5 Cardio Exercises that Also Work Your Core Muscles

Working both cardio and core muscles

Exercise time is valuable, and you want to get the most benefits out of each workout, right? Most of us don’t have unlimited hours to work up a sweat. Time is valuable. The good news? We can get more out of our workouts by multi-tasking, accomplishing more than one fitness goal at a time. Studies show that multitasking isn’t good for mental health. Our brains aren’t designed to perform multiple mental tasks at once. However, that’s not the case with a workout, as long as multi-tasking isn’t texting on your smartphone while you exercise!

The more muscles you work while getting your heart rate up, the better. Some of the most time-efficient exercises are multi-tasking moves that work multiple muscle groups and get your heart rate up at the same time. Who couldn’t use a little cardiovascular conditioning? One area we shouldn’t neglect is our core, the power generating muscles that connect your upper and lower body.

When you break into a sprint, do a deadlift, or serve a tennis ball, you generate the power and strength you need from your core. Even when you rise out of a chair, your core muscles fire to help you execute the movement. The core musculature is command central for movement. Your core muscles also help stabilize your body. When they’re strong, you have a lower risk of back, knee or ankle injury.

Now you know why you need to keep your core muscles strong. You still need focused core exercises, such as planks, but why only give your core a workout when you do cardio too? You won’t get much core stimulation when you ride an exercise bike or even jog, but certain types of cardio movements stimulate your core. Here are five exercises that will put the powerhouse muscles in your core to work when you do cardio.


Also known as squat thrusts, burpees are a total body exercise that boosts your heart rate and conditions your heart. This intense exercise also forces your core and abdominal muscles to contract during the leg thrust to stabilize your spine and during the plank portion and the forward thrust of a burpee. When you repeat the movement over and over, your core muscles will fatigue, and you’ll know they’re being activated.

After doing a set of burpees, you’ve felt your own heart pumping rapidly, but burpees can also be an anaerobic exercise if you do them quickly enough. Anaerobic movements force our body to use glycolytic pathways for energy, creating an oxygen debt, that boosts your metabolism afterward. Plus, research shows that anaerobic exercise, like burpees, has cardiovascular benefits too.

There’s a reason that burpees top the list of exercises people dread. It’s because they’re tough! But when we challenge our bodies, we see change. Enough said.

Mountain Climbers

The mountain climber is an exercise that works multiple muscle groups, including the muscles in your upper arms, shoulders, quads, hamstrings, and, of course, your core. When you do this fast-paced exercise your core muscles stabilize during the exercise. You can increase the tension on your core by consciously tightening the muscles when you’re switching your legs back and forth. Plus, mountain climbers get your heart rate up enough to qualify as cardiovascular exercise. You only have to do one set before your heart is racing! If you do mountain climbers it will also improve your hip mobility. How about alternating sets of mountain climbers with burpees. Now, that’s an intense workout!

Kettlebell Swings

If you have a kettlebell at home, you can get a combination core and kettlebell workout in a single session. Along with perfecting your hip thrust and working the muscles in your core, your chest, shoulders, and glutes also activate when you swing a kettlebell. It’s also an excellent movement for improving hip mobility.

Not convinced swinging a kettlebell is a calorie burner and a good cardio workout? Researchers measured oxygen consumption, lactate, and heart rate after subjects did 20 minutes of kettlebell swings. They found that kettlebell swings boosted the participants’ heart rate and oxygen consumption and burned around 20 calories per minute. That’s 400 calories for a 20-minute workout. An impressive return on your time!   If you don’t have a kettlebell, you can hold a dumbbell at one end as a substitute.


Kickboxing might be the ultimate exercise for relieving stress, and who doesn’t need that? It’s also a full-body workout, a mega-calorie burner, and efficient cardiovascular training. Each time you lift a leg to kick, squat down, twist, or throw a punch, your core muscles activate. Plus, kickboxing gets your heart rate up quickly. In fact, a 2014 study found that 5 weeks of kickboxing yielded improvements in aerobic and anaerobic fitness, flexibility, speed, and agility. It’s a multi-purpose workout – perfect for the exercise multi-tasker.


Sprints are one of the toughest, high-intensity exercises. When you sprint, your body taps into anaerobic pathways and lactic acid builds up but this also benefits your heart. Plus, unlike jogging or brisk walking, you also build lower body strength and power. Jogging and walking do little to target your core muscles, but your core muscles get a workout when you sprint. How so? When you sprint, the movement of your limbs shifts weight from one side to the other. It forces your core muscles to stabilize with each sprint you take. When you consider the additional calorie burn you get when you sprint, it’s a better option for strengthening the abs and core than most core and ab movements. If you have a stubborn layer of fat over your abs, sprinting and more focus on nutrition can help you reveal the underlying muscles.

The Bottom Line

There you have it. Five exercises that work your core as they boost your heart rate. Why not include several of these exercises in your routine for the multiple benefits they offer? However, don’t forget to include other focused core exercises in your routine, including planks.



  • com. “Kettlebell Workouts Burn Calories Fast”
  • Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000522.
  • World J Cardiol. 2017 Feb 26; 9(2): 134–138.
  • American Council on Exercise. “Mountain Climbers”
  • Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 2014 Apr-Jun; 4(2): 106–113. Published online 2014 Jul 14.


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Are You Working Your Core Muscles Properly?

Abdominal Training: Why Less Ab Work is More

Abdominal Exercises: Are You Doing Too Many Reps?

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Signs You Have Weak Core Muscles and How to Power Up Your Core

4 Signs That Your Core Muscles Are Weak

Can Core Exercises Improve Your Posture?

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