise #10: Crunch

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Upper Abdominals
  • Secondary: Lower Abdominals

Execution method:

  • Lie on your back, with your knees bent at about a 90-degree angle. Cross your arms over your chest.
  • Keeping your back straight, and your head and neck in line with your spine, slowly raise your shoulders off the floor to a 90-degree angle with the floor.
  • Hold briefly, and slowly lower your shoulders to the floor, keeping your back and neck straight.

Exercise #11: Reverse Crunch (tougher variation)

Harder Crunch Form

Make it tougher!

To make the basic crunch harder, try a reverse crunch - this also works the lower abdominals a lot more! Start in the same position as the basic crunch, but this time keep your shoulders on the floor, push your lower back down into the floor, and raise your legs until your hips and back are at a 90-degree angle. Hold, and slowly lower your legs back to the floor. Avoid reverse crunches with straight legs - this puts a lot of strain on your hips, and makes it very difficult to keep your spine straight!

Exercise #12: Beginner Crunch (easier variation)

Easier Crunch Form

Make it easier!

To make the basic crunch easier, simply reduce the angle you reach when you lift your shoulders. You’ll still get the benefits of the crunch even if you only raise your shoulders to about 45 degrees off the floor, and that might help you complete your reps!

Exercise #13: Oblique Crunch

Basic Oblique Crunch Form

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Upper Abdominals, Obliques
  • Secondary: Lower Abdominals

Execution method:

  • Lie on your back, with your knees bent at about a 90-degree angle. Rest your hands gently at your ears - do not clasp them behind your neck!
  • Keeping your back straight, and your head and neck in line with your spine, slowly raise your shoulders off the floor. At the same time, raise your left knee, keeping the 90-degree angle.
  • Rotate your torso so you reach your right elbow to touch your left knee.
  • Slowly lower your left foot and your shoulders back to the floor. Alternate sides, completing the same number of reps on each side.

Exercise #14: Bicycle Crunch (tougher variation)

Harder Oblique Crunch Form

Make it tougher!

To make the oblique crunch harder, try a ‘bicycle crunch’. Lift both feet off the floor, extend your legs and hold. As you start the exercise, bring one knee in toward your chest, and at the same time bring the opposite elbow toward your knee. Keep your feet and shoulders off the floor, even in the recovery position! Alternate sides, completing the same number or reps on each side.

Exercise #15: Beginner Oblique Crunch (easier variation)

Easier Oblique Cruch Form

Make it easier!

To make the basic oblique crunch easier, simply keep your feet on the floor, and rotate your torso to start the movement of bringing your elbow to your knee.

Exercise #16: Plank

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Upper Abdominals
  • Secondary: Lower Abdominals

Execution method:

  • Start on your hands and knees. Extend your feet out behind you until your legs are straight, keeping your head, neck, and spine perfectly straight - you shouldn’t be raising or lowering your hips!
  • Hold this position for the length of your circuit movement.
  • To recover, first lower your knees to the floor to protect your back before you finish the exercise.

Exercise #17: Superman Plank (tougher variation)

Make it tougher!

Try the Superman Plank if you want this to be tougher - keeping your balance will really work your core! Start in the standard plank position, but slowly raise your left arm out in front of you - resist the temptation to look up! At the same time, lift the foot on the opposite side off the floor. Hold for a second or two, then lower your arm and foot back to the starting position before repeating on the opposite side. Repeat through your circuit, trying to get the same number or reps on each side.

Exercise #18: Elbow Plank (easier variation)

Make it easier!

The Plank is deceptively tough. If you find it too hard to hold the Plank for your circuit section, try lowering yourself onto your elbows instead of trying to balance with your arms straight. If it’s still too hard, you can lower your knees to the floor for all or part of the circuit section.

9 Upper Body Bodyweight Circuit Exercises

Exercise #19: Push Up

Basic Push Up Form

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Pectorals
  • Secondary: Triceps, Deltoids

Execution method:

  • Start in the plank position, with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Keep your head, neck, and spine in a straight line, and don’t raise or lower your hips.
  • Bending your elbows, slowly lower your chest to the floor, until your elbows are at a 90 degree, or slightly steeper, angle.
  • Slowly raise your shoulders back to the starting position, and repeat.

Exercise #20: Alligator Push Up (tougher variation)

Harder Push Up Form

Make it tougher!

To add challenge to the basic push up, try an ‘alligator push up’. For this movement, start in the plank position. Bring your left knee up to ‘crawl’ forward, and at the same time move your right hand forward. Now lower your chest to the push up movement, and slowly recover. Repeat on the other side, so you ‘crawl’ with your push ups. If you run out of room, crawl backward!

Exercise #21: Knee Push Up (easier variation)

Easier Push Up Form

Make it easier!

