The Lost Art of the Finisher

Lost Art of the Finisher

Think back to the time when you had the most fun in the gym. That's right–fun! What's the last thing you did at the gym that could be described as "having a good time?" And before you think back to that time you sneaked a fitness bunny into the men's shower for a clandestine poke, remember, we're talking about training here!

Oh, but Chris, you say, weight training is not about fun, it's about hard work! Yeah, sure, but let's get Skinnerian here: if you didn't enjoy the experience, or at least enjoy the results, you wouldn't be likely to repeat it, right? Me, I enjoy the challenge and the camaraderie of the gym, but I have the most fun when a group of us get together for a "finisher." A finisher is an old-school term for an exercise designed to end your regular routine. Usually, a finisher is an "odd lift" or little used compound exercise designed to finish you off. In fact, lying face down on the floor and fighting nausea is a regular occurrence when incorporating finishers into your routine. Still, they're a lot of fun. Really!

There are many reasons to throw in a finisher at the end of your current program:

  • Cardiovascular benefit: If you've always hated cardio because you can't help but associate it with–for lack of a better word–pussyfied exercises, finishers are the thing for you. Some guys just can't hop on a Stairmaster, treadmill, or exercise bicycle and are damned sure not going to join an aerobics class! Maybe they're afraid that if they work out beside the skinny guy who reads the Wall Street Journal while sitting in his recumbent bike, their testosterone levels will plummet like stocks in Planet Hollywood. Finishers, as you'll see, are a manly way of getting the heart rate rocking!
  • Novelty and shock: Since finishers are usually a new challenge, you will feel soreness in new areas. Because of the radically different loading perimeters and tensions placed on the muscles, most lifters will experience new growth.
  • Practical strength: Because finishers usually work the stabilizer muscles, you'll soon notice an increase in overall usable strength. Some athletes today use too many machines in their training and fail to develop an overall athletic package of power and practical strength. Finishers provide you with "real world" power. Many of these exercises are used by the World's Strongest Man competitors for just that reason.
  • Endurance: Athletes often miss the boat when it comes to endurance, too. There are many linemen in football that, while very strong, can't perform to their fullest potential because they're simply exhausted after a few plays! Finishers are a great way to boost endurance for sports. Consequently, I've noticed increased endurance come about very quickly in the athletes that I've trained.
  • Challenge: While there's an infinite variety of exercises available to the weight trainer, many lifters stagnate or even quit simply because they're bored. Finishers will give you a fresh way to liven up your training and challenge your body. As the saying goes, "The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it."
  • Poliquinism: Charles once said that he wished his athletes would incorporate some of this style of training into their off-season programs. And if the big guy said it, it must be true!

Here are a few favorite finishers. Rotate exercises and try not to perform each finisher more than once per week because of the extreme stress some of these place on the body. Also, some of these finishers are not suited for the average gym and are best performed outside.

The farmer's walk

Basically, this country boy exercise involves deadlifting a pair of heavy dumbbells and then taking a stroll. You can perform a designated number of "sets" for a certain distance or have a contest to see who can walk the farthest. When I first began doing them, I could hardly get 25 yards with 100-pound bells. Now, I can get 100 yards with that weight.

I even had a special pair of 175-pound rails made out of old railroad track. The farmer's walk is intense and is not intended for sissy boys! Aside from endurance, this exercise is great for the grip, forearms, and traps. Actually, it's difficult to say what body part this exercise works because it seems to tax every fiber of your being!

Swiss ball pushups

After your chest and shoulder workout, grab a Swiss ball and place your feet on top, hands on the floor. In this decline position, perform pushups. Here's the fun part: when you fail, instead of stopping, roll back where the shins are touching the ball, not the tops of the feet. Now, you've decreased the resistance a bit and can knock out a few more reps. Count reps. Whoever gets the least buys the post-workout shakes.

Car pushing and pulling

The owner of my gym gets really pissed off when I try to bring my Honda inside. What a close-minded wiener! Anyway, working out with your car is probably the most taxing finisher ever construed. Here's what you do: after leg day, go outside and have your partner put your car in neutral. Get behind that sucker and push it for a set distance.

You can face forward and push with your arms outstretched, or you can push with your back and buttocks touching the car. Using this variation, take short steps and use a continuous motion. The burning in your quads will let you know if you're doing it right. After one "set" of pushing, attach a sturdy rope and pull.

For extra resistance, push your coche up a small hill or have your buddy apply some brake if it gets too easy. If you're involved in combat sports (wrestling, football, rugby, etc.) or just want to add some functional strength, give car pushing a shot. And if you're planning on buying one of those new Ford Excursions, you may want to borrow your buddy's Escort for a warm-up!

Keg lifting

TC does this all the time. Unfortunately, he's not training, he just insists on sucking Coors Light directly from the keg. Says it puts hair on his chest.

Actually, training with barrels and kegs dates back to the turn of the century. This poor-boy exercise equipment is often much more challenging to use than traditional dumbbells and barbells. Here's what you do: get yourself an empty 15-gallon beer keg and fill it up halfway or so with water. This is the secret to its effectiveness–the water sloshes back and forth as you try to lift it, activating stabilizer muscles you didn't even know you had and placing unfamiliar stress on the body.

Brooks Kubrick, the driving force behind the Dinosaur Training movement, compares keg lifting to wrestling a live tiger. Not true–it's like trying to throw a fat drunk stripper back on stage after she falls into your lap while pole dancing. (To each his own simile.) What exercises do you do with a keg, anyway? You can clean and press it, squat it, lunge with it, bear hug it and walk for distance, deadlift it, curl it, shoulder it for reps, or just about anything else you can think of! Besides my keg, I also picked up several different sized plastic barrels from an army surplus store.

Hill/stadium sprints

Check out the body of a marathon runner. Scary, huh? Looks like an anorexic with a crack habit. Because of this atrophied image, many bodybuilders avoid running like an issue of Men's Erotic Fitness. However, sprinting, an anaerobic activity, would compliment most of our physiques, building great hamstrings and helping to cut up (check out TC's 50-Yard Dash article from Testosterone Issue 15 for details). To make average sprinting into a finisher, try hill sprints. This is a favorite of Matt Furey, a world champion in Shuai-Chiao, a kung-fu style of grappling.

Grab a pair of dumbbells and charge up a hill. Walk back down to catch your breath and do it again. Another method is to do stadium sprints. Head to the local high school football stadium and sprint up the stands. Power up the stairs and try to accelerate all the way to the top. If available, alternate doing small steps with larger steps. Usually, ten sprints to the top (with or without weights in your hands) is enough to finish you off for the day.


Now here's an example of aerobics for a man! Try to use a swinging heavy bag instead of those water-filled free standing things. Go for several three-minute "rounds," resting about a minute between sets. If you're the martial artist-type, feel free to get your feet involved.

Another way to incorporate finishers into your routine is to designate an "odd lift" day, or what we simply call "Dino Day." Just pick out several finishers, meet your buddies somewhere outside, and train about an hour using only these oddball exercises. Be sure and take at least a day off of regular training before and after Dino Day.

I hate to place a warning here, but finishers are very intense and can be dangerous if you're not careful. You don't want to drop a 175-pound dumbbell on your toes, a beer keg on your noggin, or fall down a few dozen stairs! You could seriously injure yourself–or worse, chicks could laugh at you. Hopefully this won't sound too much like a blatant plug, but if you haven't tried Power Drive yet, this would be a great time if you're going to attempt to use finishers. Most importantly, use common sense, get a solid partner, and hey–don't forget to have fun!

Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram