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[Workout Plans] Getting In Touch With Your Inner Animal — A Unique Bodyweight Circuit Routine

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Circuit training is a great way to get a lot of bang for your buck. When you’re short on time (let’s face it – we all are) you can set aside half an hour or less for a solid circuit training session, and you’ll be able to pack a big punch in that time.

Even better than circuit training in your local gym, though, is using a bodyweight-only circuit routine. Not only will it save you time moving from machine to machine, you can do it in the comfort of your own home, which will save you quite a bit of effort, time, and money.

Below, I’m going to share a bodyweight circuit routine that incorporates more than just your “typical” bodyweight exercises. In addition to squats and push-ups, exercises you’re probably used to practicing pretty regularly, I’ve also included some locomotive “animal” movements you may not have practiced before as an adult.

The reason I emphasize “animal” movements in this routine (and in most routines I design for my clients) is the added benefit of improving your ability to move better. So, rather than just focusing on exercises that help you get stronger, or more muscular, or leaner, these animal exercises improve your overall movement ability (aka mobility). This helps you stay agile and limber for as long as possible.

 

The Routine


 

The routine I’m about to describe is actually four routines in one, since you can vary the rest period, duration, and other factors depending on your goals. The actual exercises will remain the same in each variation, but depending on your current fitness aspirations, those other variables will change, as I’ll describe below.
But first, the circuit.

In the video above, I’ll demonstrate each of the movements included in this circuit, as well as variations of each move. Below, you’ll find a detailed explanation of each movement and its variations.

 

1. Squat

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The first exercise in the circuit is the squat. You may be very familiar with the regular, bodyweight squat, and if you’re comfortable with that, feel free to stick with the basic version. However, I want you to feel free to explore different variations as well. Here are some variations you can play around with:

  • Bodyweight Squat

    • With your feet shoulder width apart and pointed out slightly, squat down, keeping your knees pointed out. Squat down only as low as you can comfortably go.

  • Regular Jump

    • The regular jump is just like it sounds. You’ll jump in place, keeping your legs straight under you.

  • Star Jump

    • For this variation, you’ll open your arms and legs (like a star) as you jump. Return to the starting position and repeat.

  • Tuck Jump

    • In this variation, tuck your legs in front of you as you jump up.

 

2. Bear Crawl

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The bear crawl is the first animal movement of the circuit. As with the squat, you can play around with a couple variations. The important thing to bear in mind (terrible pun, I know) is to move reciprocally. This means you’ll move your opposite arm and leg at the same time. As you lift your right arm to move it forward, make sure you’re moving your left leg, and vice versa. This is actually how we normally walk. Here are the variations you can play around with:

  • Bear Crawl with Straight Arms

    • Keep your arms and legs straight as you move your limbs reciprocally.

  • Bear Crawl with Bent Arms

    • In this variation, you’ll add a little more difficulty by bending the arms as you move.

 

3. Push-Up

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The push-up is probably the most commonly practiced bodyweight movement, but believe it or not, most people get one fundamental thing wrong. No matter what variation you practice, make sure to keep your elbows screwed in close to your sides throughout the movement. Here are some variations you can practice:

  • Knee Push-Up

    • Start on your hands and knees, with your hands directly beneath your shoulders. Tighten your whole body (screw your elbow-pits forward, squeeze your torso and quads, and push your heels back), then slowly lower your chest, while keeping your elbow pits pointed forward. Slowly push your chest back up to starting position. Keep your body tight and your elbows close to your sides throughout the movement.

  • Full Push-Up

    • The cues for the full push-up are exactly like the knee push-up, but you’ll start from a plank position. Make sure to keep your entire body tight throughout the movement, and don’t forget about those elbows!

  • Hollow Body Push-Up

    • In the hollow body push-up, you’ll begin in the regular plank (or top of the push-up) position. Keep your elbow pits screwed forward, your quads and torso tight, and your heels push back. All that sounds familiar, right? Here comes the tricky part. Squeeze your glutes as you tilt your pelvis posteriorly, and squeeze your abs as you drive your hands into the floor, separating your shoulder blades and rounding your upper back. Keeping this nice rounded position, with your elbows locked out and screwed forward, slowly lower your chest to the ground, then slowly push yourself back up to the hollow body plank position.

