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“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
That old cliché may have more meaning in sports than in the gym — where every rep counts — but even so, a good finishing move can be just the thing that pushes your results over the finish line.
“Adding in a good finisher exercise to your workout can help you build momentum toward achieving your ultimate fitness goals,” says Samantha Clayton, personal trainer, group exercise instructor, former Olympian who competed for the U.K. in track at the Sydney 2000 Games, and vice president of Worldwide Sports Performance and Fitness Education for Herbalife. “My aim with a finisher movement is to recruit other muscles while still working the primary muscle group of that particular workout.”
Here, Clayton shares her five favorite finishing moves — one for your upper-body and lower-body sessions, as well as others for your back, shoulders and core days.
1. Upper-Body Finisher: The Alternating Plank to Row
“Most of the time, people tend to do more ‘push’ than ‘pull’ exercises during their upper-body routine,” Clayton says. “This combo move will ensure you’re getting in an extra ‘pull’ move for your back and biceps while also retracting those shoulder blades.”
How-To: Assume a high-plank position — balanced on your toes and straight arms, hands on the floor, wrists directly beneath your delts, body in a straight line from head to heels — with a dumbbell within reach of your right hand. Engage your core by thinking about pulling your bellybutton up to the ceiling, flex your glutes and quads, and focus on keeping the weight distributed evenly throughout your body. Next, take hold of the weight in your right hand and perform a row, focusing on bending your elbow and raising it straight up toward the ceiling with your palm facing your body. After one row, set the dumbbell on the floor and roll it over to switch the weight to your left hand. Repeat the row and then roll it back, alternating each rep. Aim for three 60-second bouts with 30 to 60 seconds of rest in between each.
2. Leg Finisher: The “Beast-to-Catcher” Squat
“At the end of any lower-body session, you can add in this one dynamic athletic move that recruits a maximum number of muscle fibers to challenge your coordination and burn a few extra calories,” Clayton suggests. “This way, you can leave the gym feeling like a pro knowing that although your priority was legs that day, your core and upper body received a challenge, too.”
How-To: Get into “beast” position on all fours with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your knees directly underneath your hips. Flex your toes so they are pointed into the floor. For the movement, exhale as you push your feet off the floor and bring them forward, landing in a low squat and bringing your hands up to ready position — picture the position of a baseball catcher behind the plate. From there, extend your hips and knees to fully stand up, then drop back down into the “beast” position and repeat. Repeat for a total of three sets of 12 reps apiece.
3. Shoulder Finisher: Medicine-Ball Slam + Tuck Jump
“Working the shoulders and then finishing by doing this exercise to fatigue revs up your calorie burn, engages the core and also, as a bonus, blasts the legs,” Clayton promises. “I prescribe this as a Tabata — you’ll do two-arm overhead medicine-ball slams to the floor, followed by a tuck jump, for 20-second bouts with 10 seconds of rest in between. Go a full Tabata round of four minutes.”
How-To: Get into an athletic ready position, knees bent, feet shoulder-width apart, holding a medicine ball at chest height in both hands. In one motion, raise the ball above your head and then powerfully slam it down to the floor. Immediately dip down and leap up for a tuck jump, bringing your knees as high as you can and quickly wrapping your arms around your bent legs, then release to bring your legs back to the floor. Lower yourself into a squat to grasp the ball, bring it to chest height and repeat the sequence.
4. Back Finisher: Floor Chest Press + Ab Hold
“After a back workout, I’m all about doing a finisher that will balance you out by pumping the chest and torching the core,” Clayton says. “Here, your back-stabilizing muscles will be working but not as primary movers.”
How-To: Lie on your back with a set of light dumbbells extended above your chest, elbows straight but not locked. Lift your feet off the floor with your knees bent to a 90-degree angle. Lower the dumbbells by bringing your elbows down until they touch the floor — they should be angled out away from the side of your body — and then, as you push the weights back up, extend one leg out straight (which engages the core). As you bring the weights back down, simultaneously bring that knee back to starting position. On the next rep, extend your other leg. Continue alternating legs on each rep, performing either three sets of 20 reps of presses (so each leg is extended 10 times total per set) or going for 30 to 60 seconds per set for two to three sets.
5. Core Finisher: Pilates 100
“There is no better exercise to crush a core workout than the traditional Pilates 100 move,” Clayton says. “It encourages stability within motion and will focus your mind. The 100 recruits your abdominal muscles and develops scapular and trunk stabilization. It’s often used as a warm-up exercise, but after a hardcore session, it’ll challenge you to get all your muscles engaged for one last core push.”
How-To: Begin by lying faceup on the mat. Bend your knees and bring them into your chest while lifting your head and shoulders off the mat. Next, extend your legs out to a high diagonal (at about a 45-degree angle to the floor) and reach your arms out long by your sides with your palms facing down. Now pump your arms, lifting them up and down no higher than your hips. As you do this, establish a breathing pattern of inhaling for a count of five, then exhaling deeply for a count of five. Continue the exercise for one to two minutes.