These Core-and-Cardio Exercises Work Doubletime for Your Body

Photo: Getty Images/ svetikd
When it comes to exercise, efficiency is queen and core cardio exercises really deliver in this department. These types of moves target the core and get your heart pumping, which means “you are burning calories and tightening up your body at the same time,” says Jess Evans, a certified USA boxing coach and FightCamp trainer. “Also, most cardio movements need the strength of a strong core to help support the spine. This will help prevent injury in the long run.”

During any given workout, there are three full-body cardio and core blasters that are pretty much guaranteed to make the entire class groan: mountain climbers, burpees, and high-knees. Trainers love 'em and the rest of us hate 'em because they're, well, hard. One way to make them slightly more bearable (but just as effective)? By combining them into a single exercise.

Experts In This Article
  • Dorian Cervantes, CPT, Dorian Cervantes is a New York-based certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor with Obé.

Instead of spending an entire 30-second HIIT interval doing mountain climbers, followed by an interval of burpees, and another of high knees, Obé fitness trainer Dorian Cervantes, CPT, suggests bringing bite-sized versions of each together into a compound exercise. Start with four mountain climbers, then jump up to stand (the way you would with a burpee), and finish things off with four high-knees before dropping back down for your next set of mountain climbers. Now that’s efficiency.

Below, learn how to do the three all-star core cardio exercises individually, how to bring them all together, and other core cardio moves worth adding to your rotation.

The Best Core-and-Cardio Exercises

1. Mountain climbers

“Start in a high plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart and your feet hip-width apart, palms flat on the floor and your back straight,” Evans says. “Squeezing your glutes can help keep a straight spine. Bring your left knee to your chest with your foot off the ground and simultaneously switch your feet so now your left foot is on the ground and your right knee is at your chest. Continue this pattern.”

You get a long of bang for your buck with mountain climbers as they help build upper body strength, target the core, and serve as cardio. Evans adds that mountain climbers are also “great for balance because you are stabilizing with your core and working coordination and agility at the same time.”

2. Burpees

Burpees are one of the best and most effective full-body strength exercises that involves high-intensity cardio, Evan says. They’re great for increasing endurance and improving speed and agility. There are many varieties of the move, but here’s how to do the most common version, according to Evans.

Begin in a standing position. Keep your feet together and raise your hands straight over your head. Then drop into a frog-like squat, placing your hands on the floor in front of you. “In one explosive motion, kick your legs out behind you to form a high plank position with a straight spine,” Evans says. “Lower your chest to the ground to perform a push-up and press away from the ground to return to a high plank position. Quickly jump your feet back in together to the frog squat position and then jump into the air with hands straight above your head.”

3. High knees

Start in a standing position and raise your right knee to your chest as high as you can, Evan says. Then return it to the starting position and lift your left leg to your chest in the same way. Return your left leg to the starting position and repeat the cycle. Once you’ve got the motion down, Evan recommends increasing your speed so it becomes one continuous movement of one leg after another. You’ll really feel the burn in your abs, thighs, calves, and glutes, she says. And, she adds, high knees help build endurance and are a great warm-up for other exercises.

Bring mountain climbers, high knees, and burpees together 

Mountain climbers, burpees, and high knees are all known to be the best core and cardio workout moves, and doing them together gives you a big-time blast of both types of work. "Adding more moves into one compound movement is more challenging because you’re changing the range of motion and your brain has to think a little bit more," says Cervantes. "You’re adding in the challenge of going from one position to another, and your brain has to work a little harder to help you make the transition between getting up and down from  the floor, and the series will also help to increase your heart rate."

Plus, since you're only staying in each portion of the move for a few seconds at a time, your form won't start to suffer the way it tends to after a full interval of a given exercise. "With high knees for example, it's such an elevated exercise and it's so hard to get your knees up to your chest for a long period of time and it's a core exercise so you're completely burning your body out," says Cerventes. "And with mountain climbers, it's so much work for your chest and your shoulders." By mixing up the moves, you're able to get multiple perfect reps in so that you're truly able to reap the full benefits of each.

To do the series properly, you'll want to pay close attention to your form in each portion. During your mountain climbers, keep your core engaged and butt down, and drive your knees straight toward your chest. When you jump up, bring your feet directly to your hands, and then continue to keep your core engaged as you draw your knees to your chest (as quickly as possible) during your high knees. Try to cycle through three 30-second intervals of the move, and you can check off your core and cardio workouts for the day.

4. Push-ups

Yup, the OG push-up is also considered a great full-body core cardio exercise. Here’s a refresher on how to do it: “Start on all fours in the tabletop position with your arms slightly wider than your shoulders,” Evans says. “Push yourself up to a high plank position. The wider your feet, the more modified the movement becomes. Keep your back as straight as possible and lower your body to the floor until your chest is close to the ground. On an exhale, press your hands away from the ground as [you] push back up to the high plank position. Then repeat.”

5. Squat jumps

For a core cardio exercise that will make your legs tremble, look no further than squat jumps, which Evans says strengthen and tone the abs and legs while also improving cardio and coordination. With your feet shoulder-width apart, get into a regular squat position. Then engage your core and swing your arms from back to front while you jump off the ground reaching above your head, Evan says. Be sure to land softly on your feet with knees bent back into a squat position, and repeat.

6. Plank jacks

Kick things up a notch with some plank jacks. You’ll need to get on the floor and lie on your stomach. Keep your legs extended behind you and your forearms flat on the floor bent at a 90 degree angle. “As you exhale, press off the ground and lift on to the balls of your feet, keep your back as straight as a board and squeeze your booty,” Evans says. “From the plank position, jump your feet outside of your hips at the same time and then bring them back together in one single jump. Keep repeating.”

7. Star jumps

 Star jumps are another heart-pumping core cardio exercise to add to your rotation. Benefits include increased ab and leg endurance. To do them, Evans instructs starting with your feet together and knees in line with your toes. Squat down and then in one high-energy motion jump as high as you can while spreading your arms and legs as far as possible, like you’re making a star shape with your body, hence the name. For a safe landing, Evans emphasizes the importance of bending your knees slightly as you land back into the starting squat position. Then repeat.

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