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t manage many - or even one - push up. It’s tougher than it looks. If you find the movement difficult, try lowering your lower body down to your knees for all or some of your push ups. Keep your spine straight, even with your knees on the floor!

Exercise #22: Dip

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Triceps
  • Secondary: Pectorals, Deltoids

Execution method:

  • Start in a sitting position, with your hands resting on the seat of a chair, or a low table (like a coffee table). Your hands should be supporting your weight, with your bottom clear of the chair or table, and your knees bent at about a 90-degree angle.
  • Slowly lower yourself by bending your elbows, until your elbows reach a 90-degree, or slightly steeper angle.
  • Hold briefly, and slowly raise yourself back up by straightening your arms.

If you don't have a chair or table handy, you can also do this movement by sitting on the floor, hands behind you and knees slightly bent. Lift your bottom off the ground and lower your shoulders to the floor by bending your elbows.

Basic Dip Modification

Exercise #23: Single Leg Dip (tougher variation)

Make it tougher!

To make the Dip a little tougher, try raising one leg off the ground, and alternating legs for each dip. This will really force you to use your triceps to keep your balance!

Exercise #24: Beginner Dip (easier variation)

Make it easier!

If you find the Dip tough, try reducing the amount of dip, and not bending your elbows quite so far. You can also bring your feet a little closer to the chair or table to give you a little more support!

Exercise #25: Handstand

Basic Handstand Form

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Deltoids, Forearms
  • Secondary: Triceps

Execution method:

  • Start by standing, facing a wall. Place your hands on the floor so your back will be toward the wall.
  • Keeping your arms straight, gently kick up your legs and rest your heels against the wall, with your legs straight.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then carefully bend at the hips to bring your feet back to the floor and stand up again. If you can't hold the handstand for your whole circuit, you can repeat the movement.

Exercise #26: Handstand Push Up (tougher variation)

Harder Hand Stand Form

Make it tougher!

If you’ve got the handstand mastered, try making it harder by incorporating handstand push ups! From your handstand, with your heels resting against the wall, bend your elbows to carefully lower your shoulders toward the floor. Don't go too far; your head shouldn't touch the ground! Straighten your arms to push yourself back up again. Complete as many reps as you can before lowering your feet to the ground and standing back up.

Exercise #27: Beginner Handstand (easier variation)

Easier Handstand Form

Make it easier!

Handstands are really hard, but there’s a progression that can get you the same benefits but also help you work toward being able to complete a full handstand. Stare by facing away from the wall. Bend at the waist and place your hands flat on the floor. Slowly ’walk’ your legs up the wall as far as you can manage, hold for a second or two, then ‘walk’ back down again. Repeat for your circuit.

9 Cardio Bodyweight Circuit Exercises

Exercise #28: Burpee

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Quadriceps, Core
  • Secondary: Hamstrings, Calves, Triceps

Execution method:

  • Start in a standing position, feet about shoulder width apart. Lower yourself into a squat position, but keep going until you can place your hands on the ground. If you can’t quite make it, don’t worry.
  • Jump your feet back so you end up in a plank position - make sure you really extend your legs into a true plank, with your hips and back flat.
  • Quickly jump your feet back underneath you, into the deep squat position.
  • Jump up from the squat position, reaching your hands up. Land back in the start position, and repeat.

Exercise #29: Advanced Burpee (tougher variation)

Harder Burpee Form

Make it tougher!

If the basic burpee doesn’t have you suffering enough, try adding a push up to the plank!

Exercise #30: Beginner Burpee (easier variation)

Make it easier!

If the Burpee is killing you, there are a couple modifications you can make to make it easier. First, lower your knees to the floor for the push up phase. Second, don't worry about the jump, replace it with an extra squat instead!

Exercise #31: Suicide Shuffle

Basic Suicide Shuffle Form

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Quadriceps, Lower Back
  • Secondary: Hamstrings, Calves

Execution method:

  • Start in a standing position, at one end of your workout space. Keeping your back straight, lower your shoulders slightly forward. Now, take two steps quickly to your right, moving your feet laterally. At the last step, dip down, keeping your back level and touch the floor with your right hand.
  • Raise up slightly, and ‘shuffle’ back to the left, and repeat. To get the maximum benefit, you need to move fast!

Exercise #32: Advanced Suicide Shuffle (tougher variation)

Harder Suicide Shuffle Form

Make it tougher!

To make it tougher, try crossing your legs as you shuffle, and reaching down with the opposite hand to the floor. This brings your obliques into the workout!

Exercise #33: Beginner Suicide Shuffle (easier variation)

Easier Suicide Shuffle Form

Make it easier!

