Upper Body Cardio Circuit Workout

17 Moves to Add to Your Workout

If you don't have time for long workouts but want to strengthen your upper body, then this cardio circuit workout is for you. It can be performed in about 30 minutes. The routine targets the chest, back, shoulders, and arms to help you get a stronger and more defined upper body.

In addition, each upper body exercise includes whole-body movements that help to elevate your heart rate. These intense cardio intervals help you to burn more fat and calories. The workout moves quickly so you get more accomplished in less time.

To complete this rotation, you'll need dumbbells in a variety of weights, a barbell, resistance band, a weighted med ball, and a step or platform. Add a timer or stopwatch (such as the timer on a smartphone or fitness watch) to measure the length of each session.

Tips for an Efficient Upper Body Cardio Circuit

  • Warm-up for 5-10 minutes with light to moderate cardio activities.
  • Perform the exercises without taking breaks between each activity if possible.
  • If you are a beginner, complete one complete circuit as your workout. If you have more time or you are an intermediate to advanced exerciser, complete up to three complete circuits as your workout.
  • Use enough weight or resistance so that you can only complete the suggested number of reps. If the exercise feels too easy, add more weight.
  • Finish the workout with a few minutes of easy activity such as a jog or a walk and some stretching.

Mountain Climbers

Mountain Climbers

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Start in a pushup position on the floor. Alternate bringing the knees toward your chest in a running motion. Move as quickly as you can. Repeat the movement for 60 seconds.

To increase difficulty, increase your pace. You'll feel your core activate as you level up your speed.

Med Ball Push Ups

Start in a pushup position. Beginners can lower the knees to the floor. Intermediate to advanced exercisers should be elevated from the hands to the toes. Place a medicine ball under one hand.

Now lower your body into a pushup. As you push back up, roll the ball across the floor and place it under the other hand. Complete another pushup and continue to alternate sides. Do as many reps as you can in 60 seconds.

No med ball? Don't skip this movement! Simply do pushups without the med ball.

Front Lunge With Chest Press

Begin standing with a resistance band secured at chest level from behind. Step forward into a lunge as you press one arm forward in a chest press. Step back to your starting position. Repeat 20 times, alternating sides.

No band? Simply do lunges to keep the heart rate elevated.

Jumping Jacks With Lat Pulls

Hold a resistance band in both hands overhead and prepare to perform jumping jacks. As you jump the feet out, bring the arms down and wide, out to your sides. You'll feel the muscles in your back (the latissumus dorsi) squeezing to perform this exercise. Jump the feet back together, and return the arms overhead. Repeat the sequence for 60 seconds.

If you don't have a resistance band, skip it. Alternatively, use a towel or a jumping rope.

Barbell Bent-Over Row

Begin standing with feet hip distance apart and knees slightly bent. Hold a barbell with hands shoulder distance apart and relaxed below your shoulders. Bend forward at the hips, until the upper body is parallel to the floor. Keep the abs engaged and try to keep your back long and flat. 

Keeping the upper back strong, pull the barbell towards the chest. Lower the barbell and repeat. Keep the abs tight and knees bent (as needed) to support the lower back. Repeat 15 times. 

No barbell? Do this exercise holding a dumbbell in each hand.

Side Lunge With Arm Row

Begin standing with feet hip distance apart. Place a dumbbell in each hand, with your arms at your sides. As you take a big step to the right into a side lunge position, pull the weights up in a rowing motion ending at chest level. Step the right foot back to meet the left as you return your arms to the starting position. Repeat 20 times alternating sides.

Start with medium-level weights and move up to heavier weights when ready.

Side Squat With an Shoulder Press

Begin standing with feet hip distance apart. Place a dumbbell in each hand and lift the arms to shoulder level so that elbows are in line with the shoulders and hands are facing forward (similar to the shape of a goal post).

Take a wide step out to the right into a squat holding your goal post position. As you step the right foot back to center, press the arms overhead. Lower the weights as you step out to the left and then press the weights overhead again as you bring the legs back to center. Complete 20 reps, alternating sides.

Squat With Iron Cross

Start standing with feet hip distance apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms extended in front of the chest, palms facing each other. Now extend the arms out the sides, keeping the elbows soft but extended. Your body should be in a T position.

Hinging at the hips, lower the body into a squat position. As you lower your hips return your arms to the front of your chest with palms facing each other. Now bring your body back to standing, and return your arms to the T position. Repeat the movement, closing and opening the arms with each squat. Repeat 15 times.

