A dumbbell cardio workout is one of the best home workouts you can do. Cardiovascular workouts do a great job of upping your heart rate, providing an aerobic, fat-burning benefit. However, adding dumbbells into the mix makes the whole workout harder by adding additional resistance, helping you build muscle too.
Of course, the best adjustable dumbbells are the equipment best suited to this workout. You’re able to change weights in a flash, perfect for either upping the resistance levels or taking things down a notch, so you can complete the workout with proper form if you get over-tired. However, you can also do these moves with smaller weights, or even items around the house such as bottles of water.
If you’ve only ever done purely cardiovascular exercise before, what are the benefits of working out with weights – and why should you add a dumbbell cardio workout into your routine? We look at the science.
Dumbbell cardio: what are the benefits?
Dumbbell cardio workout: What are the benefits?
Resistance training is great for not only the heart, but also for burning calories. The American Heart Association (AHA) (opens in new tab) found people who train with weights twice a week boost their resting metabolic rate. This helps them burn more calories at rest due to the energy required for the body to supply their muscles with oxygen. In addition, having more skeletal muscle can protect your body from injury, increase your strength and fight against muscular atrophy brought on by aging.
Amber Gamble, personal trainer at F45 Training (opens in new tab)’s London Chelsea branch, says cardio is a great workout, but adding weights can really take your fitness to the next level. "Adding dumbbells to any explosive bodyweight movement is the perfect way to instantly progress an exercise,” she says.
Here Gamble takes you through an eight-move cardio dumbbell workout, which will leave you sweating and shedding those calories. Ready?
Eight-move cardio dumbbell workout
#1 and #2: Dumbbell jab and shuffle
Working the core, shoulders, and upper back, Amber says this one will really increase the heart rate: "As you move the weight out, at arms-length, your body has to work extra hard to stabilize the rest of your body, which in turn increases your heart rate." Perform 10 of each move, rest, then repeat three times.
- Pick a pair of light dumbbells (1-3kg)
- Start off in a boxing stance, with your feet at a diagonal
- Bring the dumbbells tightly to the body, under the chin
- Begin to punch the air, alternating between the right and left arm, ensuring you fully extend your arm out straight as you punch forward. It’s extremely important to keep your core engaged so that you don’t stress the shoulder joint by “flinging” the arms forward
- After 10 jabs, bring the weights back into the body and work through 10 forward and backward foot shuffles
#3: Explosive dumbbell jack
Like a normal jumping jacking, but with weights added Amber reveals when taking the weights above the head, the heart has to work harder to pump the blood around the body, which causes increased heart rate and improved aerobic capacity. Working the core, shoulders, biceps, quads, and glutes start with eight reps, then progress to 10 after a few weeks, then repeat two more times.
- Pick a pair of light to medium dumbbells (2-5kg)
- Squat down with the weights on either side of the body and jump up into a jumping jack shape, taking the arms overhead
- Squat back down and repeat the above steps
#4: Dumbbell alternate snatch
If you're looking to isolate one side of the body and see which is strongest this dumbbell snatch is perfect for working one side of the body at a time: "This unilateral move is a great way to highlight any imbalances in the body," says Amber, "It’s another explosive movement that requires power, which in turn will push the heart rate up, while also targeting the core, shoulders and upper back."
Try eight-10 snatches on each side, then repeat two more times.
- Begin with the feet at hip width distance
- Keeping a flat back, hinge at the hips to bend down and grab the dumbbell with one hand
- Thrust the hips forward with power to get the arm with the dumbbell straight above the head
- Place the weight back down on the floor between the legs and repeat the movement on the other side
#5: Squat to overhead press
This move doesn't seem like much, but it's really two exercises in one, targeting the core, shoulders, quads and glutes. While Amber adds: "The beauty of this exercise is that you can afford to lift heavier than you normally would for a shoulder press, as you can use the power in the legs to drive the weights up and above the head.
"As the weights come above the head the heart has to work extra heart to get the blood pumping, so you’ll feel a spike in your heart rate and burn extra calories." Push through this exercise with 8 reps, then add on two extra sets after a 20-second rest.
- Begin with feet at hip-width distance
- Pick a medium to heavy dumbbell in each hand (4-12kg)
- Rack the weights on top of the shoulders
- Squat down and use the power from the legs to drive the arms straight up to
- the ceiling
- As you squat down, bring the arms back down to the shoulders and repeat the movement
#6: Dumbbell skiers
This movement is a great cardio variation to work the biceps and the hamstrings. "The momentum gained during this movement means you can lift heavier than you normally would for a stationary bicep curl," reveals Amber, "Be careful to hinge properly from the hips whilst maintaining length in the spine to ensure proper form." Start with 10 reps and perform the move for a total of three sets.
- Begin with the feet at hip-width distance
- Pick a medium to heavy dumbbell (4-12kg)
- Start with the arms long by the side of the body
- Hinge forward to drop the chest, keeping a slight bend in the knees
- As you thrust the hips back forward to bring yourself upright, bicep curl the weights up to the shoulder
- Repeat with a steady tempo
#7 and #8: High knees to dumbbell punches
This full-body movement is a real cardio blaster and will have you out of breath before you even start your second set. "High knees are a great movement to get the heart rate up, especially when you pair them with dumbbells punches. This movement improves your coordination because you have to time your knee lift with your punch for the exercise to become truly effective," adds Amber. Work through 10 reps for three sets, with a 20-second break in between.
- As one knee drives up your arm on the same side punches forward
- Take your time to find your rhythm and coordination
- Start slowly and as the movement starts to feel more natural build up your pace
Of course, you can do all these moves without dumbbells, if you'd prefer using elastic resistance bands. These are lightweight, portable, and often cheaper alternatives – check out our guide to the best resistance bands to get started.
Sarah is a freelance journalist who writes about fitness and wellbeing for the BBC, Woman&Home and Tech Radar. During lockdown she found her love of running outside again and now attempts to run around 50 miles a month. When it comes to other fitness, she loves a sweaty cardio session – although since she’s been working out from home she’s sure her downstairs neighbors aren’t too happy about it. She also loves to challenge herself - and has signed up to do hiking holidays, intense bootcamps and last year she went on her dream activity holiday: paddle boarding around deserted islands in Croatia. On her rest days, she loves to recover with a simple yoga flow session – the perfect antidote to her active fitness schedule.
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