by Ben Bruno T-Nation
No Special Equipment Needed, Commercial Gym Friendly
Here’s what you need to know…
- Finishers are a simple way to strip off fat while you’re trying to build muscle. But most are impractical or hard on the joints.
- Do strength-based finishers. They’re comprised of an upper body push, an upper body pull, and a lower body movement.
- No walking from one piece of equipment to the next. These only require one bench, one barbell, or one area. Do them in any commercial gym.
- Fill in the gaps you might have in your strength work. Rest 20-30 seconds between each exercise to use significantly more weight. Increase reps as needed.
Brief But Intense
Finishers are brief, intense episodes of conditioning work done at the end of the workout. They can be a great way to shed fat and stay lean while you’re trying to build muscle.
But a lot of popular finishers are either impractical or unsafe for a lot of folks. Sled pushing, battling ropes, farmer’s walks, and medicine ball work are awesome, but they’re often hard to do in a commercial gym, especially if it’s crowded.
Sprints are great for healthy lifters, but they’re problematic for older lifters, people with joint issues, and bigger guys. Hill sprints or stairs are a better choice, but gyms don’t usually come with hills or more than one flight of stairs.
That’s why you need alternatives.
A strength-based finisher is comprised of three exercises: an upper body push, an upper body pull, and a lower body exercise.
You have some leeway in exercise selection, but use the same piece of equipment for all three exercises. This is for practical reasons – you can’t hog three pieces of equipment at once if you’re in a commercial gym, and to minimize time spent between exercises.
These aren’t complexes where you do all three exercises without resting or putting down the implement, but they come close.
Rest 20-30 seconds between each exercise, which is just enough time to catch your bearings so you can move some weight, but not enough time for your heart rate to come down.
Twenty to 30 seconds may not seem like much rest, but it allows people to use significantly more weight than if they were doing each exercise in succession. It also gives your grip a break. Grip strength is often the limiting factor in complexes where you don’t put the implement down until you’re done with the set.
Choose exercises where your strength is approximately the same for all of them so you don’t shortchange one exercise for the sake of the others, and so that you don’t have to spend time changing weights.
It’s okay if your strength isn’t exactly the same for all exercises, but in that case, adjust the reps for each so that you’re challenged throughout the finisher. You don’t want to take any of the sets to failure, but it shouldn’t be a walk in the park, either.
Breaking It Down
Strength-based finishers, like all finishers, should be performed at the end of the workout after the heavy lifting has been completed. So if the workout is an hour long, these finishers will comprise the last 15-20 minutes of it.
Each finisher consists of three exercises, 20-30 seconds of rest between exercises, 3-4 rounds (time permitting), and a couple minutes of rest between rounds.
As a general rule, perform each exercise for 8-10 reps, but if one exercise in the grouping is particularly weak or strong compared to the other two, adjust reps accordingly so that all three are equally challenging.
While rest between sets is minimal, you shouldn’t rush the actual reps. Perform each rep with good technique and a full range of motion. Don’t throw good form out the window in the name of conditioning; that’s a big mistake.
Choose exercises wisely. Use the strength-based complex as a chance to fill in any gaps you might have in your heavy strength work. If your heavy lifting is mostly bilateral exercises, use the complex at the end as a chance to do unilateral work – one limb at a time.
If you did heavy deadlifts, which are more hip dominant, to start your workout, choose lower body exercises that are more knee-dominant (squats, split squats, lunges, etc.).
If you did heavy horizontal pressing (bench variations) in the beginning of the workout, throw some vertical pressing (overhead presses) into the complex. If you did a bunch of chin-ups to start the workout, throw some horizontal rowing into the complex.
You get the idea. Here are a few examples to get you started that don’t require a lot of specialized equipment.
1. Dumbbell Finisher
Options A and B require a set of dumbbells and a bench.
- A1 Dumbbell Bench Press 8 reps
- A2 Bulgarian Split Squat 8 reps per leg *
- A3 One-Arm Dumbbell Row 8 reps per arm
* If you’re strong on Bulgarian split squats, use the two dumbbells you used for the dumbbell press and hold them by your sides. If you’re comparatively weaker with Bulgarian split squats, just hold one of the dumbbells in the goblet position.
- A1 Low Incline Dumbbell Press 8 reps
- A2 Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row 8 reps
- A3 Goblet Squat 8 reps *
* If the goblet squats are comparatively easier than the press and the row, pause at the bottom position for a second to make it harder, or perform 1.5 reps. If it’s still too easy, do more reps.
2. Landmine Finisher
Here you’ll need a landmine and a bench. If you don’t have a landmine, stick a bar in the corner and go to work.
- A1 A1 Staggered Stance Landmine Press 8 reps per arm
- A2 Landmine Box Squat (squatting to the bench) 8 reps *
- A3 Bench-Supported Landmine Row 8 reps per arm
* If the squats are comparatively easy, you can do reverse lunges instead.
3. Barbell Finisher
- A1 Overhead Press 8 reps
- A2 Front Squat 8 reps *
- A3 Pendlay Barbell Row 8 reps
* Again, if the front squats are easy, make them harder by pausing each rep in the bottom position, doing 1.5 reps, and/or doing more reps.
- A1 Overhead Press 8 reps
- A2 Strict Barbell Row 8 reps
- A3 Single Leg Romanian Deadlift 8 reps/leg
I’m generally not a fan of heavy barbell rows as the form almost inevitably goes to hell when the weight gets heavier, but here you’re limited by how much you can overhead press so the weight will be on the lighter side. Keep the form on the rows strict and don’t use excessive body English.