The Art of the Finish

Finish Line

“It’s not how you start that’s important, but how well you finish!”
― Jim George

 As with everything in life, if we want to improve at something, we have to put in the time and effort. To enhance our physical strength and endurance, it takes consistent training. Workout variation is a all the rage these days with popular programs such as CrossFit, P90X, and Insanity. I get it. It keeps the workouts fresh and interesting, and day to day fluctuations in exercise selection for a workout program can provide fitness gains, but I prefer using periodization for clients and athletes. Periodization is the systematic planning of a workout program. With the use of periodization, programs are generally broken down into three phases. The workout plan can be linear, undulating, or in a block format. In the linear and block format, it’s common to see the intensity increase and the volume reduced over the course of the plan. A program that has daily fluctuations in intensity and volume signifies an undulating format. All three of these arrangements having something in common, the athlete follows a fixed plan with prescribed exercises for each phase. Even if it is undulating, the same exercises are done on each specific workout day, just the intensity and volume fluctuates. For example, if someone is supposed to deadlift for 5 sets of 5 repetitions on Monday, then they will do the same thing on the following Monday, until the next phase in the plan is reached. A person won’t get very strong at deadlifting if they do it one week, and then don’t do it again for 2 to 3 weeks, or even longer. A meta-analysis of periodized versus non-periodized strength and power training programs revealed that periodized training was more effective than non-periodized training for men and women of all age groups and training backgrounds.  So training with an actual plan was more effective. This made me wonder, could we have the best of both worlds? What if we trained following a specific program with distinct exercises, sets, and rep ranges, but we found a way to incorporate some variation, so every workout wasn’t exactly the same. I had already found the answer in the form of workout finishers.

Workout finishers are simply mini-circuits stationed at the end of a workout. Essentially, it’s high intensity interval training (HIIT), and interval training delivers big results. A 2007 study showed that high intensity aerobic interval training was significantly more effective than long slow distance or threshold training at improving V02 max and stroke volume of the heart.  A 2012 study out of Canada revealed that high intensity interval exercise training improves body composition, cardio-metabolic risk and exercise tolerance in obese subjects. A workout finisher can be a great way to squeeze conditioning in at the end of the workout. Often times, people can’t set aside more than one block of time each day to work out, so let’s combine the strength training and conditioning workouts to increase adherence. Finishers can also be done as a stand alone workout. Each workout can focus on specific areas, such as the upper body, lower body, core, or it can be more broad in the form of a total body workout. It can be all basic exercises or advanced ones depending on the person’s training level. The only thing I will omit is maximal strength training. Please refer back to this recent blog post on why I think maximal strength training is a poor choice when a person is fatigued. I like body weight or light resistance exercises in most cases. A client usually feels accomplished after completing a workout with a tough finisher. However, if someone is extremely fatigued at the end of a workout, I will either replace the exercises with mobility drills or skip it altogether. As you will see with the examples near the end of this post, the options are almost limitless.

I first became cognizant of workout finishers when I purchased the Turbulence Training program by Craig Ballantyne and a workout finisher program could be purchased as an add on.  Mike Whitfield has a couple workout finisher products. You can check out an example of one of his ab finishers, right here. After using these finishers in my own training programs and my clients’ programs, I started experimenting with my own versions. I share some examples near the end of this post. I recently purchased a couple of products by fitness coach and strength competitor, Jen Sinkler.  She has created Lift Weights Faster 1 and 2. You can read more about her in my blog, Women of Strength. Her two fitness products are full of workouts that can be used for conditioning or workout finishers. Remember, conditioning doesn’t have to be just running. I think a lot of people assume that cardio is synonymous with running. The last resource I want to mention is a book called High Intensity 300 by Dan Trink. It’s packed full of 300 high intensity workouts that can be used for conditioning, finishers, or stand alone workouts. I believe these are truly the top notch resources to choose from. Check out a few of my own finishers below. The goal is to try and finish them with as little rest as needed. These are just examples. Always consult with your physician or other medical professional before engaging in an exercise program

The Classic (Total Body)

3 to 5 rounds of:

Push-Ups x 10

Broad Jump or Total Body Extensions x 10

Inverted Row x 10

Body Weight Squats x 10

From All Angles (Upper Body)

3 to 5 rounds of:

Handstand Hold Against Wall x 30 seconds

Pull-Ups x 5 reps

Push-Ups x 10 reps

Inverted Row x 15 reps

Jumps to Swings and Things in Between (Lower Body)

3 to 5 rounds of:

Box Jumps x 5 jumps

Goblet Squats x 10 reps

Walking Lunges x 20 steps

KB Swings x 20 swings

Crawl, Carry, and Cry (Core)

3 to 5 rounds of:

Tight Rotations x 10 seconds

Foot Hand Crawling x 25 yards

Side Plank x 20 seconds each side

Front Plank with Mini Roll-Outs x 10 reps

Farmer’s Carry x 25 yards

Angry Arms

5 to 10 Minutes of as many as possible of:

Narrow Width Push-Ups x 10 reps

TRX Arm Curls x 10 reps

Overhead Triceps Cable Extensions x 10 reps

Dumbell Arm Curls w/ Forearm Rotation x 10 reps

Punch It Out

3 to 5 Rounds of:

Alternating Step-Ups x 1 minute

Rower x 1 minute

Shadow Box or Heavy Bag Punching x 1 minute

Movement Exploration Combo

3 Rounds of:

Chest Throw & Catch against wall x 10 reps

Shoulder Crawl x 30 feet

Tap Swing x 10 to 20 seconds

Leg Swing Jump x 3 each Leg

Balancing Walk Down & Back x 1 minute

These are just a few examples of what can be created for a finisher. They can bring some excitement to the workout and keep a person on their toes. If you are short on time, they can be a complete workout, especially if you choose a total body finisher. They are also great for conditioning, and give a person other options besides just running or hitting the cardio machines. An endurance athlete could use a workout finisher for building strength immediately after a run, bike, or swim. If your legs are fatigued, focus on the upper body and core. Check out those great resources I mentioned for high intensity interval ideas and eventually you may be creating your own unique workouts. Remember, it’s not about how we start. We may roll into the gym feeling tired and unmotivated, but once we get moving, we usually feel better and can always finish strong!

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