by Robert King T-Nation
Here’s what you need to know…
• Getting in better shape typically requires some form of cardio work, but that doesn’t mean hours on a treadmill or elliptical machine.
• A finisher is a short burst of high intensity performed at the end of a workout designed to speed up fat loss, boost recovery, and build conditioning.
• Finishers are elegantly simple, with most requiring very little specialized equipment – just a bar, dumbbells, and your own bodyweight.
You want to get lean, fast, but the thought of getting on an elliptical or treadmill makes your testicles crawl up inside you. You’re not alone. So let’s save you the torture of treadmills with TV’s and offer up some finishers that will help you lose fat and feel awesome – without taking more than 10-15 minutes to complete.
What’s a Finisher?
A finisher is a short burst of high intensity performed at the end of a workout designed to speed up fat loss, boost recovery, and build conditioning. Most require very little specialized equipment – just a bar, dumbbells, or even your own bodyweight.
To get you acquainted with this hyper-efficient exercise modality, here are five finishers designed to take your fat loss efforts and conditioning to another level.
1. Pyramid Training
Pyramids are great finishers. They only take 10 minutes to perform and help stimulate recovery after a hard and heavy lifting day. The concept is simple. Pick an exercise, pick a rep number, and start counting backwards.
For example, let’s pick a 135-pound barbell squat. I know, that’s not heavy at all, but remember the goal is to get your heart rate up and sweat.
Set 1: 135 x 10 reps
Rest 30 seconds
Set 2: 135 x 9 reps
Rest 30 Seconds
Set 3: 135 x 8 reps
Continue until you reach 1 rep
It becomes even more fun when we pair exercises together. Let’s look at a push/pull upper body finisher.
Exercise A: Dumbbell Bench Press
Exercise B: Dumbbell Rows (two-arms at once)
Dumbbell Bench Press x 10 reps
Rest 30 seconds
Dumbbell Rows x 10 reps
Rest 30 seconds
Dumbbell Bench Press x 9 reps
Rest 30 seconds
Dumbbell Rows x 9 reps
Continue until you reach 1 rep. Be forewarned, even though it’s a finisher, the pump from combined pyramids is sick.
Below is a strength pyramid incorporating the dumbbell bench press, weighted carry (using the Dead-Squat™ Bar, and deadlifts. Here you’d start at 5 reps and work your way down to 1 rep.
2. Bar Complexes
It’s amazing what you can do with a straight bar and some basic movements done at a high speed. With a bar complex you select six exercises. Be sure to think about the flow of the exercises as ideally they should segue into each other. Remember, speed is the key with bar complexes.
An example of a bar complex could be:
A1 Stiff Leg Deadlift
A3 Military Press
A4 Good Morning
A6 Jump Squat
The goal is simple. Do 10 reps of each exercise, AFAP (as fast as possible), with good form, and watch the clock for your time. These are intense – most bar complexes only last from 45 seconds to 90 seconds. Oh, and watch for the puddle of sweat and your heart beating out of your chest when you’re done.
To make these even more intense, record the time from set 1 and then try to beat your time in set 2. Continue to do so for a total of 6 sets.
You have considerable options in terms of exercise groupings, so have fun and get creative. Remember though, bar speed is priority number one.
3. Timed Challenges
As a finisher, it doesn’t get much simpler than this. Pick a basic exercise, such as a conventional deadlift. Pick your weight, set up the bar, and set a timer for a certain time, say 5 minutes.
Now start deadlifting. Get as many reps as possible in 5 minutes. Rest only as needed and make sure to maintain perfect form. The goal here isn’t to lift heavy, but to push yourself as much as possible.
Once the timer is up, record your reps. Try to beat your reps the next time you do it. Keep the exercises basic. Deadlifts, squats, and bench presses all work well.
4. Body Weight Challenge Workouts
These are fun and make you feel amazing. Pick a rep target (500 in this example) and choose 5 exercises:
Push-Ups x 100
Jump Squats x 100
Knee Grab Sit-Ups x 100
Pike Push-Ups x 100
Lunges x 100 (50 per leg)
Set the timer and get after it. The exercise order can change but you have to get in every rep.
The nice thing about bodyweight workouts is that they require very little space and no equipment. You can do these anywhere. Shoot for a time of less than 15 minutes.
5. Weighted Carries
At my gym, we do a number of weighted carries as our daily finishers. Here are a few of my favorites:
Set a timer for a specific amount of time (I’d suggest starting at 2-3 minutes), push start, grab a set of dumbbells, and start walking.
The goal is simple – don’t drop the weight. If you do have to drop the dumbbells, rest as little as possible and then go again until the timer reaches zero. You can make this harder by adding more weight, increasing your time, or both.
A few guys at our gym do 5 minute weighted carry challenges – this will test your mental toughness as much as your physical capacity.
We have 15-meter lanes in my gym so it works great, but if you don’t have lanes or turf simply find any straight space and start walking.
Grab a weight, start your carry, and record how many times you walked that distance without dropping the weight. These carry challenges can be done in about 5-10 minutes maximum.
6. Weighted Stair Climbs
You rarely see anyone doing weighted stair climbs anymore. I think the main reason is because they’re so damned hard. I used to do these years ago when I was training for the Fire Fighter Combat Challenge (the hardest 2 minutes in sports).
It’s very simple. Grab a set of dumbbells and walk up the stairs as fast as you can. When you get to the top, walk back down. Rest as needed and go again. Repeat until your heart explodes out of your chest, your lungs collapse, or your legs give out. Whatever comes first.
It’s simple, yes, but easy? Don’t kid yourself. I promise you that after 5-10 minutes you’ll be done.
There’s a reason gym owners have a lot of cardio machines. They’re basically idiot proof and keep the members occupied for half an hour or more. All you need to do is plug them in and presto, instant “training.”
You can do better. Take some of these finishers out for a test drive. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, not to mention thoroughly exhausted.