If you’re anything like me, you love free stuff. Much like this post, I shape my life around getting anything I can for free (education, the occasional sandwich, etc.). There’s nothing like getting something for nothing, and that includes muscle gains. Some of my favorite exercises don’t involve any equipment at all. No weights, no special shoes, no gloves, all you need is space and opportunity. Listed below is a bodyweight (Calisthenic) exercise circuit which can be used by beginners as well as other seasoned gym hooligans.

The circuit goes as follows*:

Push Ups for 10 reps
Pull Ups for 10 reps
Squats (or Lunges) for 10 reps
Dips for 10 reps
Burpees for 10 reps
*00:45 rest in between exercises; repeat entire circuit after 1:00 rest. Start with 3 reps of this entire circuit. Increase when necessary.

Simple right? Deceptively so. Each set requires you to do 10 reps of each exercise, but the catch is, you must do them with near-perfect form, meaning all of the muscles in your body are tensed creating greater time under tension. See this video as an example of how to engage your muscles during each exercise to maximize the tension placed on the muscle group. More tension = more muscle incorporation = more muscle growth. Additionally, this video expresses the importance of keeping the tension in your muscles during exercise.

Notice there isn’t an exercise for abs? That’s not a mistake, and if you keep in mind the time under tension principles, your abs will be engaged the entire time without needing any specific ab work. Also, keep in mind the old saying “abs are made in the kitchen,” but I’ll get more into that in another article. For right now, focus on getting these five movements down, the abs will come later…
Once you’ve completed 10 reps, take 45 seconds to rest and then start the second exercise; repeat until you get to the last exercise. Once those reps are completed, rest for one entire minute then do it all over again. Complete 3 sets of this circuit with minimal rest in between sets.

Here’s how you can make it more difficult for yourself:
Add Sets – I’ve suggested for beginners to only do 3 sets of the entire circuit, but if you’re not absolutely dying by the end of this routine, do more sets. Push yourself to do more circuits in a row or as many as possible in a certain time frame, and watch your body transform in a matter of weeks.

Shorten your Rest Periods – I suggested 45-second rests in between sets but try challenging yourself one day by cutting your rest times back to 30 seconds. The faster you get through each round of this circuit, the more cardiovascular exercise you are incorporating into your workout.

Modify Each Movement – There are as many variations on the push-up as there are days of the week (and then some!). Learning different variations of these movements can help you focus on different muscles or muscle groups. For example, standard push-ups work the chest/pectoral muscles and triceps while pike or handstand push ups engage your shoulders. When your body gets used to a movement, switch it up! I’d suggest switching the variation of each movement every 1-2 weeks depending on how frequently you exercise.

Add Weight – If you’re able to bust out all 10 reps without breaking a sweat, try adding weight to your body while doing this routine. It doesn’t have to be much weight, nor do you have to go out and buy any expensive equipment or gear. Find some exercise bands to create tension during a push-up or squat. Throw some bags of rice, books, or bottles of water into a backpack, and voila, instant weight vest!

Adjust The Tempo – Every movement has a Concentric movement (positive; when the weight is lifted) and Eccentric (negative; when the weight is lowered) movement. When you control how long you do each up and down (or positive and negative movement), you are manipulating the tempo of the exercise. Try changing the tempo to a 2-1-4 pattern: 2 seconds up, 1-second hold at the top of the movement, 4 seconds down. Slowing your exercise down can place longer amounts of tension on your body during exercise.

Use Calisthenics As Finishers –  Already got that gym membership? Been lifting for a while? Don’t dismiss bodyweight exercises entirely in lieu of free weights and benches. Calisthenics can still have a place in your weight training routine as a finisher move. Whenever you lift alone you may not lift to full muscle failure due to not having a spotter, or it being too dangerous to do so. Use these movements at the end of a lifting session to make sure you have forced your muscles into a growth state.

With a bodyweight routine, it’s really up to you how many times you want to exercise during the week. I’d suggest 2-3 days a week if you’re just starting out. Add more days once you build a good foundation of strength, but don’t go more than 2 consecutive days without at least one rest day. The beauty of having a bodyweight routine is that you can exercise pretty much anywhere, and the risk of injury is significantly lower than when free weights or weight machines are used. Try creating your own routines, and send me what you’ve come up with. If I get enough responses, I’ll post a few to this site. So whenever you are doing a bodyweight exercise keep in mind: performing these movements  while keeping tension in the body will force your muscles to grow quicker, and make sure your joints are less prone to injury.