Ever wondered why so many workouts end with a finisher? Well, it’s not just as a way of filling the time – those finishers serve a specific purpose and there’s reason behind the types of exercises you find in a finisher. We ask the experts to explain…
If you’ve been doing any of the SWTC video workouts or training plans, you’ll know that we love a finisher. Our finishers are tough and sweaty – guaranteed to have you emptying the tank before you leave the mat. But why do we do finishers, and just how important is it to always include one at the end of a workout?
A training club finisher typically includes two moves, either in EMOM (every minute, on the minute) or ladder (gradually increasing the number of reps) form. That could mean doing six press-ups and six jump squats every minute for six minutes, with any extra time in that minute being a chance to rest. Or it could mean working solidly for six minutes, starting with one press-up and one jump squat and working your way up to ten of each. While lots of plans and videos include these sorts of endings, it’s a lot harder to force yourself to go harder when you’re already tired.
Hannah Ashby is a PT who says that she includes finishers in most of the workouts she programmes for her clients. “I structure most of my programming in a ‘strength and conditioning’ format, meaning I’ll focus on lifting for the first half of the session and then move into conditioning, which essentially means you’ll get a bit sweatier and your heart rate will increase. Getting your heart rate up at the end of a workout is beneficial for cardiac health but it also increases energy expenditure helping you burn more calories (if that’s your goal).”
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What is a finisher?
If there’s one woman who knows all there is to know about finishers, it’s SWTC trainer, Emma Obayuvana. She explains that “finishers are a form of metabolic conditioning where the aim is to fully exhaust and tap into the last bit of energy left in the muscles.” During that short burst, “you are pushed to the max and your heart rate is elevated. This improves cardiovascular and anaerobic fitness. Cardiovascular fitness is massively beneficial as it improves the function of heart and blood vessels.” Anaerobic fitness, on the other hand, helps with every day activities by increasing your stamina for things like carrying shopping, hiking, climbing stairs, running after your dog or playing with your kids.
Hannah explains that a finisher can include “absolutely anything” – whether that’s resistance-based, cardio or bodyweight. However, finishers work best when they incorporate – or at least compliment – what you’ve been working on during the main section of your workout. “For example, if your strength component in training was snatching, then a great finisher/WOD (workout of the day) would include snatching too… the more you practice something, the better you become.”
It’s for that reason that you’ll often see moves repeated in the SWTC videos. You might have a Perfect Form of upright rows and then find them in an EMOM, or air squats in the strength circuit and jump squats in the ladder.
“I’m my experience, clients love finishers. They often might hate the thought of them beforehand, as there’s no denying they are hard work, but the sense of achievement when you are lying on the floor sweaty and breathless after finishing that very last rep, and the endorphin rush… it’s amazing!” Hannah concludes.
As well ringing the last drops of energy out of you, Hannah says that finishers can help to create benchmarks and provide people with motivation. “If you know it previously took you 11:47 seconds to complete a certain finisher, a month later you might beat your time and have definitive proof that your fitness is improving.”
Like longer HIIT sessions, finishers can increase your post-workout calorie burn thanks to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (or EPOC). When your body works near its maximum intensity, it starts to produce higher levels of adenosine triphosphate to fuel the muscles. When you stop moving, the body has to use more energy to repair muscle tissue and return to its normal resting state.
Even if you found the main workout quite easy, a finisher gives you an opportunity to boost your metabolism by going harder for a shorter period of time – and reaping similar results. According to a 2014 study, doing just 10 minutes of intense exercise during a 30-minute workout, three times a week, was enough to improve heart and lung health, metabolic health, oxygen supply and exercise tolerance.
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If you fancy building your own finisher, Emma suggests switching between different kinds of short challenges:
- EMOM: every minute on the minute
- AMRAP: as many rounds as possible
- Ladder: building and decreasing the number of reps for two or more exercises
- Tabata: eight sets of 20 seconds x exercise, 10 seconds x rest
- Pyramid: working your way down in reps
- Hill/flat surface/treadmill sprints: running at a fast pace for a set time, rest for short time, repeat for a specific set of repetitions.
Hannah’s favourite is something she calls the “21, 15, 9”. This three-found mini-workout involves doing 21 reps of a chosen exercise, then 15 reps and finishing with nine. “It’s great because the decorating rep range allows you to continue performing to a high level, even under fatigue.”
Try 21, 15, 9 reps of:
- Deadlifts (barbell or dumbbell)
- Hang cleans (barbell or dumbbell)
Your score is the time it takes you to complete all the reps. Note it down and compare that time in a month. Or, give one of Emma’s finishers ago and try a combination of these firm favourites:
1. Burpees (any variation)
2. DB snatches
3. KB swings
4. Squat jumps
5. Push ups
If we’re already tired, should we push through with a finisher?
Of course, you can have a totally effective and enjoyable workout without a finisher; it all comes down to your personal goal. If you want to improve your fitness level, then you might want to consider adding a spicy section to your workout that’ll bring up your heart rate and challenge your cardiovascular capacity. However, if your goal is to build strength, then lifting heavy without a conditioning section will still be great. “I personally prefer to do a little bit of everything in my own training and that of my clients,” Hannah says. “Balance is key!”
Emma also agrees that you don’t always need a finisher to get results. “What is most important is to have regular, quality workouts where you’re performing exercises correctly and feel challenged.”
As always, it’s important to listen to your body – and that means skipping the finisher if you don’t feel up to it. “So many benefits are already gained from the workout, so seeing it through to the end and performing exercises with quality, correct movement patterns is more important,” Emma says. To truly get the benefit out of the finisher, you really need to give it your all, which means struggling through isn’t going to do you much good and may even put you at risk of developing an injury if you don’t have the energy to perform moves properly.
If you have more in the tank, drain it in the finisher. If you’re already beat from the main workout, it’s OK to skip forward the stretchy cooldown.
Ready to work up a sweat? Hop on over to the SWTC video library where you’ll find a range of 30-50 minute workouts, led by our very own trainers.
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.