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Upper Body Cardio And Strength Exercises

Last updated: May 14, 2022

Building upper body strength and getting your heart pumping at the same time is a great way for beginners to stay healthy, burn excess fat, and get in shape.

In this guide, we’re going to be walking through some of the best cardio and strength exercises beginners can incorporate into their workout routines for maximum effectiveness. Most commonly, these workouts are a combination of bodyweight exercises and dumbbells for extra weight.

After covering the exercises in detail, we’ll jump into the importance of eating right before and after your workout, and describe some food options for regular diets and vegans. Let’s get started!

Best Cardio & Strength Workouts for Beginners

There are several cardio and strength workouts, including upper body cardio exercises and chest and back exercises, that beginners can use to build upper-body strength, without having to master a bunch of complex movements. These are simple exercises you’ve likely already done or heard of in the past, and they shouldn’t take very long to incorporate into your workout routine.

If you consistently do push-ups, I-Y-T raises, plank rows, mountain climbers, and perhaps a bit of shadowboxing, you’ll likely begin to see results after a few weeks to several months of consistent effort. Remember, the secret to seeing results with exercise is always consistency, and you shouldn’t expect your body to transform overnight. Some beginners commonly ask, "How many times a week should I workout my chest?" The answer is three non-consecutive days, in order to allow your chest muscles to recover.

Push-Ups

Push-ups are one of the most common and well-known exercises and can be a great way to incorporate both your upper body and cardio into your workout routine.

Start in a high-plank position with your palms flat on the ground and your hands shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows and lower your chest to the floor, and then extend back up while straightening your arms. After this entire motion, you’ve completed 1 repetition or “rep”.

To make things more interesting, consider using a medicine ball. Place one hand on the medicine ball, and then push your arm down into a push-up motion. Roll the ball to the other hand and repeat. Medicine ball push-ups are more focused on one side of the body and can be slightly more challenging than regular push-ups. In order to make things more interesting, you can also do some upper body pull exercises after your push-up routine.

If you want to step things up a notch, consider incorporating elements of the Kai Greene Chest Workout into your routine. Kai is a professional IFBB Pro bodybuilder who is an expert at building upper body strength.

If you consistently do push-ups, I-Y-T raises, plank rows, mountain climbers, and perhaps a bit of shadowboxing, you’ll likely begin to see results after a few weeks to several months of consistent effort. Remember, the secret to seeing results with exercise is always consistency, and you shouldn’t expect your body to transform overnight. Some beginners commonly ask, "How many times a week should I workout my chest?" The answer is three non-consecutive days, in order to allow your chest muscles to recover.

I-Y-T Raises

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and lean forward slightly while engaging your core. Make sure you have a slight bend in your knees and don’t lock your knees when slightly bending forward.

After you’re in position, bring your arms up straight, keeping them in line with your shoulders, and drop them back down. This is the “I” of the exercise.

Next, bring your arms straight up to the side at a 45-degree angle, going above your head, and then drop them down. This is the “Y” part of the exercise.

Finally, bring your arms directly out to the side of your body while bringing your shoulder blades together. This is the “T” part of the exercise.

Continue alternating between the I-Y-T for 45 seconds to 60 seconds.

Plank Rows

Plank rows require dumbbells to do properly. Begin by getting in a “push-up position”, also known as a high plank, with your dumbbells held in each hand.

Once you’re in position, bring one arm up to your side while engaging your glutes and your core. Switch to the other side, and repeat. You’re trying to lift each dumbbell with each arm individually while lifting your elbow and keeping it parallel to your body.

Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers are another popular exercise that can be done fairly easily, even by a complete beginner.

Start by getting into a push-up position on the floor, and then bring your knees up to your chest in a fast running motion. Continue alternating your right and left knees, as if youre “climbing a mountain.” Do this motion as quickly as you can for 45 seconds to 60 seconds. This is one completed repetition.

Shadowboxing

Shadowboxing is a great way to work your core and glutes while mixing in some cardio simultaneously. The boxing motion of your arms will also work your upper body.

To do a “shadowboxing rep”, start by standing in a boxer stance with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step your right foot back, and make sure to allow your hips to rotate with your motion.

Slightly lower your chin and bring your hands up with fists clenched. Begin jabbing the air one arm at a time, and then bringing your arm back. This is how you perform a repetition of “shadowboxing.” To ensure correct form, we recommend watching a video of properly positioning your feet, hips, and arms while shadowboxing.

Eating Right to Supplement Your Workouts

As you burn more and more calories during your workouts, it’s important to eat right in order to let your muscles replenish themselves in the most efficient way possible. Many beginners often start an exercise program but fail to take their eating habits into account, resulting in slower recoveries.

We’re going to cover several types of meals you can put together before your workout, after your workout, and if you’re vegan. Eating right is one of the most important and most frequently overlooked ways to get the most out of your workout programs.

Pre-Workout Meals

Your pre-workout meals should focus on healthy carbohydrates in order to give you the energy you need to get through your workout successfully. Be careful not to ingest too many carbs directly before your workout, especially since high-fiber foods can take some time to properly digest.

If you’ll be eating any proteins and fats, be sure to space these further away from your workout time as well, since they can take a bit of time to digest similar to fiber-rich carbohydrates.

According to Dana Angelo White (MS, RD, ATC), a registered dietitian and nutritional consultant, there are certain types of foods that’ll fit best depending on how much time you have until your workout.

brown riceIf you have 3-4 hours before your workout:

  • Whole grain pasta, grilled vegetables, feta cheese
  • Brown rice, broccoli, and grilled salmon
  • Turkey and cheese on whole-grain bread
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-grain bread

If your workout is in the next 60 minutes or less:

  • A piece of fruit
  • Handful of pretzels
  • Nonfat yogurt
  • Low-fat granola bars

Post-Workout Meals

Your post-workout meals should focus on helping your tired-out muscles recover and refueling your energy stores back to full capacity. This can be done with a healthy mix of carbohydrates and protein.

Some of the quickest foods you can eat to replenish and refuel after a workout include:

  • A protein bar
  • Turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread
  • Hummus and pita chips
  • A glass of chocolate milk

Vegan Meals Before and After Exercise

The best pre-workout and post-workout snacks for vegans are very similar to the ones we covered prior in the types of nutrients they should possess.

Generally, all of your snacks should be rich in carbohydrates with a dash of protein to be most effective. You can also take vegan pre-workout supplements or post-workout supplements as desired.

Mango smoothieSome vegan options include:

  • Grapes, mangos, and banana
  • Soy milk fruit smoothie
  • Cup of soy yogurt
  • Cooked sweet potatoes or potatoes
  • Vegetable ginger-soy stir-fry, basmati rice, and tofu
  • Tin of baked beans or chickpeas
  • Lentil burger, salad, and a multi-grain bun

FAQs

How can beginners build upper body strength?

Beginners can begin building upper body strength by alternating between bodyweight exercises involving the upper body and using dumbbells as supplemental weight. Some of the best upper body workouts for beginners include push-ups, dumbbell rows, shoulder presses, bicep curls, and triceps dips.

What is the best cardio exercise for the upper body?

There are a number of workouts you can do to exercise your upper body and get your heart pumping at the same time. Some of the best cardio exercises that work the upper body include mountain climbers, barbell bent-over rows, side squats with a shoulder press, med ball push-ups, and front lunges with a chest press.

What should I do first, cardio or strength training?

Most fitness experts and trainers would recommend doing your weight training first and then moving into cardio. This is due to the fact that cardio uses up a significant amount of energy during anaerobic work, and will leave your muscles depleted and fatigued before straining them with further weight training exercises.


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