by Eric Bach T-Nation
Here’s what you need to know…
- Finishers build muscle, test work capacity, shred fat, and build mental toughness.
- These challenges are all based on variations of the squat: the goblet squat, back squat, and front squat.
- Plan carefully for extra recovery time and decreased training volume in subsequent workouts.
- Walk the line between stimulation and annihilation. Finishers are meant to stimulate your body, not force you into physical therapy.
Like any smart lifter, your goal isn’t to crush yourself every time you hit the gym. Rather, you follow a program tailored to your goals and restrictions 90% of the time. Random challenges for the sake of being a training sadist are a surefire way to stay injured and small.
That said, the periodic throwdown of epic finishers offers a mental and physical challenge to test your mettle and see how tough you really are. Not only that, they might be just the tool you need to mentally conquer a training plateau or stagnant muscle growth.
The following finishers are all based on variations of the squat: the goblet squat, the back squat, and the front squat. That way, you’ll be able to schedule a finisher regardless of your equipment or preferred method of squatting.
Just be sure to save these finishers for the end of your training program when you have plenty of time to dedicate to recovery.
4 Benefits of Squat Finishers
1. They Build Muscle
Squat finishers kick-start muscle growth because they create massive amounts of metabolic stress and muscular damage to a large part of the body. As a result, there’s an increase in tissue damage and the migration of satellite cells in muscles.
In other words, a concentrated dose of dense training creates a metabolic environment to get you jacked.
2. They Test Work Capacity
By completing more work in less time, you force the muscular, aerobic, and anaerobic systems to adapt. I don’t recommend finishers on a regular basis, but the occasional test provides one hell of a cardiovascular challenge that goes a long way in taking care of the conditioning you’ve been neglecting.
3. They Shred Fat
High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a superior method of fat loss compared to steady state cardio. Any oxygen that’s lacking during HIIT must be repaid post-workout with exercise post-oxygen consumption (EPOC), thus keeping your metabolism elevated for hours after your workout.
Basically, you bust your ass for a few minutes to get shredded as your body continues to burn fat hours after exercise.
4. They Build Mental Toughness
To be blunt, you can’t be a little punk and get great results in anything in life. Few lifters actually train as hard as they think and as a result, wonder why they’re not getting bigger, leaner, and more athletic. Finishers aren’t for the weak minded or faint of heart – they take some serious balls and effort.
Finishers require you to embrace the suck, to relish the challenge and push through physical and mental barriers. Beyond the physical benefits, finishers build a toughness that provides the confidence and edge to become victorious in all aspects of life.
The Squat Finishers
Easiest: The Goblet Iso Challenge
When loaded heavy, the goblet squat is a brutal exercise that challenges the strength of your legs, anterior core, and upper back. Add in an iso-hold on the front end and you have a battle for the ages.
- Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell. Between 40-80 pounds is plenty for seasoned lifters.
- Hold it at chest height and descend to the bottom position of your squat and hold for 15 seconds.
- After 15 seconds, stand up to full extension and perform as many full goblet squats as possible, up to 15 reps.
Start with 40 pounds until you complete the full iso-hold plus 15 reps, at which point you increase the weight by 5-10-pound increments in subsequent workouts.
Form is still the determining factor – if you find you’re not hitting full depth and/or the form falters, lower the poundage and continue working at it.
Completing a set with over 65 pounds shows impressive mobility, stability, mental toughness, endurance, and balls that clank when you walk. (Or, you know, whatever sound ovaries make…)
Hard, But Not Hardest: Back-Squat Rep Challenge
While any chump can bench presses, the squat takes years of dedication, hard work, and toughness. Combine moderately heavy weights and high reps and you put some distance between you and the cubs pretty quickly.
Loading: Beginners should probably let this one go. You need to live so that you can fight another day. That being said, even tough mothers should refrain from pushing weights much higher than 275 pounds, regardless of your strength levels.
The weight you use should be between 40-65% of 1 RM and you’ll be shooting for as many reps as possible – up to 50 if you’re a monster.
Squat max of 135 pounds or below: Stop reading and go get stronger. You have no business doing finishers.
Squat max of 185-225 pounds: Use 135
Squat max of 225-315 pounds: Use 185
Squat max of 315+ pounds: Use 225
Squat max of 465+ pounds: Use between 225 and 275
How To Do It: Set the safety racks at parallel, grab a spotter, and gear up with any equipment you generally use. Load up, un-rack, and get to work.
- Rep out as many reps as possible without racking the weight.
- Pause, breathe deep, and refocus, but the minute you rack the barbell the test ends.
- Perform reps until you near technical failure or when you can no longer reach proper depth.
- Anything over 25 reps is good, while 35 is great and 50 reps is superhuman. Re-visit this test every few months to finish out a training cycle and compare your strength levels.
Hardest: Countdowns for Killers
Countdowns are a brutal but popular training method to increase training density. When applied to the front squat, you have a recipe for total body strength and mass development.
Loading: Use 65-70% of your front-squat training max (75% of 1 RM is approximately your 10-rep max).
For example: Front Squat Max = 305
Weight used: Between 195 and 215 pounds
If you don’t know your front-squat max, take your back-squat max and cut it in half. That’ll be plenty.
How To Do It: The goal is simple: Pyramid up from 1 to 10 reps using 15-30 seconds of rest. It would look like this:
Set 1 – 1 rep
Rest 15-30 seconds
Set 2 – 2 reps
Rest 15-30 seconds
Set 3 – 3 reps
Rest 15-30 seconds
Set 4 – 4 reps
Continue until you hit a set of 10 reps.
At first, the 15-second rest periods will feel relatively easy. By sets five and six, you’ll need to increase rest periods to 30 seconds as your lungs battle to keep up and your body starts to tremble.
Suck it up and push on. Completion of this finisher is grounds for a parade of bacon and steaks.
When it’s all said and done, 55 reps with a 10-15 rep max in four minutes time is an insane muscle-building stimulus and test of your training prowess.
When To Do Finishers
Finishers are an advanced method that require planning, programming, and extra recovery methods. Keep the follow points in mind before diving into one of these:
- While finishers can be done as a stand-alone workout, focus on a lower body strength movement before doing a finishing exercise.
- Finishers fit best at the end of a training microcycle as an intensity-boosting method before deloading. This way, you won’t crush your performance.
- Decrease training volume of accessory lifts on the lower body before jumping into a finisher. This ensures you’re not jumping into a finisher with a lot of fatigue.
- Finishers work well if you’re short on time and need to maximize training in a short window.
- Plan on additional soft-tissue work, meals, and any of your preferred recovery methods to combat soreness.