Dumbbell cardio workout: an 8-move fat-burning workout

This is why a dumbbell cardio workout can be great for your whole body

Woman working out at home with dumbbells
(Image credit: wilpunt/ Getty)

Dumbbell cardio workouts can be some of the toughest workouts to complete - not only because your heart rate is elevated but also because you're working different muscles in the body, with added resistance.

The handheld weights are also easy to get hold of, especially some of the best adjustable dumbbells, where you switch up the weight as you go, meaning even if you're working out from home you can still get a good sweat on.

But how can you mix up a weights-based workout to burn those calories, and what are the benefits of working out with weights?

Dumbbell cardio: what are the benefits?

Resistance training is great for not only the heart but also for burning calories. While the American Heart Association (AHA) says that people who train with weights twice a week boost their resting metabolic rate (burning calories), protect their bodies from injury, while also increasing not just muscle mass, but the strength in their bones and connective tissue. 

While Amber Gamble at F45 gym in Chelsea, 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."

Here we take you through an eight-move cardio dumbbell workout, by Amber, which will leave you sweating and shedding those calories. 

8 move cardio-dumbbell workout 

1&2: Dumbbell jabs and shuffles

Dumbbell workout

(Image credit: F45)

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

Dumbbells workout

(Image credit: F45)

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

Dumbbells workout

(Image credit: F45)

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

Dumbbells workout

(Image credit: F45)

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

Dumbbells workout

(Image credit: F45 Chelsea)

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&8. High knees and dumbbell punches

Dumbbells workout

(Image credit: F45 Chelsea)

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
Sarah Finley
Sarah Finley

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.