If you want to get your heart pumping and increase your lung capacity then cardio based body weight exercises are the answer.
The more muscles your can use during an exercise the more demands on energy and the harder the lungs and heart have to work.
The following body weight cardio exercises require no equipment, they can be performed with your bodyweight only.
Ensure that you have a base level of cardio before performing some of these exercises as the intensity can be very high.
For maximum results I would recommend an interval style approach to these body weight cardio exercises so work hard for 20 – 30 seconds and then rest or change exercise.
# 1 – Fast Mountain Climbers
An excellent introduction to bodyweight cardio exercises. Tough on the legs as well as the core muscles. Start in a Push Up position and then alternate jumping one leg forward followed by the other between your hands. Try to ensure that both feet land at the same time. Work on your timing. For beginners I will use sliders under the feet to minimalise the impact. Watch the video here.
# 2 – Squat Thrust
The Squat Thrust takes the Fast Mountain Climber to the next level. Rather than jumping and alternating legs you keep both legs together. Ensure you keep both feet together and knees between your elbows as you jump forwards. As you jump back brace your core muscles and don’t allow your hips to sag. This bodyweight exercise will challenge your mobility, leg strength, cardio and abs. Again this body weightexercise can be performed with sliders underneath the feet to eliminate the impact for beginners.
# 3 – Burpee
We can progress this movement even further by performing the burpee. The burpee is very squat heavy so it uses a lot of muscle mass and so elevates the heart rate quickly. From a standing position sit down deep into the squat position and place your hands on the floor. Next jump both feet back and forwards just like the Squat Thrust. Finally stand up and push the hips forwards. Always ensure that you finish standing tall with the buttocks tight. You can add a jump at the top and push ups at bottom if you wish.
# 4 – Flamingo Burpee
A more advanced body weight cardio exercise that overloads the one leg. Perform a regular Burpee except this time perform the complete exercise standing only on one leg. You will need to have good single leg strength for this one as well as strong calf muscles. In you suffer from calf strains or Achilles Tendon issues then this is not the exercise for you. Try 10 on one leg and then change sides.
# 5 – High Knees
A powerful bodyweight cardio exercise that gets the heart rate up fast. From a standing position sprint on the spot lifting the knees as high as possible. Use the arms at the same time to really pump the body and get momentum. You will need to ensure that your calf muscles are nice and warm before performing this exercise. A great cardio exercise to partner with the burpee, try 20 seconds of high knees followed by 10 burpees for 3-8 rounds.
# 6 – Jump Squats
A serious Plyometric exercise that should only be performed when you can perform perfect regular squats. Very demanding for the legs and buttocks as well as the heart and lungs. Perform a regular squat ensuing your thighs go down to at least parallel with the floor. Next explode from the bottom of the Squat and into the air. Try to jump as high as possible pushing the ground away from you. Land back down with soft knees and immediately drop back into the squat and repeat.
# 7 – Lump Lunges
Slightly more difficult that the Jump Squat and requires more skill and timing. Perform a regular lunge but as you push up from the ground explode into the air and switch legs so you land with the opposite leg forwards and the other backwards. Drop straight down into the lunge and repeat. Always ensure that you drop down into a deep lunge for this exercise for maximum benefits.
# 8 – Tuck Jumps
A very advanced body weight cardio exercise that will have you breathing heavy in no time. From a standing position jump up into the air and quickly tuck your knees up to your chest before returning your leg back down ready for landing. You will need to use your arms for momentum to drive you into the air. Try performing 10 Tuck Jumps followed by 30 seconds of Fast Mountain Climbers, repeat 3-8 rounds.
# 9 – Buttock Flicks
A simple cardio exercise that is better for beginners or as a recovery exercise. From a standing position alternatively flick your legs backward to touch your backside. If you have tight thighs you will notice a slight stretch during this exercise. A great warm up exercise too!
# 10 – Side Shuffles
A great body weight cardio exercise to introduce some sideways or lateral movement into your workout. From a standing position shuffle one leg out to the side then quickly replace the leg in the middle with the other leg as you shuffle the other way. Try to move nice and quickly throughout the exercise and stay on your toes.
# 11 – Skaters with Touch Down
Very similar in movement to the Side Shuffles except this cardio exercise loads each leg a little more and involves the upper body too. Shuffle out one leg to the side and then take the other leg behind that leg, at the same time touch the floor with the opposite hand to the side you are moving towards. Quickly switch sides and repeat in the other direction. When performed correctly you should look like a speed skater, minus the skates of course 🙂
# 12 – Kangaroo
A tough exercise for the legs but worth the effort if you have good movement skills. Start in a deep squat position with the arms hanging down between the legs and your back straight. Next explode forwards like a Kangaroo. Continue to bounce forwards like a Kangaroo gaining as much height between jumps as possible. It is very important that you keep your chest up and a flat back throughout this exercise.
# 13 – Scissor Kicks
A fast bodyweight exercise that may take a little practice. Start in a standing position and quickly kick one leg out in front of you followed by the other leg. Continue to bounce from one leg to the other as you kick the legs out in front of you. One you get into a good rhythm with the movement it works well. Try not to lean back too far.
# 14 – Box Jumps
Great for building leg strength but also for working on your cardio. Find a solid step or box and practice jumping with both feet up and onto the box. Use your arms to help drive you up. Once at the top either jump back down and repeat or step down and repeat. In order to get the most from this exercise you need to perform the movement quickly and the box needs to be at a challenging height. Don’t perform this cardio exercise when you are too exhausted or you risk tripping or missing the step or box.
# 15 – Rapid Step Ups
You may remember this one from your school days. With a bench or step in front of you quickly step up and step down off the bench. You can overload the one leg by always leading with the same leg or you alternate between sides. Move as quickly as you can. You can try 30 seconds of Rapid Step Ups followed by 10 Jump Squats and repeat 3 – 8 times.
# 16 – Star Jumps
Another classic Cardio based bodyweight exercise. Start in a standing position and jump both feet outwards, at the same time take the arms out sideways too. Return both feet to the centre and bring the arms down at the same time. Try to clap your hands together at the top and then at the bottom. Work on your timing!
# 17 – Hill Sprints
I couldn’t miss off this excellent exercise and probably one of the best Cardio options. First perform a good warm up and then sprint for 20 – 30 seconds up a hill. Next walk back down the hill and repeat. Ensure you have a good cardio base before attempting this exercise and then start with 1-3 Sprints and add 1 extra per week for a maximum of 8 Sprints. If you can sprint for longer that 30 seconds then you are not running hard enough. Watch your hamstrings and calf muscles during this exercise.
All of these body weight cardio exercises are very demanding so start off slow and build up gradually.
Here are a few body weight workout formats you can try:
- Exercise 1 – 30 seconds
- Rest 30 seconds
- Exercise 2 – 30 seconds
- Repeat 3 – 8 circuits
- Exercise 1 – 30 seconds
- Exercise 2 – 30 seconds
- Rest 30 seconds and Repeat 3 – 8 times
- Exercise 1 – 20 reps
- Exercise 2 – 20 reps
- Exercise 3 – 20 reps
- Exercise 4 – 20 reps
- Repeat for 7 Minutes
If you like this post then I think you will enjoy my other body weight exercises here