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Dublin: 9 °C Monday 17 December, 2018

Finish strong! Three ways to end your session on a high

Personal trainer Dean Merton brings you through some quick and brutal (but effective) finishers.

I’VE ALWAYS BEEN of the mindset that a good workout doesn’t necessarily have to leave you struggling to breathe, with the heart rate of the common hummingbird or pumping sweat out like a fire hydrant.


Instead a good strength, skill, or hypertrophy session may induce none of the above states of being while still being effective in terms of its desired training goal.

With that being said however, there is a percentage of the population that just don’t feel like they’ve trained unless they soak their clothes in sweat and entirely drain their glycogen stores by the end of an hour in the gym. In my early years as a trainer I was initially resistant to the idea of programming finishers simply to provide this kind of training stimulus or effect, but in my latter years I’ve adopted the idea that a little extra work isn’t going to derail someones recovery, and instead will most likely leave them feeling great about their efforts in the gym and push them forward towards their goals with a greater urgency.

So with that in mind here are three ways that you can finish off any workout that will leave you feeling awesome/awful/accomplished (delete as applicable).

1) Cals/Reps Countdown

This is a fairly simple one: pick two exercises — one cardio based (ideally with a calorie counting ergometer), and one reps based. Set your starting point as well as your incremental drops, then set about doing the work in as small a time frame as possible.

Check out some examples below:


In this variation the pushup could be swapped for a TRX Row for an alternative training stimulus, the reps could be changed to go like for like with the 50-10 assault bike increments (potentially with an exercise swap for something more high rep friendly like a kettlebell swing), or you could focus on a more lower body/cardio training effect by going with Assault Bike/Wall Ball or Thrusters as a deathly combo.


In this variation, the calories remain consistent throughout all of the sets with the secondary, reps based, exercise being the one counted down.

While doing this variation the objective is to keep the time it takes to complete the cals consistent throughout the entire set, in spite of the accumulation of fatigue. My top tip is to start at about 80-85% of max effort and stay there. Wrecking yourself on your first set will mostly result in an awful time being had throughout this finisher.


The final option for a countdown is a Crossfit classic; the 21-15-9.

A little more random in terms of a start and finish point — being completely honest I have no idea why this rep scheme is laid out the way it is other than it forms the basis of the Crossfit workout ‘Fran’ which consists of thrusters and pull-ups in three sets; 21, then 15, then 9 for time (dude, what’s your Fran time?).

2) The Gotch Bible

So, I don’t say this to many people whilst in my guise as a personal trainer, but full disclosure: I have a side gig as a pro wrestler.

As hilarious as that sounds (and it is, feel free to pause for a moment to reflect on the fact that the man giving you health and fitness advice is 29-years-old and makes part of his living from pretending to fight), it’s actually taught me an awful lot about conditioning, resilience, and durability. It’s also left me with a fairly skeptical view on niggling injuries when presented to me by trainees/clients, specifically when someone complains of a sore back/neck/shoulder, yet doesn’t fall down or take impact about 1% as much as I do, yet I feel no daily pain that necessitates any time off training.

Stepping out of the path of an oncoming rant on work ethic or pain science (hot take: it’s all in your head), wrestling has taught me a lot about the need to condition the body to move bodyweight around over longer periods of time, and has shown me that often times limitations we may have are self-imposed and as a result of a preconceived notion of how much work is enough.

One training modality that will show you that you can be more than prescribed sets and reps is a Gotch Bible.

Genius in its simplicity and brutal in its execution, the Gotch Bible was conceived by legendary wrestler Karl Gotch as a means to condition his body for the demands of fighting while spending weeks and even months on the road in hotels with little equipment.

To complete this workout simply shuffle a deck of cards and assign an exercise to each suit, in the traditional Gotch Bible the exercises are as follows:


It’s important to note that black cards carry a double value, meaning that if you pull up an eight of spades you must perform 16 hindu squats rather than just eight.

The objective is to make your way through the deck of cards in as quick a time as possible, allowing for the fact that in a well shuffled deck you are bound to get a couple of occasions where you are forced to do back to back sets of push=ups up to and past the point of fatigue or failure.

(You can find out more here.)

You can of course mess about with a more modernised version of the deck, allowing for a more total body workout such as:


Once again, the black cards carry a double value meaning more work on the lower limbs.

Or you could perhaps try the following deck for a much more pure cardio (read — torture) session:


In this one, you could double up on the black cards, but personally I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re intermediate-advanced levels of conditioning.

Of course, I realise that not everyone will want to carry a deck of playing cards around with them, but luckily there are many apps available for smartphones and tablets which will shuffle the deck for you. If you search for ‘deck of cards workout’ in your app store you’ll find many options which should allow you to put together many two and four exercise options for this brutal finisher.

3) The Take Away

The final quick and brutal finisher option is again a pairing of cardio based mono structural cal expenditure and a more skilled compound movement: this time doing more work in the cardio section earns you the opportunity to do less reps of the compound.

Start with a time frame in which to clock up calories, usually a figure that will allow you to stay about 85% effort for the entire time. 45-60 seconds works just fine if using an air bike, 60-75 seconds if on a ski erg, maybe as much as 90 seconds if on a concept 2 rower.

Then select an exercise as your secondary, be sure to choose a rep value for that exercise which you really don’t want to do consecutively, especially not after a pukey cardio sprint. If I were to choose wall balls, I would set the value at 50 reps, and then because I don’t want to do 50 consecutive reps on a wall ball, the onus is on me then to clock up more calories on the bike/rower/ski erg.

Other examples here may be 25+ thrusters, 30+ burpees or med ball slams, 100+ kettlebells swings or rope slams. The only limit is your imagination and sense of masochism.

Anywhere between 3-5 rounds of this will leave you feeling halfway to death.

Here’s an example of how I may write it into a trainees program:


Wrapping Up

As I mentioned in my first paragraph here, none of these finisher ideas are complete workouts by themselves, they may lack the balance of a properly structured training program and should be treated as the icing on the cake of your progressive, balanced, and goal oriented training program.

Sometimes however you want a little extra icing on your cake so I hope these satisfy your sweet tooth.. without leaving you feeling too sick.

Thanks for reading and once again my inbox is open for any and all queries/hate mail.

Dean Merton is a Dublin-based strength coach and personal trainer. For more information you can follow him on Facebook and Instagram, or you can send him a direct message here.

You can also see some of his previous articles here.

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