A Sweaty Upper-Body Cardio Workout to Hit Your Shoulders and Back


If you’re looking for a routine that’ll really work your muscles and get your heart pumping, this upper-body cardio workout might just be the one for you. By combining traditional strength-training moves with intense programming for work and rest, you’ll be checking the boxes for both strength and cardio in one routine.

It’s also a great way to incorporate more strength training into your routine if your modality of choice tends to lean toward cardio, especially in traditional forms such as running or cycling, ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, CPT, owner of Strong With Sivan, tells SELF.

“Adding this upper-body strength component is important,” she says. “Fitness isn’t only about cardio—strengthening your muscles is super important for longevity, quality of life, and independence as you get older.”

Compound moves—exercises that work multiple large muscle groups across more than one joint—are key to an upper-body cardio workout, she says. Because they recruit more muscles, they’ll feel more intense, which will help elevate your heart rate. Combine those moves with challenging work-to-rest programming, and you have an upper-body workout that will help you build muscular endurance and strength while also bolstering your cardiorespiratory fitness.

If you’re used to lifting heavy weights during your strength-training workouts, this can be a helpful routine to add to your calendar because it works those muscles in different ways. Rather than challenging yourself with heavy external resistance, you’ll be focusing more on moves that foster stability, such as in your shoulders and your lumbar spine region, says Fagan. This is important for proper mobility and injury prevention during everyday tasks and when you do lift heavier weights.

Here’s what you need for an upper-body cardio workout you’ll want to slot into your routine over and over again.

The Workout

What you need: An exercise mat for comfort. You can use light dumbbells for a couple of the moves here, but everything can be done bodyweight-only.


Superset 1

  • Push-Up
  • I-Y-T Raise

Superset 2

  • Plank Row
  • Shadowboxing


  • Perform each exercise in Superset 1 for 45 to 60 seconds. Rest minimally between rounds, or only as long as you need to in order to maintain proper form for your next round. Complete 3 to 4 rounds total.
  • Perform each exercise in Superset 2 for 45 seconds. Rest minimally between rounds, or only as long as you need to in order to maintain proper form for your next round. Complete 3 to 4 rounds total.

Demoing the moves below are Erica Gibbons (GIFs 1 and 2), a California-based personal trainer and graduate student becoming licensed as a marriage and family therapist; Amanda Wheeler (GIF 3), a certified strength and conditioning specialist and cofounder of Formation Strength; and Lita Lewis (GIF 4), a certified trainer based in Los Angeles.

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