The traditional belief amongst most
people, especially those starting out on a new fitness regime in the
gym, is that “cardio” consists only of the classic activities:
- Cross trainer/stepper
Thing is though, whilst these are all
perfectly acceptable ways to get your sweat on and heart rate up,
they’re not the only methods of doing so. And they’re certainly
not the most exciting (well at least in my book they’re not).
Another stumbling block for others is
the inability to do anything leg related in the gym. For example, if
you’re unable to perform leg movements, or are just recovering from
an injury of sorts, upper body workouts may be your only solution. If
that’s the case you’ll want a way to still get those lungs
working and heart pumping.
In today’s post, I’m going to share with you the best upper body cardio workouts (in my humble opinion), that only require the use of your upper body muscle groups. And because of the short burst interval nature of the workouts, your heart rate will raise considerably and you’ll burn more calories over the next couple of days, pretty cool eh?
Some of the movements are pretty
gnarly, but I’ll be providing alternatives to the harder movements.
So if you’re not a gym junkie yet, you can start easy and progress.
Let’s get started shall we?
First Thing’s First
Before I start going through the
workouts, there are a few things we need to take care of first. You
need to prepare your body for the stress ahead, so that means getting
a warm up in place.
- Get your heart rate up with a moderate intensity cardio exercise. For example the cross trainer or rowing machine – 10 minutes.
- The first time you go through the workout, start at a slower pace (about 50% of your maximum effort). This is so that you can to accustom your muscles to the movements, and slowly integrate into the workout.
Other things to consider before you
- Try to perform the movements
without any rest in between the exercises. Remember, this is a
cardiovascular workout, so your heart rate should be elevated and
you should be breathing hard.
- Only use enough weight so you’re
able to complete the number of reps stated. If you can’t get
anywhere near the number of reps in the workout, you need to lower
the weight/resistance. If you’re finding it too easy, you know
what to do!
- When you’re finished, make sure
you end the workout with 5 minutes of “cooling down”. In other
words, jump on a piece of cardio kit of your choice and spend 5
minutes at a low intensity.
- You’ll need some dumbbells, a
medicine ball, and a stopwatch, that’s it! So don’t complain
that you can’t get the equipment or the gym’s too busy 😉
1. Bent over dumbbell rows – 25 reps
- Standing upright holding the
dumbbells by your side, begin to push your hips backwards (sticking
your bum out).
- Whilst you’re pushing your hips
backwards, ensure you maintain a neutral spine in the process (keep
your spine straight).
- When your chest is facing the
floor and you have a right angle bend at the hips, begin to pull the
dumbbells to either side of your body.
- Return the dumbbells back to the
straight arm position in front of you, maintaining that 90 degree
bend at the hips.
- As you lower the dumbbells down to the starting position of the movement, count a tempo of 3 seconds down, and one second on the “up” phase.
2. Dumbbell Punches – 1 minute
- Stand feet shoulder width apart
holding dumbbells in front of your chest (very light ones in this
- As fast you can manage, begin
punching straight forward whilst holding the dumbbells.
- If you’re struggling to maintain
the pace, reduce the weight, or opt for no weight and perform “air
3. Push ups – 25 reps
- You’ll begin on your hands and
knees. Ensure your hands are shoulder width apart and your shoulders
are directly over your hands.
- Straighten your legs until your
entire body is supported on your feet and hands. Legs and arms
should be completely straight.
- Begin lowering your chest until
it’s three inches off the floor.
- Finish the movement by pushing up
and raising your chest from the floor. Keep the legs straight and
your head in a neutral position (just look straight ahead at the
floor, don’t try and look up or down).
- If you can’t lift your whole
body weight off the floor, opt to drop your knees and rock forward
on the knees. This way you’re only lifting half of your body
- Alternatively you can use a higher
surface to push off from, like a plyo box, dumbbell rack, or even
the wall if you’re lacking upper body strength
4. Repeat Dumbbell Punches – 1
5. Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press
– 25 reps
- Start by standing shoulder width
apart, resting the dumbbells on the shoulders.
- Keeping the palms facing forward,
raise the dumbbells above your head.
- Lower the dumbbells back down so
they’re resting on the shoulders.
- Use a three second lowering tempo
for the movement, and one second on the raising phase.
5. Repeat Dumbbell Punches – 1
6. Medicine Ball Slams – 25 reps
- Stand shoulder width apart holding
the medicine ball.
- Raise the med ball above your
head, and slam the ball down to the floor whilst bending your legs
on the way down. Keep your spine in that neutral position I spoke
about (keep that thing as straight as humanly possible!)
- Keep your chest up as you extend
your legs and return to the over head position in one smooth
- Rinse, and repeat.
This workout is designed to be
completed as fast as possible, so there are no rest periods in
If do find that you’re struggling to
keep up, by all means pause for 10 seconds. However, don’t leave
too long in between exercises, otherwise you forgo the cardiovascular
Repeat the entire workout 2-3 times
depending on your ability.
This workout is 95% upper body, bar the
leg bending phase of the med ball slams. So be prepared that you’re
going to suffer from a few aches and pains in the arms afterwards.
Just bare that in mind when you’re
pushing yourself beyond your limits.
It’s also pretty short and sweet, and
will only last about 30-40 minutes max. Only aim to perform the
workout 2-3 times per week. If you’re working at maximum effort,
you won’t need to do it any more than that!
So what are you waiting for? Get
started sculpting that lean mean upper body!