 

4. Frogger

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The “frogger,” as I like to call it, is a lot like the frog hop kids like to play with, but it’s not just a fun little move for kids. There are a lot of great benefits from the frogger as well. For instance, if you have any interest in improving your hand balancing skills, the frogger is a great transitional move to build the strength and coordination necessary for handstands. It’ll also help you loosen up your hips if flexibility is a concern for you. Here are some variations to play around with:

  • Standard Frogger

    • With the standard frogger, you’ll start in a deep squat position, then place your hands about a foot in front of you. Hop your feet forward, so that they land just outside your hands. Continue traveling forward this way.

  • Frogger with Arm Raise

    • This variation just adds a little pause between each “hop.” So, hop forward and pause as you raise your arms above your head. You should be back in that deep squat in this “paused” position. Then, drop your hands back to the ground and repeat.

  • Frogger with Hip Elevation

    • The frogger with hip elevation is the same as the standard frogger, except you’ll try to bring your hips higher at the top of the hop. This is a variation I use to help my clients work on their handstand skills. Eventually, you’ll be able to bring your hips high enough that you are in a handstand at the top of the hop, as I demonstrate in the video.

 

5. Hollow Body Hold

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The hollow body position is probably one of the best “core strengthening” exercises you’ll ever encounter, and trust me, it’s about as far from a “crunch” as you can get. Just as the name implies, rather than performing reps of the hollow body, this particular exercise will be a static hold for time. In this position, you’ll lie on your back and press your lower back into the ground. You’ll automatically feel a tightening in your abs, especially as you work on extending your arms and legs. Here are some variations to work on:

  • 90-degree Hollow Body Hold

    • While lying on your back with your lower back pressed into the floor, bend your knees to a 90-degree angle with your feet off the ground. Tuck your chin and lift your head off the ground, and keep your arms straight. You can point your arms in whatever direction is most comfortable for you, but just make sure to keep them off the ground.

  • Mid-level Hollow Body Hold

    • For the next variation, you’ll straighten your legs, which increases the length of the lever. You’ll also widen the angle between your torso and your thighs, from 90 degrees in the previous variation, to about 135-degrees in this variation.

  • Full Hollow Body Hold

    • In the full hollow body hold, your arms will be fully extended behind your head, and your legs will be fully extended in front of you. Your arms, legs, and head will be just slightly above the floor, but otherwise, your body is basically straight. Remember to keep your lower back in contact with the floor the entire time.

 

6. Monkey

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The monkey is a lot like the frogger, but instead of traveling forward, you’ll travel sideways. We’re not used to moving in this plane, so it might be a little unsettling at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll have a lot of fun with it. Plus, it’ll open up your hips, and get you more comfortable with new ways of moving your body.

  • Standard Monkey

    • In the standard monkey, start in a deep squat, then place your hands on the ground in front of your body, and to one side. Then, jump your hips and legs to meet your hands. So, if you’re traveling to the right, you’ll start in a deep squat, then place your hands so that your left hand is in front of your right foot, and your right hand is shoulder-width apart from your left hand. Jump sideways so that your right foot lands behind your right hand, and your left foot lands behind your left hand. Repeat so that you are traveling sideways, then go the other direction.

  • Monkey with Hip Elevation

    • This variation, much like the elevated frogger position, is all about bringing your hips as high as you can at the top of the jump. Again, this will help you work on your hand balancing skills. In the beginning, your hips may not come up very high, but over time you’ll get more comfortable in that position so that you can bring them higher.

  • Cartwheel

 


 

Programming


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So now that you know which exercises you’ll use for this circuit, how do you put them into practice? Well, as I mentioned above, there are really four ways to approach this circuit, depending on what your current goals are.

This circuit routine can be modified to focus on strength, stamina, hypertrophy, or skill development. Here’s how:

  • Training Goal #1 – Strength

If your current goal is to get stronger, what you’ll do is incorporate longer rest periods between exercises, focusing on a higher level for each movement. So, for instance, with the push-up, you’ll perform a hollow body push-up, rather than a full push-up, and rest for a minute, rather than 30 seconds, between exercises.

