Upper Body Exercises: Cardio Edition

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When you work your upper, body does it mostly consist of pull ups, push ups, free weights and resistance bands? That’s how we’ve been conditioned, so to speak, to think that our upper body exercises should focus on building muscles and strength.


[Even this iconic sex symbol knew that upper body exercises were important to looking this good!]

There’s nothing wrong with building muscle, unless you need to lose fat first. Upper body cardio exercises will allow you to increase strength and (possibly) muscle mass, while burning the excess fat. We’ve compiled a list of 5 upper body cardio exercises that you should add to your existing upper body workout, so keep reading…


Swimming is a great upper body exercise because it works the upper back, chest and arms effectively. What’s really good is that swimming is good for those of you who haven’t exercised in awhile because it’s low impact. Low impact upper body exercises like swimming are good for people with old injuries or weak muscles. Doing laps in the pool gives you lower body support while you workout your upper body.

By changing up the swim stroke you can determine which upper body muscles are exercised during each workout. Swimming as an upper body exercise lets you decide how intense your cardio is as well as how thoroughly you work the upper body. When you need cardio without the impact, swimming is one of the most effective upper body exercises.


You don’t have to be Mike Tyson to get a good upper body workout by boxing. Cardio boxing is mostly an upper body exercise; however you also improve balance, footwork and coordination. The punching and blocking motions of boxing exercises many upper body muscles including shoulders, arms, back and chest.

Boxing not only increases your heart rate, but the fast punching movements tone and strengthen muscles. Boxing is one of the best upper body exercises to burn and tone simultaneously. Another reason you should give cardio boxing a shot? The discipline required in boxing will go a long way to help you achieve your weight loss goals.

Jumping Jacks

Jumping jacks are traditional upper body exercises that work the arms, shoulders and back. Unfortunately when most of us think of jumping jacks our minds automatically race to 8-year olds flailing arms wildly about, so we don’t give them the respect they deserve. While exercising the upper body, jumping jacks work the legs and keeps your heart pumping!

Jumping jacks are effective upper body exercises because like swimming, the type of jumping jack you do can greatly improve your workout and increase the intensity of your upper body workout.  If you want your core to see some action during jumping jacks, consider the reaching jumping jack. During this version you perform a traditional jumping jack, bend over and touch the floor between each jump.

Hand Cycling

Unless you’re a hardcore cyclist, chances are you are as unaware of this upper body exercise as I was. That is, until I recently saw a guy on this weird contraption and asked him what on earth he was doing!

It turns out that hand cycling is exactly as it sounds—steering a bicycle with your hands and upper body muscles. Before you balk, consider that hand cycling is to upper body exercises what traditional cycling is to lower body exercises. Imagine the work your legs to do keep the wheels of a bicycle rotating, now imagine your arms, chest, back, shoulders and even core doing the same work.


[Hand cycling is an efficient way to get around while you perform upper body exercises.]

Although purchasing a hand cycle can be costly, most exercise facilities have at least one so you can switch your upper body exercises to prevent boredom. This is also a great upper body exercise that you can do with a buddy. Whether you cycle competitively or simply to lose weight, hand cycling is the perfect upper body exercise to do with a workout buddy!

Hand & Arm Movements

Add hand and arm movements to get upper body exercises completed during stationary cardio workouts. This probably sounds strange but when you hope on an exercise bike or treadmill you work your lower body pretty hard while your arms simply hang uselessly for an hour. By adding hand and arm movements like jumping jacks, dumbbells or free weights you perform upper body exercises while you do your cardio exercises.

Inserting these extra upper body exercises into your regular workout routine, you can increase your heart rate while toning upper body muscles. Whether you are walking, running or doing the treadmill in front of the TV, grab dumbbells or use your arms to exercise your upper body. Upper body exercises such as this are an easy way to give your body every advantage to achieve your weight loss and exercise goals.

It’s not easy getting your upper body to look the way you want, but regular exercise and a balanced diet can get you there if you let it.

You’ve got tips to work your upper body, now find out what you can do for a better mid-section by reading our review of The Truth About Six Pack Abs. It’ll change everything you thought you knew about getting “look at me” abs.