Stop Going To Corporate Gyms And Do A Bodyweight Circuit Training Program Instead

A few years ago, in the wake of a break-up that left me terribly depressed, I decided to set a tough goal for myself and work toward it as a way to lift my spirits. I was previously an experienced martial artist and for a while had even run my own school, but in my role as an engineer over the ensuing years, I had allowed my conditioning to lapse severely.

My goal was simple: to successfully compete in sport karate sparring at a black belt level. I ultimately achieved my goal, and this article is meant to help guys who, like myself, want to go from zero to hero while living a demanding life.

Commercial gym?  Not an option

My plan was complicated by a highly demanding job that has me on-call 24x7x365, the demands of a teen daughter, and a 2.5 hour commute each way. I most certainly did not want to spend an hour a day driving to and from the gym, plus another hour at the gym. And that planned hour always seems to turn into much longer, when the flow of your workout is interrupted by someone indefinitely monopolizing a machine you were planning to use.

I had also, at one point, contracted a MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) infection from improperly wiped-down gym gear, which put me into life-threatening shock when the boil broke inside me. Another detractor from the gym was my previous experience with contracts. I discovered when trying to sign up for one gym that somehow they owned a “debt” I allegedly owed to some other gym. Good luck straightening that mess out!

The bodyweight solution

I found the solution to the problems of time, expense, risk and annoyance in bodyweight exercise (calisthenics). Not only is bodyweight exercise something I can do at home, it works so well that even though I am a middle-aged man in a sedentary job, I have since garnered trophies and medals in karate sparring.

Bodyweight exercises are ideal for men like me with a lot of demands on their time. My average workout takes between 25 and 40 minutes, plus zero drive time and zero MRSA from the weight machines that weren’t properly wiped.

Can bodyweight exercise be effective? It depends on your goal. If you are looking for bodybuilder-like hypertrophy and single-muscle isolation, you’ll need a gym, but if you are looking to lose fat, gain functional strength and flexibility, and maintain solid endurance, it will work just fine. America’s military trains for the rigors of combat using bodyweight exercise, and it will work for you too.

The same principles and ideas that are applied in the gym are also applied to bodyweight exercise. The only difference is that you are using your own body as resistance, and you vary the resistance by changing your point of leverage. For example, a push up done against a wall might be about 20 pounds, while a push up at 45 degrees would be 50 pounds and a push up with your feet elevated on a chair would be 100 pounds.

The same can be applied to leg exercises: a bodyweight squat only puts half of your bodyweight on each leg, but a Bulgarian split squat puts about 90% of your bodyweight on each leg—and it is the rare individual who can do a one-leg squat. So you can get plenty of resistance to build strength with just your body. The only piece of gear I’d add is a suspension trainer. You don’t need a fancy one.

In addition to progressive resistance, which is used to develop strength, you can also shorten rest periods to create HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts, or even Tabatas with practically any exercise. These have been proven to increase endurance better than endless cardio on the lines of machines at the gym.

Start with bodyweight circuit training

For people first starting out, I recommend circuit training as a way of improving overall health in minimal time. Choose five exercises: one push, one pull, one core, one legs, and one cardio. Proceed directly from one exercise to the next without rest. Then, wait a period of time, and repeat. Start off with three circuits, and three minutes of rest between each circuit. Do a variation of each exercise that will let you complete ten reps without it being either too easy or pushing you near failure.

Here is an example: do 10 push ups, 10 inverted rows, 10 crunches, 10 air squats, and 10 jumping jacks without taking a rest. Then rest three minutes and repeat for a total of three cycles. If you can’t do ten push ups, just elevate your hands onto a chair. If a full inverted row is too hard, then move your heels back toward your body until you can do it. Do this same workout on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It will only take twenty minutes.

Inverted row

The next week, repeat the same workout, except allowing only 2:30 rest between cycles. The third week, drop it to 2:00 between cycles. On the fourth week, increase the rest back to 2:30, but add a fourth cycle. The fifth week, decrease the rest to 2:00. The sixth week, decrease the rest to 1:30. The seventh week, increase the rest to 2:00 and add a fifth cycle. On week eight, cut the rest to 1:30 and on week nine, cut the rest to 1:00.