Perform each exercise for 30-45 seconds, doing as many reps as possible in that time frame for dynamic exercises, and holding for that amount of time for static exercises. Rest for 1-2 minutes between each exercise. Do a total of 3-5 rounds of the circuit.

For strength-based programming, perform the routine 2x/week on a Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday split.

  • Training Goal #2 – Stamina

To use this circuit to build stamina, you’ll perform the exercises at a faster pace, with shorter breaks between exercises. Spend less time on each exercise and increase the number of rounds you perform.

Perform each exercise for 1-2 minutes, doing as many reps as possible in that time frame for dynamic exercises, and holding for that amount of time for static exercises. Rest for 30 seconds between each exercise. Do a total of 5-10 rounds of the circuit.

For a stamina goal, perform the routine 3x/week.

  • Training Goal #3 – Hypertrophy

If your training goal is hypertrophy, or “packing on muscle,” the important thing is to increase the “time under tension.” What that means is doing each exercise more slowly, and taking shorter rest periods between each exercise.

Perform each exercise for 1 minute, doing as many reps as possible in that time frame for dynamic exercises, and holding for that amount of time for static exercises. For hypertrophy, pay special attention to reaching muscular failure with each exercise. Rest for 1 minute between each exercise. Do a total of 3-5 rounds of the circuit.

For hypertrophy, perform this routine 3x/week.

  • Training Goal #4 – Skill Development

All of the movements included in this circuit are great for skill training as well, if that’s something you’re interested in. For skill development, spend more time on each exercise, slowing down the movements to focus on quality, not quantity. Increase your rest time between exercises, as well as the number of rounds you complete.

Perform each exercise for 1 minute, but rather than trying to do as many reps as possible, only do as many reps as you can with perfect form in that time. This means you’ll perform each exercise slower and with more concentration. Make sure not to go to fatigue for skill development. Rest for 2 minutes between each exercise. Do a total of 3-5 rounds of the circuit.

For skill work, you can practice this routine up to 4x/week.

 

My Recommendation for Any Goal You May Have


No matter which goal and corresponding programming you choose to focus on, there’s one very important thing to keep in mind for continued success — and this applies to any program, not just to the circuit described in this article.

What is that one important thing? Autoregulation.

My buddy Jarlo Ilano wrote a whole long article on autoregulation a while back, but I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version here. (If you’re interested in learning more, go read the full article).

To autoregulate literally means to regulate yourself. Applied to training, that means paying attention to how your performance varies on any given day and adjusting your training accordingly. If you perform your workout and aren’t doing as well as you normally do, then it’s probably a good idea to ease off.

This is important for your safety, as well as your continued success. After all, if you push yourself beyond what you can currently handle (and with autoregulation, currently really does mean at this very moment in time), you risk injury, getting sick, or otherwise putting yourself out of commission. So it’s important to make the necessary adjustments to stay on track.

So, even if you have a more “intense” goal with this circuit routine (or, like I said, with any fitness regimen), such as hypertrophy, you shouldn’t force yourself to follow the routine exactly as laid out for every single session — unless you feel strong enough, well-rested enough, and generally ready to do so.

As you can probably tell, this bodyweight circuit routine is what you make of it. Feel free to play around with different variations and levels to fit your needs.

And, most importantly, have fun with it!

Ryan Hurst

Ryan Hurst

Guest Contributor at GMB Fitness
Ryan Hurst is one of the founders of GMB Fitness, a company dedicated to helping people get stronger and move better for their daily lives. He practiced for ten years as a competitive gymnast, and holds black belts in Kendo, Judo, and Shorinji Kempo.

Ryan has devoted his life to coaching others in strength and movement, but always lets his philosophy of “training for a healthy life” lead the way. He lives in Japan with his wife and two young children, and the most important thing to him is to be able to play with his kids without pain or fear of injury. You can find more from Ryan on his website, on Facebook, or on YouTube
Ryan Hurst
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  • Fana

    Great article!

  • Fana

    Great article!