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Workouts for Women

The Lean Muscle Series: Churn and Burn Cardio

Looking to push your limits and switch up your cardio workout? This fat-burning circuit will leave you breathless (in a good way).

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Throughout the Lean Muscle Series, we’ve delivered a gauntlet of challenging, high-intensity exercises that mainly targeted one area of your body at a time — from your shoulders to your back to your chest, arms, core and legs. Do all the sessions over the course of a week and stick with the program for at least two months, and you’re guaranteed to improve your strength and muscle gains from head to toe.

However, to tie everything together, we’ve devised one more workout for you: This synergistic, full-body, functional cardio workout not only will burn buckets of fat but also will enhance your conditioning and all-around power. From the thrusters that start things off to the overhead slam finisher and at every stop in between, you’ll engage every major muscle (including a few you may not have even realized you had, at least until you feel the next-day muscle soreness kick in.) Try it yourself, and you’ll soon understand why we think this workout puts the “lean” in our Lean Muscle series.

Churn-and-Burn Cardio Workout

Do the following circuit four times through. For weighted moves, perform the first set with a lighter warm-up weight, then bump it up 20 to 30 percent or so for the remaining sets. Catch your breath for one minute between rounds while only resting minimally when switching between exercises within the circuit. Start with 30-second sets, and gradually increase them over time as you build your cardio endurance.

Exercise Sets Time
Dumbbell Thruster 4 30-60 seconds
Kettlebell Piston Row 4 30-60 seconds
Crab Walk 4 30-60 seconds
Banded Mountain Climber 4 30-60 seconds
Medicine-Ball Overhead Slam 4 30-60 seconds


Dumbbell Thruster

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Take a shoulder-width stance with two dumbbells “racked” at shoulder level, palms facing in. Lead with your hips and bend your knees to lower yourself into a deep squat position, maintaining a tight core as you do so. Once you reach a point at which your thighs are parallel to the floor or just below that level, drive forcefully upward, extending your hips and knees to a standing position. At the top, use the generated momentum and your upper-body strength to press the dumbbells overhead, all in one fluid motion. Lower the dumbbells back to shoulder level and repeat the sequence.

Pro Tip: Don’t let fatigue derail you. If you are running out of steam, drop the dumbbells and keep repping for the prescribed time.

Kettlebell Piston Row (aka, Monkey Pound)

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Bend forward at your hips to about 45 degrees, holding a kettlebell in each hand. Lower one weight toward the floor while rowing the other weight up to your flank, piston style, continuing in that pattern with a steady speed for 30 seconds. 

Pro Tip: Throughout this exercise, make sure your back and core are nice and tight, maintaining the natural curve of your lower spine and not letting your lower back round. The power should be generated by your upper back, lats and, to a lesser degree, your biceps while the rest of your body provides active stabilization.

Crab Walk

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Begin in a crab position, balancing on your hands and feet as you face the ceiling, torso elevated off the floor. Keep your shoulders over the top of your hands, your knees over your ankles and your glutes a few inches off the floor. Now you’ll propel yourself backward by moving your left hand and right foot, followed by your right hand and left foot, walking yourself in that direction for 15 seconds before reversing course, this time leading with your legs back to the starting point. Throughout, keep your hips up off the floor and your elbows straight but not locked out.

Pro Tip: Once you have back and forth down, you can add a side-to-side crab walk to your repertoire, which engages the same muscles in a slightly different way (and adds some variety, too).

Banded Mountain Climber 

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Place an exercise band around your legs just above knee level. Begin in a push-up position, which is similar to a plank except you’ll be on your hands instead of your forearms. Your body should be straight and tight from head to heels. Start by bringing one knee forward toward your chest, then reverse by driving that front knee back and the opposite knee forward, maintaining a quick, continuous pace as if you’re running in place with your hands always in contact with the floor.

Pro Tip: If your form starts breaking around circuits two or three because of tiring legs, feel free to slip out of the band for your final one to two sets. On the other end of the spectrum, if you want to increase the intensity without necessarily bumping up the total time of your set, consider interspersing push-ups, either once per every time you bring both legs forward or on a four-count. (Each leg comes forward twice, then do a push-up.)

Medicine-Ball Overhead Slam 

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Hold a medicine ball directly overhead with both hands, your elbows extended but not locked out. Your knees should be slightly bent and your feet set shoulder-width apart. Forcefully drive the ball from above your head and straight downward, throwing it as hard as you can to the floor. Pick it up or catch it on the rebound. Push the pace as you repeat for reps.

Pro Tip: To spice up your slams, add a side angle — do one slam down to your left side, then to the center, then to the right, continuing the pattern for your 30- to 60-second set.