To make it easier, you can slow it down, and replace the floor touch at each end with a shallow squat. This helps you keep the movement going, and is also a great modification if the floor touch is hard on your back.

Exercise #34: Squat Jump

Basic Squat Jump Form

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Quadriceps, Glutes
  • Secondary: Hamstrings, Calves

Execution method:

  • Start with a basic squat. As you are about to raise yourself up out of the dip of your squat, really power with your legs and push yourself into a jump. You can use your arms to help get momentum, but make sure you still keep your spine straight!
  • You can add variety by jumping forward and backward, but always remember to keep good form.

Exercise #35: Advanced Squat Jump (tougher variation)

Make it tougher!

To add intensity to the squat jump, tuck your knees in to your chest for the jump - like a cannonball position. This means you’ll have to add a lot of power to your jump, and really bring your arms into the workout!

Exercise #36: Beginner Squat Jump (easier variation)

Easier Squat Jump Form

Make it easier!

If the squat jump catches up with you too quickly, try alternating the squat jump with a regular squat. You can also stay a little closer to the ground to help you complete the circuit!

How to Build a Circuit

Now that we’ve covered all the movements, how can you put these together to make a circuit? Let’s go over it step by step.

Step 1 - Get Ready

You don't need much, but you certainly need to clear a little space to move. You might also want a chair handy to help with triceps dips or to help you keep your balance on some of the moves, but make sure it isn't going to get in the way of the other movements. You might want a yoga mat out if your knees or back get sore on the floor. Of course, you’ll also want a towel and a water bottle. Finally, you need a timer. The best ones are apps on smartphones where you can set your phone to beep at whatever interval you want for your circuit, but to start, let’s go with 33 seconds. Why 33? Because we want to be able to spend 30 seconds on each movement, and you will need a few seconds to transition - but don't think you're getting three seconds of rest!

Step 2 - Warm Up

First, you’ll need about 5 to 7 minutes for a warm up. Start with some basic movements to get your muscles warmed up, doing whatever comes naturally. Some jumping jacks, arm rotations, butt kicks, whatever takes your mood. All you need to do is get moving! Finish up with a few gentle stretches, especially your shoulders and your quadriceps, to make sure you are ready for your circuit.

Step 3 - Your Circuit

Now, you are going to move through each exercise for thirty seconds. Remember how we said the best circuits use different parts of the body to keep the blood moving around? Well, that’s what we will do. A good circuit rotation will look something like this:

  • Lower Body Set 1 - Squat
  • Upper Body Set 1 - Push Up
  • Core Set 1 - Crunch
  • Cardio Set 1 - Burpee
  • Lower Body Set 2 - Lunge
  • Upper Body Set 2 - Dip
  • Core Set 2 - Oblique Crunch
  • Cardio Set 2 - Suicide Shuffle
  • Lower Body Set 3 - Hip Extension
  • Upper Body Set 3 - Handstand
  • Core Set 3 - Plank
  • Cardio set 3 - Squat Jump

Step 4 - Rest

Feeling tired? We bet you are. Now, it’s time to take a little breather. If you’ve set your phone to beep every 33 seconds, you can work out how many ‘beeps’ are a suitable rest period for you. If you are already pretty fit, then 1 to 2 minutes (2 to 4 beeps) will be enough. If you are new to working out, then 2 to 3 minutes (4 to 6 beeps) is better. Don’t worry about those extra 3 seconds for each beep, you’ll use those up mopping your sweat and sipping on your water!

You want your rest period to give you enough time for the lactic acid to ease off from your muscles, and for your heart rate to slow down a bit. You don’t want it to be too long where your muscles start to get cold. That said, to get the benefit of HIIT from circuit training, you do need to rest long enough to be ready to give it your all for the next round!

Step 5 - Repeat

That’s right, it’s back to start! You should plan to work through three complete circuits for your workout, with a rest period in between each. That will make 18 minutes of all out effort, and you should be able to complete your workout - including warm up, rest periods, and cool down - in about half an hour. It’s a lot of burn for a short time!

Step 6 - Cool Down

After the third circuit, it’s time to cool down. Take your normal rest period to recover and get some water, then finish up with 5 to 7 minutes of gentle stretching. That’s it, you’ve completed your circuit! It didn’t take a lot of time, and it didn’t take any equipment - remember, no excuses!

Summary

Circuit training is a really powerful way to fit a tough all-around workout into a short space of time. Working with the principles of HIIT and the benefits of these best bodyweight circuit exercises, you can combine strength and cardio for a really tough session that you can do anytime, anywhere, and doesn't need a lot of equipment.

If you’ve tried this circuit, we’d love to know what you think! Have you got a favorite circuit exercise you’d like to share? Have you got a favorite bodyweight circuit routine? We’d love to hear about them!

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