How to Use Finishers to Make ANY Workout More Effective
At the risk of repeating something I’ve said before, I want to begin this post by saying that training should be hard. It’s called “working out” because it’s work. Otherwise it would just be hanging out in the gym—which, by the way, is what I see most people doing. However, I also think that training should be fun.
And I certainly don’t think those two concepts are mutually exclusive.
One of the best parts about what I do is the opportunity to create programs that are concurrently fun and challenging. When I get e-mails about how a session from one of my programs is, “the most fun I’ve had while hating every minute of my existence” (credit to Mike from Toronto), it makes my day.
The programs I love (and the ones I write) are the kind that are always hard, if you’re doing them right. However, the problem with any program written for general consumption is that it needs to be written with moderation in mind. That is, because we know that a lot of people have the tendency to over-do it, good coaches need to pull back on the reins a bit when writing programming.
While this is good policy, it certainly creates a problem: what about the clients who can handle a bit more, or who just want to add a little extra work to the mix? For these clients, I tend to just let them have at it and tell them to feel free to up the intensity. And I always tell them as much.
Strangely, this leads to another problem: more often than not, I get a bit of push-back from clients. Well, perhaps that isn’t the right word. It’s not so much that clients argue–it’s that they display some extreme hesitance and uncertainty. I get a lot of questions like these:
“Is it really okay to add more volume?”
“Won’t cardio on off days tax my recovery?”
“Are you sure it’s not going to mess up my program?”
“Won’t I overtrain?”
This didn’t used to be so common; way back in the way back (I’m not sure that’s English, but I’m going with it), people didn’t seem to be so completely consumed with the more precise details of training. Now, there seems to be a lot what we can call majoring in minutia.
Not to imply that I don’t enjoy the science of the whole process, or that there isn’t tremendous value in paying attention to tempo, percentage of 1RM or any other of the infinitesimal exactitudes that can factor into designing and executing training programs. I certainly value those things, and as a coach it’s my job to use such tools to create optimal programs for my clients.
That said, it’s important to note that long before anyone knew about the specifics of contractile force, nutrient timing, and EMG studies that show which grip gives optimal lat recruitment, people still managed to build incredibly impressive physiques. Guys all the way from Steve Reeves to Arnold followed the logical advice of “do more when you feel you can do more” and making great progress.
On the other hand, trainees today seem to be so focused on doing their program the exact right way that they often fear to include anything fun or creative or—god forbid—fun! Well, to quote the late, great 20th century philosopher Tupac: “fuck that noise.”
So, instead of worrying about whether things are going to be “ruined” by making a small tweak here and there, I encourage you to tailor any training program you’re using a bit to your liking—even my own. Chances are, you’re not going to derail the program or overtrain or complicate things in any way by adding a little spice. For most people, I recommend focusing on increasing intensity, rather than focusing on volume.
In other words, I want you to feel you the have the latitude to add whatever you need (within reason) to increase intensity, so long as you feel that doing so will help you to get the most out of each individual workout, and your program as a whole.
The thing is, there are so many ways to increase intensity—some of which I’ve covered, some that I’ll definitely get to in the future—so whether it’s a few more sets, or changing an exercise here and there, you can make some adjustments.
However, the are other ways to make chances and increase intensity and the overall efficacy of your workouts. And today, today I want to talk about one of my absolute favorites–a simple addition that is both fast and incredibly effective, and that you can immediately add to any training program, including the one you’re already using. In fact, your very next workout is going to be more effective for having read this.
So today, it’s time to have some fun, because I want to talk about Finishers.
Now, I COULD make a joke about massage parlors and happy endings here, but I won’t. Not because I’m above it, but because it’s too damn predictable—and you know I don’t make predictable jokes. I’m just mentioning it because I know you spotted the opportunity, and I’d hate for you to think I’m suddenly too mature to be funny. Cool? Cool.
With that covered, let’s move on. Time to talk about finishers. What are finishers? Why, I’m glad you asked, gentle reader, because I love me some finishers.
Simply put, a “Finisher” is an exercise or series of exercises performed at the end of your workout specifically to make you hate your life. Okay, well, not specifically designed for that, but that is often the result. In truth, a finisher is really just a way to add some extra volume, intensity, and yes, fun, to the end of your workout.
