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Upper-Body Aerobic Exercises

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Upper-Body Aerobic Exercises

When most of us think about aerobic exercise, we think about activities that we perform with our legs, such as bicycling or running. While moving your legs is a great way to accomplish cardio, there’s a number of reasons why one might want to do upper-body aerobic exercises. First, if you has a lower leg injury, upper-body exercises can help you to stay in shape while you recover. Second, upper-body exercise can help you to build strength and sculpt your torso, helping you to look—and feel—more balanced. Third, upper-body exercises can help your legs to have some well-needed rest days. Here are 10 upper-body aerobic exercises that you can consider adding to your workouts.

1. Rowing

Whether you have a rowing machine at your gym, or have access to an actual rowboat, rowing’s a powerful exercise for your whole upper-body. If you use a rowing machine and are going for aerobic exercise, set the weight/resistance low. You don’t want to tire yourself out after just 30 seconds.

2. Kayaking

Just like rowing, kayaking can be a great way to use your arms and let your legs take a break. A day spent on the lake or stream in a kayak will definitely give you some upper-body aerobic exercise, and it is good fun too! Just make sure you take precautions for the sun.

3. Canoeing

If you’ve ever paddled around a lake in a canoe, you know that after a while, it gets pretty tiring! Canoeing’s a great way to work your upper-body while you enjoy the sights and sounds of nature and breathing the fresh air.

4. Swimming

Swimming is typically a pretty full-body workout, but with just a few modifications, you can make it into a stellar upper-body exercise. Just buy an inexpensive pull float and clasp it between your legs. The buoy will help the legs to float while holding still. Then, you can feel free to use the arm portion of any of your favorite swimming strokes to propel yourself through the water. When your legs aren’t doing any of the work, you will definitely feel the burn in your upper-body.

5. Punching Bag

The quick-moving, red-gloved boxers are onto something with their heroic training routines. Using a punching bag encourages a great workout, and it’s an awesome way to burn off some extra aggression. Try a variety of punches, such as jabs, crosses, uppercuts, and hooks. Be careful as you throw your punches, though, as landing one imperfectly could lead to wrist injury. Consider wearing gloves or wrapping your hands to help protect them, and also consider using open hand palm strikes, as those are often easier for beginners to land safely than closed fist punches. If you decide you like this kind of upper-body exercise, consider trying a boxing or martial arts class. Alternately, if this sort of training sounds interesting but you don’t have access to a bag, try shadow boxing in the air. It’ll still tire you out!

6. Rope Machine

Some gyms have rope machines that allow you to mimic the rope-climbing of your elementary days. These rope machines are great tools when you want some quality upper-body aerobic exercise. You can use a variety of grips as you pull the rope, and many machines even allow you to change whether you’re pulling up or down.

7. Hand Bike

Most bikes are pedaled with your legs, but there are some out there (both stationary and street) that you can actually pedal with your hands. This takes cycling from being a purely lower-body workout to an exclusively upper-body exercise. Whether you’re out on the streets or in a gym, this can be a great way to get in an upper body-based aerobic workout.

8. Water Aerobics

Water aerobics can also be a good option when you want some upper-body exercise. Standing in a pool, try moving your arms against the water. Try traditional water aerobics motions, but also consider trying some of the same movements you tried while using a punching bag. Throwing punches or even just moving your hands back and forth under water can become a surprisingly good workout.

9. Upper-Body Aerobic Exercise Video 1

Sometimes it can be really nice to just turn on an exercise video and follow along. This video from takes just under 30 minutes, and it requires a bench and dumbbells. This is not a good choice if you are actively avoiding using your legs, as it does include some sets of jumping jacks. However, if you’re looking for good cardio and some killer upper body-exercises, you’ll love this. Check out the video here.

10. Upper-Body Aerobic Exercise Video 2

This next video comes from, and it is designed to be entirely performed sitting in a chair. This makes it a good choice for people who have leg or hip injuries. It takes about 16 minutes to finish, and it’s excellent for people who choose upper-body aerobic exercise because they are prohibited from lower-body workouts. Watch it here.

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