Finishers – some people love them, some people f*cking hate them.
If you don’t know what a finisher is, it’s basically 5-10 minutes of hell done at the end of your workout.
The point of a finisher? Usually one of the following:
- Get a quick ‘metabolic hit’
- Burn some fat
- Improve conditioning/cardio
- Get a quick pump before leaving the gym
Finishers can also be purely psychological. I’ll sometimes throw one in just so someone can feel like they’ve ‘worked out’ (psst, don’t tell that to any of my clients). Most of the ‘important’ work will have already been done – the finisher just gives them that feeling of being sweaty and tired that people love.
However, one of the biggest and more important benefits of finishers is that they can make you mentally tougher. I truly believe that.
Your heart will beat out of your chest.
Your muscles will shake and burn.
Your lungs will feel like they can no longer take in air.
But once you’re done, you have achieved something. As corny as it sounds, you feel like a stronger person. You know that you can go through pain and make it to the other side. This is especially true for athletes who will be faced with adversity in their sport, but it’s powerful for anybody.
Disclaimer: I’m a big advocate of smart training. You shouldn’t do super intense finishers every session. The key to all this is to not overdo it.
So having said all that, here are some of my favourite finishers you can start implementing immediately.
You can never go wrong with a set of farmers walks. I’ve talked about them extensively before, and I still do them to this day. Just grab some heavy kettlebells/dumbbells/sandbags/trap bar/logs and WALK!
To improve cardio, use lighter weights and walk for slightly longer distances.
For more of a strength effect, go heavier and walk for a shorter distance.
Switch up the implements and style of carry to avoid getting bored and to hit different muscle groups. I like kettlebells and sandbags. You can even combine them with other exercises, such as press-ups or squats, but be warned..
Tabatas are great occasionally, but very overused in my opinion.Tabatas are good for a quick metabolic hit, so will improve your cardio and give you some fat burning effects.
They only take 4 minutes, but unlike premature ejaculation, you’ll be happy it was only 4 minutes.
The format goes like this: 20 seconds all out effort, 10 seconds rest. Do this 8 times.
That work to rest ratio makes tabatas lactic dominant, so be prepared to BURN!
You can do tabatas with anything you want. I recently had my client do a 20 second Versaclimber sprint, rest 10 seconds, then 20 seconds of kettlebell swings, rest 10 seconds, then back to the versaclimber etc, until the eight sets were over.
You must have good technique when doing tabatas – don’t try to do kettlebell swings in a finisher if you can’t do them when you’re fresh. Choose simple exercises, like a bodyweight squat or battle ropes.
Very time efficient. Once a week or every couple of weeks is good depending on your how fit you are.
Matrixes (or matrices according to proper English)
Matrices are an excellent way to get in extra volume for a specific muscle group.
For example, if you’ve just done a lower body session and want to ‘finish off’ your legs for more gains, you can do a leg matrix to cause even more muscle damage (in a good way).
They’re also good for athletes looking for extra leg endurance and a metabolic hit (high reps, low weight – footballers, boxers, muay thai athletes could benefit).
Here’s one I use quite regularly that Nick Tumminiello of Performance U does with his athletes.
Alternating ladders are another solid finisher for fat loss.
I once went to another gym where the trainer made me do a press-up and swing ladder.. I almost vomited and didn’t get up for 30 minutes (was my fault for eating for 30 minutes before).
Here’s one way you can do it:
Do 1 press-up, 2 swings.
Then 2 press-ups, 4 swings.
3 press-ups, 6 swings, until you get to 10 swings. If you’re trashed, leave it there. If not, go all the way back down to 2 swings..
Bonus points if you use exercises that involve standing up and going to the ground – that’s guaranteed to get your heart rate ALL THE WAY UP! A press-up & squat/swing is a safe bet.
Most metabolic finishers are lower body, so it makes a nice change to do some upper body conditioning.
Ropes are great for the shoulders and cardio. You can use the ropes in a variety of ways – Tabata style or any interval timings you want. You can also vary the techniques – single arm waves, double arm waves, slams, punches etc.
The heavy bag is brilliant for cardio, fat loss, technique, and shoulder endurance. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a bum or a high level pro… everybody can benefit from the bag.
Just like the battle ropes, it’s upper body dominant, so it gives us something different to the other usual types of finishers.
You can use the bag in different ways. You can throw the same combination over and over (like Obi is below), do punch-outs (constant punching), or just treat the bag like a live opponent, picking and choosing your shots.
Either way – hitting the bag is a great finisher.
Here’s Obi going through a heavy bag drill in preparation for his title defence (which he won!)
I’ve written about complexes before – it’s a type of loaded conditioning, and loaded conditioning is good!
If you have good technique with a bar, barbell complexes are excellent. DBs are good too. So are KBs and sandbags.
High Intensity Continuous Training (HICT)
This one is very different from the types of finishers above. Unlike the finishers above, it’s slow paced and a lot more mentally draining.
Basically, choose between a bike, Versaclimber (my favourite), or do step-ups on a box. If using the machines, put the setting on to the highest resistance that still allows you to move. Intentionally go slow and maintain that pace for 10 minutes.
After about three minutes, you will be thinking ‘wtf!’.. and your quads will probably be PUMPED!
This is an excellent form of aerobic cardio I took from Joel Jamieson, a conditioning expert. I credit this method as being part of the reason my conditioning for jiu jitsu has improved so much. I feel VERY fit while sparring.
And that’s it guys… any questions, please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
An additional note about some of the methods listed: I like alternating upper and lower body. For example, if I’ve done a lower body session, I like to do upper body conditioning (such as battle ropes) to spare my legs for the next day of training. This all depends on your objective of course.