It is normal for beginners to see large apparent leaps in strength. This is caused by improvements in neurological recruitment. That is, your nerves become more adept at activating muscle fibers. When this happens, just slightly increase the difficulty of each exercise so that it becomes more challenging.

At the end of nine weeks, you’ll be doing 50 reps of each exercise in less than 30 minutes, which is a respectable workout, and you’ll be ready for the next stage of training.

After the circuit training prep-phase

For the next stage, I recommend the book You Are Your Own Gym by Mark Lauren. There is also a smart phone application by the same author that works well. Start with the “Basic” guided program.

This is a program that changes every two weeks to create a total 10-week cycle that will see you constantly improving. And, again, every workout will take less than forty minutes at home.

To be ready for competitive karate, I first did nine weeks of circuit training, and then worked through the ten week “basic” program and the ten week “intermediate” program. So it took about half a year. But that’s half a year to go from “winded walking up the stairs” to “kicking other in-shape men in the head.” You might not need to go that far.

Fixing problems from a sedentary job

Along the way, I hit some snags caused by too much time sitting at a desk. To work through these, I used the exercises provided by Sean Schniederjan’s Cure Tight Hips Anywhere, Posterior Chain Linked, Anterior Chain Linked, and Quadratus Lumborum: Fixed Depending on how badly your muscles are imbalanced, you may not need these. But I used them to great affect and recommend them.

What started as self-therapy for a break-up has made me healthier, happier and more confident. Not long after achieving my first milestone, there were plenty of other candidates to replace the girl left behind.

Read More: How To Get An Intense Cardio Workout In Only 20 Minutes 

38 thoughts on “Stop Going To Corporate Gyms And Do A Bodyweight Circuit Training Program Instead”

    1. Boxing is a good cardio alternative, but it won’t get you big unless you do some roids. I suggest boxing as warm-up/cardio and calisthenics as exercise.

    2. What’s wrong with Hiking, cycling and running. You can start at your doorstep, and it is way less boring than repetitive indoor exercise. Just got back from a 20Km hike in the mountains and jungle ……. five and a half hours …… phew!
      Cherry blossoms were out in the Hmong hilltribe village

      View post on

  1. As a bodybuilder living in an apartment, I could never go back to commercial gyms anymore and the author has cited some good reasons not to (getting a serious infection).
    My apartment is my home gym as I have some furniture and plenty of weights (plates, dumbbells, barbells), threads, strings, weightlifting belt, chairs, rope and gym shoes and that goes a very long way; I can do wall squats, step ups, heavy dips etc. and I can vary the angle far more than I could hope to do reasonably in a gym.
    My gains are better than ever and I hope to become the best built (non-steroid user) man in my mid-sized town.
    For those who have some spare money and a willingness to get big, home training is a very viable option. If you’re very short on time and energy, it might not make the difference it otherwise could but it’s something worth looking into. It’s faster than driving to the gym and there’s no waiting or looking out for strange people or any of that BS; you go straight to the point in your own space under your own rules.
    Good equipment is not exactly cheap but it can be compared to owning your own house instead of renting; a mortgage or the purchase of your personal home sounds dauntingly expensive as opposed to renting but renting never makes you the owner of the property no matter how much money you funnel into the hole over the years. Going to a commercial gym is like renting and buying your own equipment is being a home owner.

    1. You never own the home. Try not paying your property taxes and you’ll see who really owns it. Everyone rents.

    2. The DIY concrete weights approach totally works and costs pennies. If I were serious about putting on bulk I’d invest in a proper olympic bar and plates and dumbbells, but for modest goals small set of cheapo concrete dumbbells made from conduit pipe is totally sufficient. I like that I can leave them outside. If they corrode from the weather, so what, just remake them. Heck, you could even make a set and stash them in the bushes at a local park and train there on a picnic table.

  2. Burpees, don’t forget the burpees.
    Speaking of which, a great resource for this kind of training and mentality is Ross Enamait and his books, forum and blog. Highly recommend. And the man himself is a very stand-up guy and lives what he preaches.

