In the fitness and performance industry, a coach’s job is to provide clients with a powerful, positive workout experience that yields results. A large part of a client’s success is dependent on their view of the gym experience. Happiness. Motivation. Commitment. Positivity. Energy. These are what we, as coaches, hope to bring out in our clients on a daily basis through relationship building and effective training programs. A properly designed and executed workout “finisher” can be a valuable asset to a trainer or strength coach trying to do just that.
A finisher may take on various forms or structures, but it is ultimately the last segment of a workout that is intended to hit your clients hard with a desired stimulus, putting them on the fence between “I don’t know why I pay money for this” and “whoa, that felt great.” The intent may be to spike the heart rate for conditioning purposes, to mechanically and metabolically challenge a muscle group (the “PUMP!”), or to simply allow your clients to compete and have fun together.
With that said, there are some important DOs and DON’Ts when programming finishers to keep your clients happy, healthy, and coming back for more.
1. Consider the goals of your clients.
Whether you are training somebody 1-on-1 or leading group training, clients must walk out feeling as if the last thing that they did got them closer to their desired goals. I may blast a guy’s biceps and triceps if his goal is to have bigger arms, as opposed to doing high intensity intervals on the bike. Conversely, a group of women who aren’t too concerned with upper body muscle mass may prefer the latter option. It comes down to communicating with and knowing your clients.
2. Allow for some autonomy and autoregulation.
Make your clients part of the programming process and, occasionally, give them some say in creating a finisher. Further, know when to push and pull back based on the energy, body language, and movement quality of an individual or the group. Just chatting with someone at the beginning of the session can be enough to make that call. If football players had a game the night before, it may not be the best time to run them through a sprint finisher.
3. Pick simple and familiar exercises.
Exercise selection is very important in delivering a potent finisher. There is a positive self-limiting effect that takes place when the appropriate exercises are chosen. Use movement patterns that clients have performed and been coached through a number of times previously. If a movement pattern has been trained, the client can attack it with higher intensity while maintaining quality movement.
Here are some exercises often found in CSP-Florida Strength Camp finishers:
Jump Rope / Jumping Jacks
Dumbbell Farmer Carries
Low Level Isometric Holds (air squat, hollow body, etc)
Medicine Ball Slams
As a whole, these movements:
a) are not heavily loaded
b) test different movement patterns
c) can be easily scaled,
d) do not put the client at a high risk of injury if technique falters slightly
e) can all be biased for more conditioning or for more strength/power.
4. Consider the physiological and mechanical stimulus you will create.
In creating an effective finisher, one must consider how one exercise affects the execution of the subsequent exercises, potential breathing patterns and heart rate spikes, target muscle groups, and metabolic byproduct accumulation in muscle. I am not saying you have to get super geeky with it, but have an idea of what type of monster the finisher will be.
5. Be creative.
Simple as that! Be smart, but be creative. You can take the same four exercises and create countless finishers simply by changing time domain, rep scheme, exercise order, tempo, etc.
6. Challenge clients and offer opportunities for them to work together.
My clients will often challenge each other’s scores or time on a finisher. Additionally, clients push each other as they work out side-by-side. It is also be beneficial for the culture of a group/class if you challenge clients to work together to accomplish tasks, such as relay races or completing a given amount of work as a team.
1. Don’t introduce a new exercise in a finisher.
If you make this mistake, one of two things will happen. The client will spend too much time trying to execute the movement properly and intensity will diminish, or they will try to power through the movement at high intensity and butcher the technique. Either way, the objective is not accomplished.
2. Don’t program technical lifts – no heavy axial or heavy overhead loading.
It is one thing if a client is competing in the sport of fitness, but chances are they are not, so the risk outweighs the reward. As fatigue, heart rate, and intensity increase, it is likely that one will lose core and joint stability and have subtle deviations in movement patterns, a recipe for injury. For an athlete aiming to get better at a sport or for a general population client looking to get strong and feel good, the following lifts should be done fresh and in a controlled manner, not in a finisher:
Olympic Lifts (Dumbbell and Barbell Snatches, Cleans, and Jerks)
High Repetition Pull-ups
Heavy Upper Body Pressing
What is the common theme here? Don’t move a heavy load up and down. Save it for your strength work.
As a side note, it is probably not a good idea to finish with core exercises that take the spine through high repetition flexion and extension patterns, as this may contribute to subsequent back pain. Further, don’t destroy your client’s core; it still needs to be able to work the rest of the day.
3. Don’t over-coach a finisher.
A finisher should be an opportunity for the client to let loose and just get after it for a few minutes. If you have done your job and programmed appropriately, you shouldn’t have to do much coaching outside of holding a stopwatch.
4. Don’t be married to your finishers.
The hay is already in the barn with all the work your client has put in during that session. The finisher is just the cherry on top. If you don’t get to it one day because you spent more time on deadlift technique, oh well. If you have to change your finisher to five minutes of box breathing because your client took a red-eye flight home last night, no big deal.
5. Don’t be a drill sergeant.
Be unconditionally positive and empathetic. Remember, your client is paying you, you are not paying your client. As coaches, we cannot make anyone do anything, we just make strong suggestions and give guidance. The client chooses whether to listen.
CSP Strength Camp example finishers:
2 max effort rounds (rest as needed between):
50 yard Sled Push
25 yard Sprint
15 Overhead Med Ball Stomps
25 yard Sprint
15 Jumping Jacks
In teams of 2, complete:
300 Battlerope Slams
*one person works, while one person performs a hollow body hold
4 rounds, for time:
10 Calorie Assault Bike
30 Jump Rope
5 yard Bear Crawl
A finisher allows a coach to make sure that clients end the training session on a high note. An effective finisher is simple, but it is not easy. It is purposeful and moves the client’s needle in the right direction. It is a time to have fun, to go hard, and to finish strong.
About the Author
Jason Jabour is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance – Florida. He also serves as Strength Camps Coordinator at the Jupiter, Florida location. You can contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Instagram.
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