Dumbbell Cardio Workout: 18 Exercises For Fitness & Strength

We all know the benefits of the gym, but alongside work, family life, and other commitments, it can be hard to make time. Ideally, you'd do a strength routine and a cardio workout, but it just isn't practical in most daily routines.  

Thankfully, there are some ways you can combine strength training with cardio, and in this guide, we'll introduce some of the best dumbbell cardio workouts.  

When you're introducing dumbbell cardio moves into your fitness routine, the key is to mix it up. Keep the intensity high, and try to move as quickly as possible, keeping control of the dumbbell throughout.

We’ve compiled a list of the 18 best dumbbell cardio workouts below, but we’d recommend choosing 8-10 of the exercises and making your own dumbbell cardio workout plan.

1. Bicep Curl

Everyone knows the bicep curl as an effective way to develop the muscles on the front of your upper arm and improve your grip. Incorporating curls into your cardio helps to strengthen your upper body while increasing your heart rate. This lets you build bigger arms and burn more fat.

The trick is to use a comfortable weight so you can perform quick reps and really get your heart rate up. Once you’ve got used to fast bicep curls, you can add marching on the spot to engage your legs too. 

Start standing tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand on either side of your body with palms facing away from you. Alternating one arm at a time, bend your arm at the elbow and raise the dumbbell up to your shoulder. Pause for a second and then return back to starting position.

As one dumbbell goes up, the other should go down, so one part of your body is always moving. Make sure to keep your upper arms and shoulders still throughout the movement to really target your biceps. 

Related Article - Barbell Curl Vs Dumbbell Curl

Bicep Curl

2. Dumbbell Jabs and Shuffles 

Punching and moving have been used in HIIT classes for a long time, and introducing dumbbells into this movement provides a lot of benefits. It works your arms, shoulders, and upper body, plus it engages your core to stabilize your body.

All of this massively increases your heart rate and helps you burn more calories. The key to this exercise is keeping it explosive and moving quickly. 

Start in a boxing stance with your feet at a diagonal angle. Hold the dumbbells tight to your body under your chin and punch outwards explosively, alternating between your left and right hands.

Keep your core engaged and your arm straight as you punch so that you aren’t just flinging the weight forward. After 5 jabs with each arm, bring the weights into your body and shuffle forwards or backwards before repeating the punches. 

This move has been popular with boxers for decades. If you want to be like Rocky, you should incorporate this movement. Also, check out our guide to lifting weights for boxing to learn more!

dumbbells jabs and shuffles

3. Curtsy Lunge 

The curtsy lunge involves full-body movement and is an excellent way to strengthen your legs, hips, and glutes. The cardio benefits of lunges and variations are fantastic.

Using dumbbells makes it more challenging and helps raise your heartbeat, but you need to keep moving quickly to get the real benefit of this move.  

Start by standing with a dumbbell in each hand at your side, with palms facing forward. Lift your right leg and cross it behind you, bending your knee, so you lower yourself into a lunge. 

Bring your right leg back in front of you raised with a bent knee, and then lower it back so you’re in the starting position. Repeat the exercise with your other leg, alternating each time. Keep the dumbbells at your sides throughout, and try to keep your core engaged for maximum benefit.  

curtsy lunge

4. Single Arm Overhead Press 

This move focuses the effort on your shoulders and strengthens your upper body while you burn calories.

The alternating motion of the movement helps to keep you moving throughout, and you can combine it with marching on the spot if you want an extra challenge. Try using light weights at first so you can keep the movement going for longer. 

Start by holding a dumbbell in each hand and raise one up to your shoulder. Engage your core and push the dumbbell upwards until your arm is fully outstretched, keeping your shoulders down throughout the movement. 

Pause for a second and then lower it back down to your shoulder and then down to your side. Repeat the movement with your other side but remember to only press one dumbbell up at a time.  

Also, check out our complete guide to barbell vs dumbbell shoulder presses.

single arm overhead press

5. Goblet Squat 

Squats are a good, challenging exercise that gets your heart racing, and when you add a dumbbell into the mix, you can more quickly improve your strength and conditioning.

You’ll only need a single dumbbell for this exercise, and you can go quite heavy if you can handle it. This exercise will target your quads and core to help you build strength in your lower body.  

Start by standing with feet slightly further than shoulder-width apart, feet at a diagonal angle, and toes pointing away from you. Hold a dumbbell in both hands in front of you at chest height. Engage your core, and lower your body down in a squat as low as you can go, pause for a second, and then push through until you’re back in the starting position.  

You can use a kettlebell or a dumbbell for this movement. Jump over to our thorough guide on dumbbells vs kettlebells!

Goblet Squats

6. Explosive Dumbbell Jacks

Jumping jacks help to work your upper and lower body, but by adding dumbbells in, you challenge your body more. This makes it a better cardio move which will burn more calories. Explosive dumbbell jumping jacks will help you to build muscle in your arms, shoulders, quads, and glutes.

Start with a dumbbell in each hand at your side. Squat down low and then jump up in an explosive movement in the jumping jack shape with your arms out above you and feet out to the side, so your body is making an X shape. Control the landing and then squat back down to repeat the movement.  

Explosive Dumbbell jacks

7. Lateral Raise 

Lateral raises can help you build strong shoulders, but if you lower the weight and increase the pace, you can tone your deltoids while increasing your aerobic capacity. The key is to stay as controlled as possible and not throw your arms up and down as you move.

Start by standing with feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in towards you. Lean forward slightly, and lift both weights to the side of you until your whole body forms a T shape.

Pause for a second at the top and then slowly lower them back to the starting position. Keep your arms straight throughout the movement and keep them controlled, so they're raising and falling simultaneously on both sides.  

Remember not to go too heavy on this movement. A good way to do that is by using adjustable dumbbells with both light and heavier weights. Review our guide to the best budget adjustable dumbbells to get a set for your home gym.

3 Way Lateral Raise

8. Front Squat 

This squat variation is killer for your calves, quads, hamstrings, lower back, and core, and will be more beneficial for your cardio than regular squats. You can use heavier dumbbells for this one, but make sure that you can still do enough reps to fire up your metabolism.  

Start by standing with both feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing inwards. Raise the dumbbells up to your shoulders, keeping your arms tucked in at your side. Next, bend down into a squat until your leg is at 90 degrees. Keep your chest pushed out, pause, and then stand up tall again. Repeat the movement for as long as you’re able to. 

Read our related article on dumbbell vs barbell squats to see which is best for you!

Front Squats

9. Bent over row 

Rows are used to help you build a broad back, and using dumbbells for a series of quick-paced bent over rows can also improve your cardiovascular health. This will target your whole back, deltoids, and core with one movement.  

Start with your legs shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand at your side. Bend forward at the hip until you're at a 45-degree angle, and let your arms hang down in front of you.

Next, engage your back and core, and lift the weights straight up towards you until they are parallel with your shoulders. Pause for a second and then return to starting position to complete the row.  

Dumbbell Bent-Over Rows

10. Hammer Curl 

A hammer curl is a variation on a regular bicep curl that targets the long head of your bicep to give you a more visible muscle. By lowering the weight of the dumbbells and moving quickly, you can transform this strength exercise into a cardio move but still see significant gains in your biceps.  

Start by standing tall with a bicep in each hand, palms facing inward. Keep your elbows tucked in to your body and bend your arm up until the dumbbell reaches your shoulder. Pause for a second and then lower it back down in a controlled way.

Keep your shoulders still to maximize the benefit to your biceps in this exercise, and incorporate marching on the spot if you want to increase your heart rate even further.  

Read Also - Hammer Curl Vs Bicep Curl

Hammer Curls

11. Dumbbell Alternate Snatch 

A snatch is an explosive movement designed to challenge your body and encourage muscle growth.

Using a single dumbbell and alternating sides imbalances the body and forces smaller muscles to work harder to stabilize you throughout the movement. It also allows you to train just one side if you’re carrying an injury. The explosive push involved in the dumbbell snatch elevates the heartbeat and makes it a great cardio move.

Start by standing with feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell on the floor in front of you. Keep your back flat and bend downwards until you can reach down and grip the dumbbell in one hand. Thrust your hips forward and push upwards, lifting the dumbbell up straight above your head in one explosive movement. 

Pause for a second and then lower back down, placing the dumbbell on the floor. Alternate which arm you’re grabbing the dumbbell with to train both sides of your body. 

dumbbell alternate snatch

12. Floor Press 

The floor press is similar to a bench press, but you're lying on the floor instead of a bench. It works your pectorals and core, and if you're performing quick reps, then you can elevate your heart rate. This is a useful exercise for those with limited mobility as there’s no impact on your lower body.  

Start by lying with your back on the floor and a dumbbell in each hand. Lift your hands so they are outstretched above you and have your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, feet still on the floor.

Bend your elbows and lower the weight towards your chest, pausing at the bottom for a second and then pushing back up to starting position. Remember to use light weights and go for max reps to improve your cardio.  

I'm a huge fan of the floor press. So much so that I even compared it to the almighty bench press. Check out my guide to floor press vs bench press to increase your chest gains.

Dumbbell Floor Press

13. Renegade Row 

A renegade row is a challenging exercise, but there are a lot of benefits to including it in your dumbbell cardio workout. It targets your triceps, lower back, and core, and you can increase the pace and intensity to really challenge your body. Make sure you focus on your form when you’re first getting started, and keep your body stable through the movement.

Start in the plank position with a dumbbell in each hand resting on the floor. Engage your core, and with alternating arms, pull a dumbbell up towards your waist until the dumbbell is at the side of your body. Slowly lower your arm back towards the floor, and repeat the motion with your other arm.  

Renegade Rows

14. Squat To Overhead Press 

This move combines two exercises in one to massively increase your heart rate and burn more calories. It trains your upper and lower body at the same time, engaging your glutes, hips, hamstrings, quads, deltoids, and arms.

You can add more weight to the overhead press than you normally would because your whole body will help to support the movement. This can lead to greater muscle gains in your shoulders. 

Start with your feet hip-width distance apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height. Squat down low, keeping your dumbbells at shoulder height as you move. Pause for a second, and then push hard through your heels up to a standing position, and as you rise up, push the dumbbells up over your head until your arms are fully extended.

Squat back down, lowering your arms with you, and then repeat the movement. This is one of the best dumbbell cardio moves that will give you strength gains and help you burn fat quickly.  

Squat To Overhead Press

15. Dumbbell Skier Swing 

Dumbbell skier swings are a good way to train your biceps and hamstrings in a compound movement. It has all the benefits of a bicep curl but with increased momentum to raise your heart rate and burn fat.

Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand at the side of your body. Bend your knees slightly, and tilt your torso forward, bending at the hip until you're at a 45-degree angle. As you move your torso forward, bend your arms up in a bicep curl until the dumbbell reaches your shoulder. 

You should be able to use a heavier dumbbell than usual because your body helps you to complete each rep, but remember to keep it controlled throughout the exercise. Build up a steady rhythm and keep going until you feel the burn.  

This exercise simulates the movements used during skiing, which if you've ever been, you know is one hell of a workout. One of my favorite machines for this movement is the Concept2 SkiErg from the Rogue Fitness website. Check it out for a full-body cardio workout. 

dumbbell skier swing

16. Narrow Squat to Wide Squat 

Mixing up narrow and wide squats helps engage different muscle groups in your legs and gives you a greater range of motion. This challenges your body, and when you incorporate dumbbells into the exercise, it makes it even harder. The difficulty of the move is what makes it great for your cardio, and you'll quickly grow lower body strength if you perform these regularly.  

Start by standing tall with your feet together. Hold a dumbbell in each hand tucked into your chest, and squat down as low as you can. Push up through your heels back to starting position and then take a step outward to widen your stance to about shoulder width.

Squat down again as low as you can and drive up through the heels back to a standing position. Bring your feet together on the mat again to return to starting position.  

Narrow Squat To Wide Squat

17. March With Dumbbell Hold 

A march is a series of lunges that are often used as a cardio move and to strengthen your legs. Using dumbbells, you’re able to add a new dimension to the exercise by engaging your back and arm muscles too. The coordination needed for this move can make it challenging at first, but you should get used to it after a few sets.

