Cardio and conditioning are tricky. They trigger positive responses in your body (fat loss, cardiovascular fitness, etc.), and then… they stop working. Once that adaptation process occurs, your body needs a new stimulus to keep progressing.
When this same process occurs with weight training, we know to add variety or ramp up the stimulus. But with traditional cardio, we stall out because we stick to the same 15 minutes of elliptical or treadmill work. Adaption has already occurred, and you’re now just running in place. Sometimes literally.
For conditioning workouts to be effective, limit adaption. When you adapt, it can be a positive thing: your performance has improved! But to keep it going, you either have to do longer bouts or switch up the stimulus. And I bet you’d rather not do MORE cardio.
The other principle behind conditioning work is selective workout timing. The peak time to do metabolic conditioning is after lifting. It doesn’t take much to target excess fat when you’ve already been going hard for an hour.
Here are some of the best metabolic finishers to close out your workout and leave the gym feeling awesome.
1. Lower-Body Barbell Complex
A complex is a series of exercises performed in a row, usually without letting go of the bar or implement. It’s a great time saver and provides a challenging training stimulus.
Use loads that are 40-60% of your max. Start with the more complex exercises (skip the isolation stuff) and choose moves that flow well into one another for smooth transitions. Like this:
Go 4-6 rounds, resting 60-90 seconds between rounds.
- Full Clean x 4
- Front Squat with Pause x 6
- Barbell Squat and Press x 4
- 1.5 Rep Back Squat x 6, 4-second hold on the final rep
2. Full-Body Ascending Ladder Complex
Go 6 rounds, resting 2 minutes between sets.
- Squat Clean x 3
- Front Squat x 4
- Squat to Press x 5
- Reverse Lunge x 6
- Back Squat x 7
- RDL x 8
- Bent Over Row x 9
- Rollout x 10
3. Upper-Body Day Finisher
- Kettlebell Clean-to-Press x 10
- Ski Sprint x 30 Seconds
- Farmer’s Carry x 1 Minute
- Push-Ups x 10
Try to finish this in four minutes or less. When you can, add 2 reps to the clean-to-press and the push-ups until you can no longer do it in the 4-minute timeframe.
Loaded carries are some of the best finishers, and full-body movements are great for those days when you need a break from targeted muscle groups.
4. Lower-Body Bulgarian Finisher
- Start with Bulgarian split squats using two dumbbells, roughly 50-70% of your bodyweight. Do 8-12 reps.
- Drop to the single-arm version and aim to get the same number of reps on both sides.
- Drop to bodyweight and finish off another 8-12 reps.
5. Single-Arm Upper Body Day Finisher
- Single-Arm Snatch x 6-8
- Single-Arm Strict Press x 6-8
- Single-Arm Push Press x 6-8
- Single-Arm Overhead Carry x 50 meters
- Repeat on the other side
Rest and repeat 1-2 more times.
6. Leg Day Finisher
This is an EMOM or “every minute on the minute” finisher.
- On the first minute, row hard for 30 seconds. Note the distance. Your goal is to match that every time you row.
- Rest 30 seconds.
- On minute two, do 8-10 single-arm hollow-hold presses each side.
- Repeat for 5 rounds or 12 minutes. Or repeat until you’re unable to get your set point of meters on your 30-second row.
The point of finishers is to exhaust your anaerobic system and leave nothing on the table. You don’t need more than 10-15 minutes, which is why you set the standard high from the beginning on your rows.
Once you fail to keep that pace, your body isn’t working at the capacity it needs to make the finisher effective. No need to push past that point.