Over-the-Step Biceps Curl

Stand next to a step or platform. Put the right foot on top. Place one dumbbell in each hand, arms extended down at your sides with palms facing front.

Step over the platform, moving to the right as you complete a biceps curl. You should now be on the other side of the bench with the left foot ready to step over the platform. Continue going over the top, completing biceps curls with each repetition. Repeat for 60 seconds.

Hammer Curl With Power Squat

Begin standing with feet hip distance apart. Hold a heavy weight in each hand, palms facing in towards your body.

As you lower your body into a squat, powering the weights forward into a hammer curl, keeping the palms facing in and the elbows close to your torso. Stand up as you lower the weights and repeat for 12 reps.

Triceps Dips With Leg Extensions

Sit on a step or chair, keeping the hands close to your hips. Slide the hips off the surface so that you have to steady your weight with your arms.

Extend the right leg (taking the foot off the floor). Now bend the elbows to lower the body a few inches. Press up. When you reach the starting position, switch legs, and repeat. Alternate sides for 30 to 60 seconds.

Rear Lunge With Double Arm Row

Hold medium-heavy weights and step back with the right leg into a straight-leg lunge. Tip forward from the hips, back flat, and pull the elbows up in a double arm row. Lower, step back to start and repeat for 16 reps on each leg.

Level up intensity by lifting the back leg at the same time you pull the weights up.

Knee With Side Kick

Lift the left knee up and out to the side as you bring the left elbow down, squeezing the obliques. Step down with the left foot and kick out with the right. Repeat for 30 seconds and switch sides.

Be careful not to hyperextend the knee when you kick out. Instead, maintain a slight bend in your knee as you kick.

Weighted Snatch and Swing

Stand in a staggered stance and hold a heavy weight in the right hand. Swing the weight back and then straight up over the shoulder. Pause at the top and slowly lower the weight down for 4 counts. Repeat for 12 reps on each side.

Here, focus on a quick push up and a controlled return back to the original stance. By bringing the weights down with control, you'll be isolating and working the bicep and shoulder muscles.

Barbell Curls - Crazy 8's

Hold a barbell with hands shoulder-width apart and lift the weight halfway up. Lower and repeat for 8 reps and then take the weight all the way up, only bringing it halfway down for 8. Finish up with 8 full reps.

Start with a lower weight barbell, and add more weight as you become more comfortable with the move.

Triceps Circuit - Ice Breakers

Begin in a squat position and jump in the air, circling the right arm around and down into a chop as you land. Jump in the air again, this time chopping down with the left arm. Continue alternating sides for 60 seconds.

For a lower-impact workout, skip the jump and begin in a squat position and stand up while performing the hand chop.

Triceps Extensions

Lie on a bench or floor and hold weights straight up over the shoulders, palms facing each other. Bend the elbows and lower the weights towards the ears. Press back up and repeat for 16 reps.

This exercise can also be performed while standing. Hold dumbbells straight above your shoulders and bend the elbows.

A Word from Verywell

When starting any new workout circuit, always remember to go at your own pace and listen to your body. Start with lower weights and increase resistance and reps when you feel ready. By increasing the weights over time, you'll help prevent injury and any muscle strain. If you have any injuries, illnesses, or other conditions, speak with a health care practitioner before trying this, or any new workout.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Zhang H, Tong TK, Qiu W, et al. Comparable Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training and Prolonged Continuous Exercise Training on Abdominal Visceral Fat Reduction in Obese Young Women. J Diabetes Res. 2017;2017:5071740. doi:10.1155/2017/5071740

  2. Park HK, Jung MK, Park E, et al. The effect of warm-ups with stretching on the isokinetic moments of collegiate men. J Exerc Rehabil. 2018;14(1):78-82.

  3. Calatayud J, Borreani S, Colado JC, et al. Muscle Activation during Push-Ups with Different Suspension Training Systems. J Sports Sci Med. 2014;13(3):502-10.

  4. Bharti N, Hrubeniuk T, Mayo A, Sénéchal M, Bouchard DR. Resistance Training Contribute to the Aerobic Components of an Exercise Session in Adults but not as Much in Older Adults. Int J Exerc Sci. 2017;10(3):406-416.

  5. Lorenzetti S, Ostermann M, Zeidler F, et al. How to squat? Effects of various stance widths, foot placement angles and level of experience on knee, hip and trunk motion and loading. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2018;10:14.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."