Stand tall and hold a dumbbell in each hand at the side of your body. Take a step forward and lower your body towards the floor. At the same time, lower your arms until the dumbbell touches the floor. Raise your arms and body back up, and then take another step forward to repeat the move. Keep marching around the room until you feel your heart rate spike 

March With Dumbbell Hold

18. High Knees & Dumbbell Punches 

High knees are a good cardio move for beginners because they’re easy to perform. Combining them with dumbbell punches lets you engage most of your body and challenge yourself so you can take it to the next level.

The high knees will work your legs and core, while the dumbbell punches will work your back, shoulders, and arms. Start by standing with feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Raise the dumbbells up to shoulder height and start marching on the spot. 

As you lift one leg off the floor, punch forward with the opposite hand, driving the dumbbell out in front of you. Next, lower your leg, and as you raise the other one, punch forward with the other dumbbell.

Keep alternating the movement from side to side until you've finished. To get the maximum benefit from this exercise, you should keep your punches straight and focus on explosive movement out from your body.  

high knees with dumbbell punches

Benefits Of Using Dumbbells In Your Cardio Workout Program

Using dumbbells in your workout can burn more fat and give you greater benefits than most cardio. Most cardio exercises focus the effort on your legs, but using dumbbells helps strengthen your triceps, biceps, shoulders, and chest. This means that incorporating dumbbells will help to take your training to the next level. 

Introducing dumbbells to your cardio will also increase the afterburn effect compared to regular cardio, which means you'll continue to burn calories for longer after the workout finishes. It has also been shown to increase your resting metabolic rate so that you burn more calories even when resting, and dumbbell cardio can strengthen your body, so you're less susceptible to injury.  

You can perform cardio dumbbell moves anywhere, with very little equipment, and mix up your routine to target your whole body. Whether you're a beginner or more advanced, you'll benefit from using weights in your cardio program.  


How Long Should You Do Cardio Exercises With Dumbbells?

The length of your dumbbell cardio workout will be influenced by the difficulty of the exercise and your level of fitness. The key to dumbbell workouts is to aim for high intensity and try to minimize your rest period. This becomes easier as you work out more, and you can limit your breaks between sets.  

For a beginner, a 10-minute cardio dumbbell routine can be effective, but ideally, you want to get to 20-30 minute routines as quickly as possible as this will give you greater benefit.

Performing a dumbbell cardio circuit that engages all your major muscle groups will give you a lot of benefits, but if you're pushed for time, you can aim for a 20-minute dumbbell combo Tabata workout. This exercise style is designed to really push your heart rate up and has minimal rest periods, so you burn a lot of calories.  

You should aim for 2-4 cardio dumbbell exercises a week, increasing it as your fitness increases. These can replace your regular cardio exercises but shouldn't replace your strength training. Dumbbells will help you lose fat and tone muscle, but for real gains, you'll benefit from focused weightlifting.  


Frequently Asked Dumbbell Cardio Questions

Is it OK to do weights and cardio on the same day? 

Yes, it’s fine to perform both types of workouts on the same day, but by adding weights into your cardio, you can merge them together and save time.

Does cardio after lifting weights help burn fat quicker? 

Yes, studies have shown that you will burn calories more quickly after lifting weights because your metabolism is raised.  

Can weight training replace cardio for aerobic training? 

Yes, if weight training is raising your heart rate sufficiently, then it can be used to replace cardio. Dumbbell cardio is a great way to combine both cardio and weight training into one workout routine. Check out our useful guide on cardio vs weights for everything you need to know.

Should I do cardio every day? 

There’s no upper time limit for cardio. It all comes down to your routine. You can perform cardio every day, but you may benefit from a few rest days between sessions.  


Conclusion

Cardio and strength training both have their advantages, but by using a dumbbell cardio workout plan, you can get the benefits of both in a shorter period. This will help you strengthen your whole body and burn a lot of calories quickly.

Hopefully, the exercises in this article will help you create your own full-body dumbbell cardio workout, which you can perform anywhere.  

Paul J

Last Updated on March 18, 2022