Years ago, Arnold and his ilk ended nearly every workout with a finisher of some kind. Guys who weren’t afraid of volume spent hours trying to come up with more creative ways to spend even more time training, and finishers were part of that. Now, while I clearly don’t advocate workouts that last several hours, I do think tossing in an extra 5 minutes can make the difference between a workout that’s adequate and one that’s awesome.
Here’s a quick test: if you’ve finished a workout by doing something along the lines of calmly recording your last set in your training log and saying, “whelp, I guess I’m done,” then you need to get down with some finishers.
Put another way, you should not be leaving the gym all fresh and pretty just because the guy who wrote your program was catering to clients who weren’t as bad-ass as you are. Instead, take things into your own hands and do a finisher.
Before you say anything else, let me stop you right there: don’t worry about over-training, don’t worry about un-doing everything you’ve just accomplished by meticulously following the plan you’re on, don’t get caught up in minutia. Just get in some extra work and beat yourself up.
For these purposes, finishers are hard to beat; especially because they’re so versatile. A finisher can be anything from some random kettlebell work to practicing some unilateral exercises that you’d like to get better at, to strapping on a weighted vest and seeing how many push-ups you can do, all the way up to a planned circuit.
One of my favorite ways to do finishers is also one of the easiest, and it’s to find an interesting way to challenge and burn-out the muscles I targeted during the workout.
Here’s a great example:
Now, obviously something ridiculous like “Monkey Pull-Ups” can’t be written into a strength training program—it’s too hard to predict the variables. But, at the end of a back workout, it’s a quick, hard and really entertaining way to burn out. Plus everyone at the gym looks at you kinda funny, and that’s a whole other kind of fun.
Another way to incorporate finishers is to practice something I’m trying to get better at. For example, when I was trying to get better at ring work, muscle-ups, etc, I just did 10 minutes and practiced as much as I could. That’s also pretty simple.
Finally, the most comprehensive (and possibly most effective) way to incorporate finishers is with a planned circuit that helps you meet your goal, but isn’t specifically part of the workout. Instead, you’d use these type of finishers as “add-ons”, which can be stacked with your current workout.
Since the most common goal of my readers is fat loss, let’s use that as an example. If you’re using a program and making good progress from it, but for one reason or another still have some time and energy left at the end of your workout, you might want to use a finisher to burn some extra calories, jack up your metabolic rate a bit further, and just make everything more effective.
In that case, you might use something like this:
For performance, you have some options; you could either:
Stuff like this “add-on” finisher is great, because you can really do it at the end of any workout, or as part of any program. In fact, with the exception of a series of great warm-ups, having a collection of finishers at your fingertips is probably the single most effective way to make every single workout more impactful.
That’s why I love when people take the initiative to create stuff that makes these types of results even more accessible. Which is why I’m pumped as hell about Workout Finishers 2.0, the new program from my boy Mike Whitfield.
Workout Finishers 2.0 is the new version of Mike’s hit program. This time, he’s added a bunch of new workouts, meal plans, and even follow-along videos. In other words, he stacked it out like you wouldn’t believe.
Look, I don’t wanna sell you. But, square business, it’s a good program, and it’s like 50+ workouts for 27 bucks. It’s a sick deal, and a lot of fun. And you’ll get kick ass results (while getting your ass kicked). I would highly recommend checking it out.
As I said, finishers are awesome for any number of reasons–and the greatest part is there are so many different types of finishers that it’s impossible to get bored. You can burn out a muscle, practice a movement, or even do something more structured; there’s no shortage of ways to do finishers.
Perhaps the best part of all of these different types of finishers is the surprise factor; ultimately, you never really know how much work you’re actually going to get done–it all depends on how you perform on that specific day.
Don’t get me wrong: I take exacting measure when planning both my own workouts, and especially my clients. I have records of every single rep of every single set of every single workout I’ve done since I was 17. Before I walk in the gym, I know exactly what my workout is going to consist of.
However, if, at the end of the workout, I feel like I’ve still got a little left in the tank, you’d better believe I’m going to burn it up with a finisher.