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Upper Body Cardio Exercises: Lose Fat And Increase Muscle Strength

Updated on December 9, 2012

Cardio Versus Weightlifting

Exercises that significantly speed up your hear rate are referred to as cardio exercises. Cardio is short for cardiovascular. These exercises workout and strengthen your heart. Some good cardio exercises are running, biking, jumping rope and swimming. These exercises can give you a strong heart, strong leg muscles and strong lungs while burning a lot of calories. I can run on an elliptical trainer and burn over 1,400 calories while I watch TV.

Weight lifting is good for increasing the strength of your upper and your lower body. However it does not give your heart or your lungs a good workout and it mainly focuses on your upper body. You can lift weights or lift your body weight. Most people can not lift their full body weight with their arms because their arms are not as strong as their legs.

Doing cardio in the warm months caused me to lose weight and slim down. Well parts of me slimmed down. The calf muscles on my legs increased in size. They are really hard and bulging. My resting heart rate became slower. A strong heart does not need to beat as many times per minute. When I stop exercising it takes very little time for my heart rate and breathing to return to normal. My abs also became stronger and my endurance improved enough that I managed to bike to a beach that is 37 miles away.

In the fall I started focusing on weight lifting. Mostly I did body weight exercises but I did some dumbbell curls. As a result of the weight lifting my tricep and bicep muscles became bigger and harder while I lost fat and reduced my body weight. My abs also became significantly harder. I don't think it did anything for my heart or lungs. My strength increased enough that I lift my body weight with my arms. I can briefly do a handstand and the extra strength helps with everyday tasks. My shoulders are wider and my chest is more defined.

The main differences are that cardio is much better for my legs, lungs and my heart. Weight lifting is better for my abs, back, shoulders, triceps, biceps and chest. Cardio can burn more calories while you are doing it. Weight lifting can cause you to burn more calories throughout the day if you build muscle. Another difference is that you are stationary while doing weight lifting. While doing cardio you can stay in the same spot or you could go somewhere. For instance you could bike or run around a park.

Upper Body Cardio

Most cardio exercises focus on your legs. Your arms may move but your legs do the hard work of lifting your body weight. There are some good cardio exercises that focus on your arms. When you do cardio exercises that focus on your arms you can workout your lungs, heart, triceps, biceps, back and abs. It is a good way to build upper body strength and lose fat at the same time. Some upper body exercises put most of the strain on your biceps and others mostly work your triceps. To increase the length of your workout you can keep switching the arm muscles you are using and include some lower body cardio exercises.

Push ups are not usually considered a cardio exercise but they are if you do them at a fast pace without taking breaks. Push off harder than you need to so you go up quickly. If you are strong enough try to push yourself into the air and clap your hands together before coming back down. Quickly doing exploding push ups without resting can really get your heart racing. The only problem is that you probably will not be able to last very long. Make sure you don't stop at the top or bottom of the movement. Keep moving.


Boxing punches are similar to the exploding push ups. They both use sudden bursts of power and then there is a brief wait before you can do it again but you are not lifting your body weight so you can last longer. Mentally it is easier to punch with power if you are hitting something.

If you are punching air you can still use the same amount of power if you focus and use the same mind set. Get in the boxer's stance and punch like you are going to hit something. Punching air can still give you a great cardio workout and strengthen your muscles. I can feel my abs and other upper body muscles getting a good workout while I shadow box. It can also tire me out and cause me to sweat.

Speed bag workouts are done by boxers to improve their cardiovascular endurance. Instead of a regular outward punch most of the punches are circle punches. You would move your hands close together in a small circle at a high rate of speed. If you don't have a speed bag you can still go through the motions. At first it seems easy but it can get hard quickly if you are going as fast as you can.


Rowing or paddling can provide you with a good cardio workout. It is like the upper body version of biking. Instead of a bike you use a rowboat, kayak or canoe. You can cover a lot of distance, it is low impact and it can be relaxing just like biking. Biking outside is my favorite lower body cardio exercise. My favorite upper body cardio exercise to do outside is to kayak, canoe or row a rowboat. If you do not have access to a boat or a rowing machine you can still do the movements at home. You can do it with some light weights, a resistance band or just by using your imagination and clenching your muscles. Sit down and row with your fake oars or paddle with your fake paddles. It is not nearly as good as the real thing but it can still give you a good workout if you put in the effort.

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Swimming can be a great upper body cardio exercise if you mainly use your arms. With the help of the water you can move your whole body by moving your arms. The only problem is that you need access to warm water to swim in. Since I don't have a pool I can only swim in the summer after they open the beaches.

Swinging a bat, club or racket hard works your upper body. You can skip the ball or birdie and start swinging. Just swinging the Wii controller while doing batting practice in a game tires me out, gets me breathing harder and causes me to sweat. It can also give me sore muscles. The swinging can workout your upper body a lot more than playing the sport.

Chin ups can be a good cardio exercise if you go up and down at a fast pace without pausing. The level of difficulty would prevent most people from lasting very long but they can be included as part of a workout routine.

Sides planks have you holding most of your body weight with one hand. Starting in the raised push up position you raise a hand in the air so one side is facing the floor and the other is facing upwards. By quickly alternating the side planks it becomes a cardio exercise. Do a side plank with the weight on your right arm, drop back down into the push up position then raise the other arm, drop back down and do it all again. It is mostly a strength exercise but it can get your heart racing if you do a large number of repetitions.


Handstands are a difficult exercise. You raise your body into the air so you are upside down with just your hands touching the ground. To change it into a cardio exercise and to make it easier, transition in to the handstand and then right back out of it. Then quickly do it again. I find it easier than trying to remain in the handstand position. You can extend your arms or just lift yourself high enough that your head is slightly off the ground.

If you are not strong enough do a headstand while lifting some of your body weight with your arms. It is much easier. I get into a frog stand and then transition into a handstand before dropping back down and doing it again.


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    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 5 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Good information there, never thought of upper body cardio stuff before. It must be 50 years or more since I last did a handstand, not sure I would try that. Can do renegade rows (one handed pushups) but not sure about doing exploding pushups, LOL. The rest I could have a go at. It's always possible to start low and work up to a better result.