5 Plateau Busting Finishers

By Eric Bach

Think back to the most fun you’ve had in the gym. Yes, actual fun. I’m sure it wasn’t fasted cardio, a dynamic squat workout, or even a workout filled with biceps, biceps, yoga pants, and biceps.

No, it was when you loosened the reins at the end of your workout, got creative, and came up with a finisher to drain every ounce of energy from your body.  It‘s the workout equivalent to Mortal Kombat, with voices uttering “Finish Him” turning thoughts into action that leaves you completely spent after a grueling finish.

Finishers: What and Why

Finishers are short-term high-intensity exercises performed at the end of a workout, designed to maximize workout density and push your body and mind to the limit.

Getting in great shape typically requires some form of cardiovascular training, but it doesn’t have to be spent slugging away on a rickety treadmill.  With finishers significant improvements in work capacity and fat loss are derived in short, high intensity bursts using basic gym equipment.

Build Muscle

Finishers kick-start muscle growth in advanced trainees because they create massive amounts of metabolic stress.  It’s been documented by Hypertrophy Expert Brad Schoenfeld’s review The Mechanisms of Muscular Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training that accumulation of metabolites plays a role in muscle growth. Exercises that require significant anaerobic glycolysis result in the buildup of lactate, hydrogen ions, create, and other metabolite, leading to increased muscle damage and the migration of hypertrophy promoting satellite cells. Adding a concentrated dose of dense training provides a metabolic environment conducive to building lean muscle.

Build Work Capacity

Finishers physically push your body to the limit, requiring consistent-hard effort while your heart rate pulsates through your t-shirt and your limbs tremble in exhaustion.  By completing more work in less time you significantly challenge the muscular, aerobic and anaerobic systems to adapt.

Shred Fat

High intensity intervals have been shown to match and exceed fat burning done with traditional steady state cardio, despite taking a fraction of the time. Finishers challenge the muscles and energy systems to work overtime to get the body back to equilibrium. Oxygen that is lacking during HIIT must be repaid post-workout with EPOC- Exercise post-oxygen consumption, keeping your metabolism and heart rate elevated for hours after your workout.

Mental Toughness

Finishers are not for the faint of heart. Completing finishers requires you to embrace the suck, relishing the challenge and pushing through the physical pain and mental barriers. Beastmode must be engaged.

Below is a list of my best finishers, with application varying from fat loss, increased work capacity, or as a challenge to build mental toughness. Well-timed finishers develop the mind and body to outlast the competition and persevere through any challenge set-forth.

Lets Get It!

Lunge Countdown

Lunge countdowns will blast your legs into submission while providing significant challenges to your grip—wraps are allowed and recommended.

Use 60-70% of what you would lunge for 10 reps when selecting your weights.

Start with one countdown and progress to two if necessary.

Set 1: x6 right, x6 left.

No Rest:

Set 2: x5 right, x5 left

No Rest.

Continue until you’ve gone to one-rep per leg.


This one was inspired by Smitty at Diesel Strength.

Load up a weighted sled with weights, at least 4 plates of 25’s, 45’s, or a combination and attach a rope to the sled. Extend the rope and stand at the end, 10-20 meters away from the sled. Perform a hand-over hand pull, pulling the rope to your position. Push the sled back until the rope straightens out, strip a plate, and repeat until the sled is empty.

One round is all you’ll need to annihilate your lungs, legs, and arms.


Combining movements into a superset will make fun-finisher even better.

Set 1: Chin Up 10 reps

Push-Up 10 reps

Rest: 30 seconds

Set 2: Chin-Up 9 reps

Push-Up 9 reps

Rest: 30 seconds

Push-Up Madness

Push-ups are one of the best total body exercises. Unfortunately, without getting external resistance it‘s easy for moderate-advanced lifters to bang out dozens without breaking a sweat. Regardless of your push-up prowess this is a solution.

Elevate the feet and perform push-ups, stopping 2-3 reps shy of failure. Without rest, drop to the floor and perform push-ups until technical failure— poor reps aren’t worth it. Then, elevate your hands on the bench and knock out as many push-ups as you possible.

Rest 2 minutes and repeat.

By changing the position of the body you’ll perform a mechanical drop-set, taking you from a difficult position to an easier variation while fatigue accumulates.

Bonus: Warning, this one isn’t for the faint of heart. This finisher is brutal and amongst the hardest I’ve used. Don’t use it after an already tough workout or if you plan on using your legs for a few days. Use it sparingly—every four weeks at minimum between attempts—to finish off a workout.

Front Squat Reverse Pyramid:

To pick your weight you must know your front squat 1-RM. Using 60% of 1-RM—your 12-15 rep max—you will perform 10 front squats, rest, and repeat for 9 reps.

Set 1: 60% x10 reps

Rest 30 seconds

Set 2: 60% x 9 reps

Rest 30 seconds

Continue until 1 rep.

55 reps is no joke Use a spotter and safety bars. I’ve tried as much as 70% 1-RM and had to switch to back squats to finish the required reps.

Wrap Up

These are not for beginning lifters. Always use spotters and safety precautions, well timed finishers are meant to stimulate your body, not leave you heading to physical therapy for six weeks.

Everything in training should have a purpose. Strength training should be filled with compound movements looking to achieve a specific goal, whether it’s maximum strength, hypertrophy, or athletic performance.

Unless you’ve established a significant base of training finishers are the least of your worries.

However, should you find yourself ripe for a challenge and it won’t conflict with your main goal then these finishers will test your grit, preparing mind and body to dominate challenges that life throws at you.

References: Schoenfeld, Brad. "The Mechanisms of Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 24.10 (2010): 2857. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.


Eric Bach, CSCS, PN1 is a strength coach, author, and fitness consultant. An avid fitness junky, Eric has been featured in publications such as T-Nation, Muscle & Strength, eliteFTS, and thePTDC. He is owner of Bach Performance where he coaches clients take control of their lives, helping them become stronger, shredded, and more athletic.

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