8 killer exercises to train cardio and build muscle

Train smart and efficiently with moves that tick all the boxes
The killer workout for cardio and strength

When it comes to having a well-rounded level of fitness, there can seem a frankly ridiculous amount of stuff that you need to tick off in your workouts. Cardio, strength, conditioning, mobility – ignore one and it can cause an imbalance that can lead to injury.

Balancing cardio and muscle building is one of the age-old conundrums, with people often having a preference towards one or the other.

When it comes to efficient, smart workouts, F45 Training know a fair bit. F45 is a global functional fitness franchise, with 36 classes that combine high-intensity interval training, circuits, and functional training.

We spent some time with Sam Gregory, a PT and qualified strength and conditioning coach with 20 years of experience. He’s the owner of F45 Stratford, a top fitness studio in London. Sam took us through his choice exercises for ticking your cardio and muscle building off in one fell swoop.

For each exercise, you should be able to comfortably perform the exercises for at least 45 seconds, so make sure the weights are manageable but taxing.


It may not be the most exciting or creative exercise in the world, but when it comes to movements that do a hell of a lot, the humble push-up is firmly at the top of the list. But, although it may be one of the most common exercises in workouts around the world, it’s often done incorrectly.

Muscles worked: Chest, triceps, shoulders, core

How to do it: Start with your hands shoulder-width apart and the arms fully outstretched below the shoulders. With your elbows held against the body and whilst maintaining a completely straight back, lower yourself to the ground. Once you’re down, well, push up into the starting position again.

Tip: Keep your feet hip-width apart to help maintain balance throughout the movement.

Cardio exercises to build muscle

Dumbbell Goblet Squat

A squat, like a push-up, is an exercise that’s ridiculously effective. Not only does it work a lot of muscle groups but it also trains some of the biggest in the body. That means you’re burning more calories as well as working more efficiently.

Muscles worked: Legs, glutes, hamstrings, calves

How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and, keeping your heels firmly placed on the ground, place a dumbbell vertically between your pals. Lower yourself so that your thighs are parallel with the floor, maintaining throughout the movement, then push back up to a standing position, tensing your glutes as you come to the top.

Tip: Keep your back as straight as possible, ensuring it doesn’t arch.

Cardio exercises to build muscle

Dumbbell Renegade Row

Sometimes when an exercise is particularly tough, fitness people like to give it a slightly daunting name to warn you (see ‘manmakers’). Tough workouts don’t exist purely to make people’s lives hard though, normally they’re actually quite effective. The dumbbell renegade row is a compound movement that incorporates a lot of muscles.

Muscles worked: Back, shoulders, triceps, biceps

How to do it: Holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms outstretched under the shoulders and your legs hip-width apart, pull back one of the weights whilst keeping your elbow as close to the body as possible. Once you’ve moved the dumbbell back to the ground repeat with the alternate arm, maintaining a straight back and avoiding any movement in the body as the arms are moved.

Tip: Hold the dumbbells at 45-degree angles on the ground with the top of each touching. The modification will aid with shoulder activation as well as add more focus onto the core element of the movement.

Cardio exercises to build muscle

Glute Bridge

It may not look like a tough exercise, but do bodyweight glute bridges properly and you’ll know about it. It’s by far one of the best exercises for isolating the glutes as well as hitting the stabilising muscles around them. It also has the added benefit of being used as a safer alternative to squats and lunges if you suffer from back, hip or knee pain.

Muscles worked: Glutes, abs, lower back, hamstrings, hip flexors

How to do it: Lying with your back on the floor, bend your knees and put your feet underneath them – you should be able to touch your heels with your hands. With your feet hip-width apart, raise your hips into the air whilst maintaining a straight slope all the way down the body. Control the movement downwards and repeat.

Tip: If it’s too easy then keep one leg off the floor to complete the movement with the other.

Cardio exercises to build muscle

More workouts

Dumbbell Squat into Overhead Press

We mentioned that the squat was one of the best exercises for working a number of muscle groups in one go. Well, throw in an overhead press and you’re taking it to the next level (there’s a reason why CrossFitters love doing thrusters).

Muscles worked: Legs, glutes, hamstrings, calves, shoulders

How to do it: With the dumbbells resting across the top of the chest and feet shoulder-width apart, lower into a squat position. With them parallel to the floor, move back into a standing position, pushing the dumbbells up above the head as you’re fully stood up. Repeat by lowering back into a squat position, controlling the movement downwards.

Tip: Use the momentum of moving to a standing position to help push the dumbbells above the head.

Cardio exercises to build muscle

Dumbbell Russian Twist

The Russian twist is rumoured to have originated during the Cold War as a training method for Russian soldiers. The idea that no-one had successfully developed the exercise before then is fairly ludicrous, but adding the word Russian to an exercise does tend to make it sound better.

Muscles worked: Core

How to do it: Sitting on the floor, lift your legs and back off the ground at about 30 degrees. Holding the dumbbell with both hands, move it to the left and right of the body, maintaining the core and body positioning throughout the movement.

Tip: Keep the back completely straight without craning the neck forward.

Cardio exercises to build muscle

Reverse Lunge with Arm Curls

Another killer compound exercise that incorporates multiple muscle groups in the upper and lower parts of the body. Even on its own, a lunge is a formidable part of your workout armory, working a heap of muscles in the lower body. Throw in a bicep curl and you’re looking at a lot of benefits in a very short time. The reverse lunge is also slightly less intense on the knees, so it’s a good alternative to the forward lunge.

Muscles worked: Glutes, thighs, calves, core, back

How to do it: From a standing position, feet hip-width apart and dumbbells held by the sides, step with one foot forward landing firmly on the heel, making sure that the knee doesn’t go further forward than the toe. As you step into the movement, bicep curl the dumbbells to the chest, lowering as you step back to a standing position. Repeat the exercise with the alternate leg.

Tip: A lot of people under-step the lunge and end up with the knee going far over the foot, sometimes even lifting the heel off the floor. To fix, focus on taking a bigger step until you’ve found the right length.

Cardio exercises to build muscle

Band Pull Aparts

Resistance bands – the secret weapon of anyone wanting to train effectively on a budget. What may seem like a large rubber band can take a run-of-the-mill bodyweight workout and turn it into an extremely effective strength and conditioning session. With minimal equipment, the back is also a very tricky area to train – unless you have some bands.

Muscles worked: Shoulders, upper back

How to do it: Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold the ends of the band directly in front of the chest, letting the rest of the band fall in front of you. Pull your arms out to the sides, stretching out the band.

Tip: If the movement is too easy and you don’t have a stronger band, move your hands closer together to increase resistance.

Cardio exercises to build muscle

Try this workout

Carry out every exercises with 40 seconds rest between each set. At the end of the full workout rest for two minutes then repeat. Complete the whole series of exercises three times.

Note: The majority of exercises focus on good form and controlled movements, not speed.

  • Push-up x 10
  • Dumbbell goblet squat x 8
  • Dumbbell renegade row x 8 each arm
  • Glute bridge x 10 (or 8 each leg)
  • Dumbbell squat into overhead press x 10
  • Dumbbell Russian twist x 10
  • Reverse lunge with curl x 6 each leg
  • Band pull aparts x 8
  • 2 minute rest

Are you a trainer or studio who would like to feature in an exercises series? If so we’d love to hear what training experience you can bring to our readers. Send us an email at [email protected].

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