The Cherry On Top: How to Push Your Limits and Truly Top Off Your Workout

by | Jun 10, 2019 | Lifestyle, Mindset, Nutrition, Training

There are so many reasons I enjoy ending a class or a workout with a finisher.

Physiologically, it’s great for one last rapid increase in energy output and calorie burn because of the tax on the cardiovascular and muscular system.

Mentally, it can teach you to push yourself just a little bit more and to truly give everything you have in a workout.

And as a coach, it’s just fun… 😉

Finishers can be utilized and designed for a number of different purposes:

  1. Conditioning – it is a fast and efficient way to rapidly increase your cardiovascular workload. It can improve your in-set endurance, recovery, and work capacity in a short period of time.
  2. Fat Loss – the rapid increase in heart rate and energy output significantly increases the total calories burned during a workout. Finishers can give an end of workout fat shred and help develop your lean, muscular physique.
  3. Hypertrophy – this short, burst of work increases the metabolic stress and promotes an accumulation of metabolites in muscle cells causing swelling, hormonal release, and ultimately muscle cell growth.
  4. Fun – finishers can add a level of fun to training through challenges, partner work, or exercises not in your typical training sets. As a coach, you can incorporate unique exercises and training modalities and give clients some of the exercises they enjoy but don’t necessarily fit into training.

Finishers may serve a variety of great purposes, but regardless of how much fun they can be, I have been told the name “finisher” is quite terrifying.

Finisher sounds bleak, mortal, and grim but they most definitely should be any of those, especially mortal!

One client requested I call them a cherry on top, so let’s look at your workouts like an ice cream sundae.

Your primary exercises and compound lifts are the scoops of ice cream. Ice cream is an essential part. No ice cream, no sundae. But just ice cream is a little vanilla (pun intended).

Finishers are the toppings for your ice cream – the cherry on top. They’re not essential, but they really finish it off and give you exactly what you’re looking for.

Call it a finisher, a bonus, or a cherry on top – whatever you want, but let’s dive into just how to build that finisher so it brings you one step closer to your goals.

There are two things to consider when building the perfect finisher:

  1. Exercise Selection
  2. Goal Specific

Exercise Selection

The goal of a finisher is to fatigue your body and its systems. When the body is fatigued, the quality of reps diminishes because form deteriorates; therefore, a finisher needs to be comprised of simple, low-complexity exercises. We want to save the highly technical skills for the early portion of our workout when our neuromuscular system is fresh.

Let’s say your goal is to really shred those glutes and quads at the end of your workout. Front squats will definitely do the trick, BUT they’re a highly technical movement and are not ideal when you’re fatigued.

Bodyweight lunges or jump squats hit the same muscle group, require much less technical skill, and diminish your risk for injury.

The goal is to stick to foundational movement patterns (see below) that work the same muscle groups but won’t put you at a high risk for injury.

Foundational Movements

Goal Specificity

If you’re really looking to kick your own butt, you could easily pick a few exercises from that list and really punish yourself in a finisher. But you’re reading this to get MORE out of your finishers, to kick your butt AND get closer to your goals. You can definitely be more creative and design a finisher to be fun, but you also have to think about how or if it is bringing you closer to your goals.

Fat Loss Finishers

Who doesn’t want to shred a big more fat at the end of their workout?? Most readers are looking to give one last little push to burn away as much calories and fat as possible as you wrap up the workout. The goal with these finishers it to ramp up the heart rate, generate some muscle fatigue, and burn as many calories as possible in the little amount of time left.

Let’s pretend your assigned finisher was as follows:

8-Minute AMRAP (As Many Rounds as Possible) of

15 Jump Squats

10 Lunges (Each Leg)

Those two will without a doubt torch your glutes and quads, but after 3 or 4 rounds, you will be in dire need of a rest.

As much of a burn as this gives us, our muscles are too tired and fatigued to endure an 8-Minute AMRAP (they probably didn’t make it 2 minutes!). The goal of a Fat Loss Finisher and an AMRAP is to really ramp up the heart rate and tax the cardiovascular system. If we’re resting after 2 minutes, the cardiovascular system will spend more time resting than it will working!

Then how am I supposed to shred that fat?

Combine movements to target different muscle groups. Look to alternate between upper and lower body or a push and a pull movement.

Finally, stay creative! The last thing you want to do with a finisher is get used to it because that means your body has adapted, become more efficient, and as a result will burn less calories. Go beyond varying just the exercises, and look to vary the formats.

Here are a few options for Fat Loss Finishers:

AMRAPS (As Many Round As Possible)

One of my favorite styles of finishers! It ramps up your heart rate, fatigues your muscles, and can be really fun because of all the exercises you can include!

AMRAPs can be anywhere from 3 to 15 minutes in duration with 2 to 4 exercises.

The goal is to complete as many rounds as possible in the given duration, where one round is considered a complete set of each exercise.

AMRAPs are meant to fatigue the system, so avoid doubling up on muscle groups during your exercise selection so to not tire you out too soon.

AMRAP Example

  • Sled Push Down & Back (~50 meters)
  • Ball Slam x 10
  • TRX Row x 15


  • KB Deadlift x 10
  • Push Ups x 10

Rep Counter or AFAP (As Fat As Possible)

With this type of finisher you’re going to get a cardiovascular burst, major muscle fatigue, and caloric burn just as you would with AMRAPS. The difference? Instead of working to get as many rounds as possible, you have a set number of reps or calories burned that determine your end point.

SUPER important to keep the technique low and be smart in our exercise selection so to not destroy ourselves.

AFAP Example

  • 50 Ball Slams


  • 100 KB Swings


  • 50 DB Thrusters
  • 30 Renegade Rows Each Side

EMOMs (Every Minute On The Minute)

Full of torture, but also full of results. These are like a jack of all trades, wherein they can be designed in a way to get that heart pumping, muscles burning, and shredding calories.

For an EMOM, you will have an exercise or pair of exercises to begin at the start of every minute. You have 60s to accomplish it, and once that minute is over, you’re starting over for the following minute. The faster you finish, the more rest you get!

EMOMs can be designed anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes in duration with 1 or 2 exercises set at a moderate rep range.

EMOM Examples

  • 8 Minutes
  • Burpees 10 to 12 Reps


  • 10 Minutes (Alternate between the 2 exercises, so each gets 5 minutes)
  • Lunge Jumps 10 to 12 Reps Each Leg
  • TRX Row 12-15 Reps

HIIT Finishers

This style will finish you off QUICK. HIIT finishers are short bursts of maximum effort followed by longer rest periods.

Your maximum effort burst can be anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds with rest periods of 1.5 to 2 minutes. It is typically recommended you perform anywhere from 4 to 6 rounds.

Because these finishers are designed to be maximum effort ‘sprint’ type of activities, the best exercises are those in which you can all out sprint.

Some of my favorites include:

  • Sprints
  • Sled Runs
  • Bike Sprints
  • Ski Erg Sprints
  • Rower Sprints

Regardless the style of finisher you select, they’re a great way to really add to the work you put into your training for the day. Whether your goal is conditioning, fat loss, or hypertrophy keep that goal in mind, mix it up regularly, and HAVE FUN with it!

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