  3. Eh, there are tits and ass at the gym, a lot more options in weights, and I don’t get as distracted….forcing myself to the gym forces me to work out. I have never heard of someone getting an infection from a gym other than maybe in the locker room/showers, so I doubt it is that big of an issue as long as you are careful. Also, I live in a small apartment, having a bunch of dumbbells, a bench, etc etc is kind of hassle. Plus, doing heavily lifting (like with benching) is kind of hard to do without the proper equipment, or someone else there watching to make sure you don’t get stuck.

    1. All true about going to a gym. It depend upon your goals though. If you just want to be fit and healthy, you really don’t need much in the way of equipment. If you want to be a competitive bodybuilder, powerlifter, or crossfitter, you are going to need an extensive home gym or go to a commercial gym.
      In my middle age, if I knew know what I know now when I first started, I would stick with mainly bodyweight exercises, some barbell lifts. You stay healthy and functional, and look good. I went down the bodybuilding track, was a little too hardcore with weight and intensity. My joints are really paying for it now. With mainly bodyweight exercises, you literally master the use of your own body. Its also very hard to get injured with bodyweight exercises, if you start young and keep it up continuously in later life.

      1. Exactly, William Rubin. That’s what I’ve done. Went to basic training after High School. Trained myself to like morning PT and really never stopped a morning routine of body weight exercise and it’s kept my 57 years old body in good shape without injury. I’d recommend it to anyone. I let the jog fall by the way a few years ago because of time constraints and that seemed to be the only part of the routine where I suffered injury potential. But like John Dobbs above, if I have the time I love a long hike. Consistency over the years is the key.

        1. yea – the walking is good. I’m mid 50s – given up on long distance triathlons/running…reckon is not so god for you.
          Walk 2 -10 miles daily whether in NYC or countryside – lots of interesting creatures in both locales.
          I also do run/walks with kids – it is the method they use – and seems more realistic than fixed speed jogging…

    2. If you’re going to the gym to look at tits and ass, you’re going for the wrong reason.

      1. What is wrong with eye candy? Also, what is wrong with going somewhere were fit bitches are? Wasn’t there an article about meeting bitches at gyms on ROK at one time?

        1. all the thots i see at the gym are are workout fakers looki g to find their next ATM slave that is reasonanly fit ot there with their BF/spouse looking to monkey branch, but all do the same thing, fake a work out. i go to the gym for maintainance work outs. and to tire myself out when i dont have another paying gig after my regular 8 to 4 job that is mainly desk bound. its mental stress relief and is my otherwise dedicated save my health time i take from the busy world because family and the world will take my health just because, so its my FU to the world if im mot extracting money during that time. the gum for me is free and across the street. the knly reasonably fit people where i work is active duty 18 to 20 somethings, the 30 pluses are all in sad shape and most civilians are typical delusional unhealthy americans. im a salmon swimming upstream to my surroundings. enough said

      2. It’s just an added bonus. And who wouldn’t get an extra boost to finish out those last few reps when a hot dumper in some skin-tight leggings walks by?

  4. I’ve been getting muscle just by doing lawn work. Of course, “lawnwork” in the country is different from the suburbia brand: moving logs around, shifting haystacks (big lawn) n’ stuff.

    1. what i do most times (for pay) when im not in the gym. real physical outdoor paying labor jobs.

  5. Also look into a kettlebell. Just 1 kettlebell can be sufficient; get a decent weight that you can do most exercises with. The kettlebell swing can be done daily, amongst endless other exercises. It is a good balance of muscle building/cardio. Cleans, presses, upside down presses, curls, tricep work, every exercise imaginable; with more focus on forearms. Many instructional videos showing how to do it in a HIIT fashion to strengthen the lungs too. The big handles of the kettlebell place a large emphasis on building your forearms.
    I do them for variety and to help on my off days of boxing. It is cheaper and takes less space than the weights. Although with the weights you certainly can build more mass.
    Bodyweight training is the most superior for avoiding injuries and increasing flexibility. Great for recovering from injuries too.
    Always good to mix it up, to keep training from becoming stale.
    Another addition is finding a free truck tire and getting a sledgehammer. Lots of fun, When you really get into it shouting like Arnold after the Predator makes it even funner.

    1. I’m a big fan of kettlebells. I have several and I’m about to work up to “The Beast”.
      Even if you don’t do swings, you can still build massive strength by simply picking them up and putting them into the rack position, military press, farmer carry, etc. I don’t even go to failure. I just pick them up several times per day and I’m stronger than I was as a teenager. No other weight training beyond a bit of bodyweight training. Even a military press back to the floor can give you a “curl” and will increase your bicep strength. I also use it for floor presses, rows, or weighted squats. Turkish Get-Up is one of the best full body strength exercises.
      I’d also recommend gymnastic rings. Great tool for only $20-$30 if you can find a place to hang them. I prefer bodyweight but have been using the kettlebell to “fill in the gaps” and it’s paid off.
      Like you I also use it to supplement a boxing hobby / workout.

    1. Does sound a bit gay. Check out Callisthenicmovement, on youtube though, you might change your opinion.
      There are some jacked motherfuckers out there. Free standing handstand push ups, planches, pistol squats, 1 arm chin ups.

  6. “I had also, at one point, contracted a MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) infection from improperly wiped-down gym gear, which put me into life-threatening shock when the boil broke inside me.”
    No disrespect but I can’t possibly take fitness instruction from someone that weak. Next.

  7. Andy G. Infections from gym gear are rare, but they are more of a reflection on the hygiene of the area rather than any individual that contracts a disease, especially if its a resistant to antibiotics strain.
    Fungal infections are very common in MMA gyms, especially wrestling ju jitsu mats.

    1. very few nymphos. mostly posers. unless you’re in LA.
      for anyone in a remotely normal town or not in north america, gyms are a bit shite for picking up chicks DTF

  8. I created a small gym – few adjustable dumbbells – chin up bar, and floor for push ups!
    But, have been going to the real gym lately – is very close – hot showers – cafe – etc…
    and will do some classes soon – even though I prefer to train alone – chicks do classes. But, is more core, body movement that I would not do otherwise.
    chin-up bar is most important/challenging in apt – and worked from zero to 3 sets of 10 wide( I’m 200Lbs) – happy with that progress -then got injured – and back to 4.
    I reckon body weight movements are most important and real/necessary.
    As far as cleanliness – Too many people so sick and I am actively tryign to prevent contagion:
    recently traveled several countries and brought mini sanitizer sprays – sprayed hands face everything at each transition – flight attendants asses – homeland security fatties – everything…same at gym.
    BTW: I went to daypass at gym in Phuket Thailand recently – biggest baddest motherfuckers I’ve ever seen – some bodybuilder types, but mostly MMA/Thai-Boxing fighters – huge – mean tanned and tatted – mostly from Australia, Russia, and Germany

  9. OT:
    I read that H1B visas are getting scrutinized and many will be getting sent back to their shithole countries.
    Anyone (Automatic Slim?) have more info?

  10. Why do they allow women dressed in butt baring spandex at gyms with men inside? That is a walking lawsuit!

  11. Excellent article. One of the best health and fitness pieces featured here on ROK.
    The author’s life even echoes mine to a degree (depressed post breakup, karate instructor at one time, engineer…)
    And though this piece might be averse to the idea of these commercial gyms, I say workout wherever you possibly can. If that’s at a gym, at home, outside or all three. As long as you’re doing something with your body.
    I’m a gym and outdoors dude. Benefits to both.
    Fantastic article once again. Especially the links to resolving muscle imbalances. Something I might need to look into.

  12. I’ve worked out so many different ways over the years but the best shape I’ve ever been in was when I cleared brush with an axe. Cutting, dragging limbs and loading logs for 5 to 8 hours a day will definitely get you into shape, especially if you combine that with a healthy diet. Of course, most people don’t have the time to do that but even a weekend job clearing lots would help and you’d get paid for it as well.

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