6 Full Body Exercises That Double as Cardio

6 Full Body Exercises That Double as Cardio

image of Cathe Friedrich doing a burpee in her Fit Split workout

You know you need it, but standard cardio is a bit boring. There’s something monotonous about pedaling an exercise bike or running on a treadmill and doing the same movement over and over for an hour. No wonder people lose their motivation to exercise. Your brain likes variety and fresh challenges! That’s why exercise should be more dynamic and less predictable.

The truth is you don’t have to do traditional cardio to get the heart-healthy benefits of exercise. You can boost your metabolism and challenge your heart to work harder by doing dynamic, whole body moves that are anything but boring. Plus, you can intersperse these moves between weight training sets to build strength as you improve your aerobic fitness. Here are some whole body, dynamic movements that will definitely get your heart thumping.


Depending on the version you do, burpees can be a total body move that works a ton of muscles. To maximize the muscles you work and the cardiovascular benefits, do the more advanced version where you add a jump and a push-up to the movement. The push-up adds an upper body component to the exercise, while jumping helps you build explosive power in your lower body. In addition, burpees raise your heart rate and, if you do them quickly, will improve your body’s anaerobic energy system. To boost the calorie burn and metabolic demands of this exercise even more, add a tuck jump at the end of a burpee! Now, that’s challenging!

How can you incorporate the burpee, an exercise we love to hate into your fitness routine? Next time you do a circuit workout, add burpees to the rotation. Doing this dynamic, fast-paced exercise will substantially increase the calorie burn and the cardiovascular benefits of a circuit workout. Try a burpee challenge! See how many burpees you can do in 30 seconds or a minute. Now, try to improve on your time.

Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebell swings are another dynamic move that boosts your heart rate. Plus, swinging one of these bells shaped like a cannonball with a handle helps develop strength and power in your back, glutes, hamstrings, and shoulders. Talk about multiple benefits! The key with kettlebell swings is to hinge at your hips rather than turning the move into a dynamic squat.

Kettlebells are a calorie burner too. According to the American Council on Exercise, kettlebells swings can burn 20 calories per minute, the equivalent of running 6 minute miles! Don’t forget, you can also use kettlebells to do a variety of other strength exercises. So, keeping a few pairs around is a good investment and an effective way to add variety to your training.

Mountain Climbers

Another dynamic exercise that boosts your heart rate substantially is mountain climbers, an exercise that enhances hip and knee mobility and improves sports performance. Being a compound exercise, you work multiple muscle groups in the lower body when you do this exercise. Some people have problems doing mountain climbers with hands flat on the floor. If your hips are tight and lack mobility, place your hands on a low platform when you do this move.  To boost the challenge, do mountain climbers with your hands on the flat surface of a Bosu ball. You’ll get a balance challenge as well!

Switch Jumps

Another move with multiple benefits, including boosting your heart rate, is switch jumps. Here’s how to do them. Assume a squat position, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart. Then, do an explosive jump into the air as you swing your arms up as you twist your body 180 degrees before landing in a squat position again. Keep repeating. The squat and explosive jump build lower body strength and power while the mid-air twist gives your core a workout. So, you’re getting multiple benefits when you do this exercise, including cardiovascular benefits. It’s a dynamic exercise that will boost the calorie burn of any workout.

Squat Jumps with a Tuck

You’re probably already familiar with squat jumps, one of the more popular plyometric movements. Squat jumps are ideal for building explosive power AND for boosting your heart rate. But, you can increase the challenge by adding a tuck component to the move. To do this, do a standard squat jump by standing with legs shoulder-width apart. Descend into a full, bodyweight squat and explode into the air. As you ascend, bring your knees up toward your chest. When you come back down, descend into a squat position and repeat. This variation will boost your heart rate more and add a core component to the move. This is an advanced move, so don’t tackle it until you’re comfortable doing squat jumps.

Body Hops

This move is another one that works your upper body, core, and lower body in a single exercise. Due to the dynamic nature of this exercise, you’ll feel your heart speed up too. To tackle this total body exercise, get into a standard plank position with your feet together, core tight, and your body in a straight line. While holding your feet together, hop your feet to one side, then quickly hop back to the starting position. Now, jump your feet to the other side and then back to the starting position. Keep repeating this movement while keeping your core as straight as you can.

How to Get the Benefits

In lieu of moderate-intensity cardio, alternate these exercises with intervals of resistance training. The high-intensity nature of these total body moves will keep your heart rate up enough to get cardiovascular benefits without the monotony of cycling, running etc. You’re also working more muscle groups when you do these exercises and building explosive power. They’re also a good alternative to cardio. Moves that involve jumping are high impact in nature, making them effective for preserving bone density, but give yourself a break of at least 48 hours between high-impact workouts as they’re more stressful on your body.

The Bottom Line

Take your cardio up a notch by doing these dynamic cardio moves that are anything but boring and monotonous. Plyometric moves will improve your speed as well as your jump height – and they’ll boost your heart rate – guaranteed.



American Council on Exercise. “Twice the Results in Half the Time?”

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