Skip to main content

This Cardio Workout With Weights Will Improve Your Fitness And Strength

Close-up of hand holding dumbbell between person’s feet
(Image credit: Getty Images / Steve Cole Images)

Most of us associate cardio with endurance sports like running and cycling, but if you prefer to train with weights you can still improve your cardiovascular fitness without having to make time for treadmill workouts in your schedule. The key to doing so is increasing the speed and intensity of your workout, using explosive movements that get your heart pumping.

The benefits of using weights for your cardio are many and varied, so we enlisted Constantinos Yiallouros, an expert personal trainer at Anytime Fitness UK (opens in new tab), for a cardio workout with weights anyone can try. 

“Cardio training with weights is a great way to improve cardio, burn calories and build lean muscle,” says Yiallouros. “This workout only uses one set of dumbbells and can be completed with minimal space.” That makes it ideal to do at home, and if you haven’t got any weights at home, rectify that pronto by browsing our round-up of the best dumbbells.

Warm-up

“It’s important to warm up before any workout, and before a cardio workout with weights, you need to activate the muscles effectively,” says Yiallouros. “You will be putting load into your muscles throughout the workout so some mobility and bodyweight exercises are key here.”

Work through the stretches and exercises below without any rest, then take a 30-second break before going into the ramp section.

1 World’s greatest stretch

Group of people doing world's greatest stretch in a circle

(Image credit: Getty Images / FreshSplash)

Time 30sec 

From a press-up position bring your right foot up to your right hand, then drop your right elbow down to the floor, rotate your torso, and stretch your left arm up towards the ceiling. Then reverse the twist to stretch your right arm up to the ceiling. Return to the press-up position, then do the stretch on the other side.

2 Walk-out

Time 30sec

From standing, bend down and place your hands on the floor. Walk them forwards to finish in a high plank position with your hands under your shoulders, arms extended and body in a straight line from shoulders to heels. Walk your hands back to your feet, then come back up to standing.

3 Good morning

Time 30sec

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands interlocked behind your head. Hinge forwards from your hips until you feel the stretch in your hamstrings, then come back up.

4 Plank with shoulder tap

Time 30sec

Set up in a high plank position supported on your hands and toes. Holding the position, tap your right shoulder with your left hand, then return your left hand to the floor and tap your left shoulder with your right hand. Continue alternating.

5 Unweighted squat

Time 30sec

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, then push your hips back and bend your knees to sit back into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Drive back up to standing.

6 Reverse lunge with rotation

Three people do reverse lunge with rotation

(Image credit: Getty Images / kali9)

Time 30sec

From standing, take a big step back and lower until both knees are bent at a 90° angle. While holding this lunge position rotate your torso towards your front leg, then reverse the movement to come back up to standing. Alternate legs with each rep.

7 Press-up

Time 30sec

Start in a high plank position. Bend your elbows to lower your chest until it’s just above the floor, then push back up.

8 Step-in mountain climber

Time 30sec

From a high plank position step one foot in underneath your chest, then take it back out and step in with the other foot.

Ramp Section

“The ramp section elevates your heart rate so you begin to get the cardiovascular benefits of the workout,” says Yiallouros.

Work through the exercises in order then take a one-minute break before the next step in the workout. Do the first three moves without dumbbells then grab a set for the final three.

1 High knees

Man performs high knees in the gym

(Image credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus / Kiwis)

Time 45sec Rest 15sec

Run on the spot, lifting your knees up to your chest.

2 Jumping jack

Time 45sec Rest 15sec

Stand with your feet close together and hands by your sides, then jump and spread your feet wide while lifting your hands up to the sides. Land softly, then jump again and bring your feet back in and your hands back down.

3 Jump squat

Time 45sec Rest 15sec

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lower into a squat, then drive back up explosively and jump straight up. Land softly and go straight into another squat.

4 Alternating dumbbell snatch 

Dumbbell snatch

(Image credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus / Indigo-stock)

Time 45sec Rest 15sec 

Stand with a dumbbell on the floor in front of you. Lower into a squat to reach down and grab the weight in one hand, then drive back up explosively, lifting the weight. Flip your elbow under the dumbbell and press it directly overhead as you come up to standing. Reverse the movement to lower the weight, then perform the snatch with your other hand.

5 Push press

Time 45sec Rest 15sec 

Stand holding dumbbells by your shoulders with your palms facing forwards. Lower into a shallow squat, then drive back up and press the weights overhead.

6 Thruster

Time 45sec Rest 1min 15sec

Hold dumbbells by your shoulders with your palms facing. Lower into a squat until your thighs are at least parallel to the ground, then drive back up and press the weights overhead.

Workout

“The main section of the workout aims to challenge you by combining weighted movements with explosive bodyweight exercises,” says Yiallouros.

Do each pair of exercises back to back with no rest between them, then you get a 15-second break before going onto the next pair. Take a longer 30-second break after the last move before tackling the finisher.

1A Front rack dumbbell squat

Dumbbell front squat

(Image credit: Getty Images / AleksandarGeorgiev)

Time 30sec Rest 0sec

Hold both dumbbells in front of your shoulders with your palms facing and elbows pointing forwards. Lower into a squat, then push back up through your heels to standing.

1B Jump squat

Time 30sec Rest 15sec

As above.

2A Thruster

Time 30sec Rest 0sec

As above.

2B Burpee

Time 30sec Rest 15sec

From standing, bend over and place your hands on the floor, then jump your feet back to get into a high plank position. Jump your feet forwards, stand up, then jump into the air and raise your hands above your head.

3A Dumbbell overhead press

Woman prepares to perform the dumbbell overhead press

(Image credit: Getty Images / RichLegg)

Time 30sec Rest 0sec

Stand holding dumbbells by your shoulders with your palms facing forwards and elbows pointing out to the sides. Extend your arms to press both weights above your head. Lower the dumbbells under control.

3B Alternating overhead press 

Time 30sec Rest 15sec

Press just one dumbbell overhead at a time, alternating sides with each rep.

4A Reverse lunge with dumbbells

Time 30sec Rest 0sec

Standing holding dumbbells by your sides. Take a big step back and lower until both knees are bent at 90°, then push through your front heel to return to standing. Alternate sides with each rep.

4B Pop lunge 

Time 30sec Rest 15sec

From standing, take a big step back and lower into a lunge, then push explosively through your front foot to jump and land with your feet together. Alternate sides with each rep.

5A Floor chest press

Man performing floor press with heavy dumbbells

(Image credit: Getty Images / South Agency)

Time 30sec Rest 0sec

Lie on your back holding a weight in each hand by your chest. Press the weights up over your chest, then lower them under control.

5B Press-up

Time 30sec Rest 30sec

As above.

Finisher

“Finish off the workout and maximise the cardio benefits with three minutes of non-stop work,” says Yiallouros.

Work through as many rounds of these three exercises as you can during the three minutes. Take a 30-second rest at the end before going into the warm-down.

Thruster

Thruster

(Image credit: Getty Images / heshphoto)

Reps 6

As above.

Burpee over dumbbell

Reps 6

Place a dumbbell on the floor to one side. Perform a burpee, jumping sideways over the dumbbell at the end of the move. Repeat, jumping over the dumbbell after each rep.

Alternating dumbbell snatch

Reps

As above.

Warm-down

“This is your chance to catch your breath and enjoy a well-earned warm-down,” says Yiallouros. “You will have worked your muscles hard, particularly your lower body, so it’s important to stretch these out as they’ll be feeling tight.”

Use this warm-down stretching routine.

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.