Add a little oomph to your upper body with a strong finish to your workout.

Twenty years ago, we were concerned with our fat-burning zone. We thought the effectiveness of our workout was dictated by the heart-rate zone that we were aiming for.

It turns out, however, that endless hours spent slouched over a stationary bike or leaning over the stepper are not only terribly boring, but also not the best way to lean out, tone up and look sexy.

Quick Workouts, Quick Results

In recent years, research has shown that total energy expenditure (a.k.a. how many calories you burn) can be increased with short bouts of anaerobic exercise. This type of exercise is short and intense, and relies mostly on sources of energy other than oxygen – some examples are lifting heavy weights or sprinting across a soccer field. Researchers have found that when women participate in resistance training at higher intensities (with heavier weights and shorter breaks), they sizzle more calories postworkout!

So what does that mean for you? Steady-state exercise, such as 45 minutes on the elliptical trainer, does not torch as many calories as would a session of similar length spent lifting weights in a circuit. Since the total amount of calories you burn is what’s important (not the percentage that comes from fat), you should increase your exercise intensity with more-bang-for-your-buck routines – like the exciting finishers we’ve provided for you here.

Bring Up The Burn

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that, when compared to traditional straight-set workouts, exercises performed at a high intensity with short recovery periods (which these finishers prescribe), caused more calories to be burned during the workout, while also increasing the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which dictates how much energy your body uses after exercise in order to return to its preworkout state.

The Magic Method

A finisher is basically a circuit done at the end of a regular workout. These two finishers mesh body-weight, free-weight and band exercises to improve upper-body strength and definition. Add one (or both!) of these to your program when your metabolism needs a boost; the best part is, they can be tacked onto the end of any routine.

Finisher Guidelines

When doing your finisher sets, keep these points in mind:

  • Choose one finisher and go through all four exercises as quickly as possible with correct form.
  • Do not rest between exercises, except at the end (to ramp up the EPOC and burn more calories).
  • Take a 30- to 60-second break after your first circuit before performing the second round.

Benefits Of Finishers:

  • Better at burning calories compared to steady-state aerobic exercise for the same duration.
  • Enhanced fat loss while developing strength; these ones target your upper body and core.
  • Improved aerobic (fueled by oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) fitness levels.

Finisher 1: Core Biceps, Delts

Repeat the circuit once, staring with Seal jumps.

*ALAP = as little as possible.

Seal Jump

Target Muscles: whole body

Set Up: Stand with your feet together and your arms extended in front of you; your palms should touch as shown.

Action: Jump, bringing your legs out to the sides as if doing a jumping jack. At the same time, move your arms out to the sides. Land with your body in a “star” position, then jump your legs and hands together; repeat.

Tip: make your reps explosive and speedy!

Incline-Bench Dumbbell Curl

Target Muscles: biceps brachii, brachialis

Set Up: Lie faceup on an incline bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing forward.

Action: Bend your elbows to curl the dumbbells. Squeeze your biceps hard at the top, then lower until your elbows are semi-straight. Repeat.

Barbell Overhead Press

Target Muscles: anterior and lateral deltoids, triceps brachii

Set Up: Hold a barbell, keeping your hands shoulder-width apart and your palms facing forward. Keep your elbows pointed down while maintaining neutral wrists.

Action: Press the bar overhead; your arms should finish beside your ears. Lower to chin level and repeat.

Walk-Out Plank

Target Muscles: scapular stabilizers, abdominals

Set Up: Stand tall with feet together, then squat down as shown.

Action: Walk your hands forward until they are in front of your shoulders. Carefully reverse, stand and repeat.

Tip: As you walk forward, brace your core and squeeze your glutes.

Finisher 2: Core, Triceps, Pecs and Back

Repeat the circuit once, staring with Mountain Climbers.

*ALAP = as little as possible.

Mountain Climber

Target Muscles: abdominals

Set Up: Start at the top of the push-up position. Keep your elbows locked, with your hands directly under your shoulders.

Action: Quickly alternate bringing one knee towards your chest, maintaining a neutral spine as you “climb.” Continue alternating for your entire set.

Tip: Your back should remain flat as you move your legs forward and back.

Rolling Triceps Extension

Target Muscles: triceps brachii

Set Up: Lie faceup on a bench. Hold a dumbbell in each hand straight over your chest, with your palms facing each other.

Action: Without moving your upper arms, lower the weights towards your forehead. Roll your elbows behind your head in the bottom position, then reverse fluidly. Repeat.

Tip: You’ll press up rather than extend your elbows if the weight is too heavy.

Push-Up Plus

Target Muscles: pectoralis major, triceps brachii, anterior deltoids, serratus anterior

Set Up: Get into push-up position, with your hands slightly turned out and roughly shoulder-width apart. Brace your core, and keep your legs and feet together.

Action: Bend your arms, keeping your elbows slightly tucked, to lower towards the floor. Extend your arms, then protract, or press your shoulder blades away from each other; it will look like you are slightly rounding your upper back. Repeat.

Tip: the rounding of your back is subtle, but you should feel it.

Band Face-Pull

Target Muscles: rotator cuffs, posterior deltoids

Set Up: Anchor a band at a point higher than your height. Hold one end in each hand, with your palms down, facing the floor.

Action: Pull the band towards your face, leading with your thumbs. Flare your elbows out and rotate through your shoulders. Finish with your hands near your head. Extend your arms to return to the starting position, then repeat.

Tip: Don’t pull too low towards your chest because you will not externally rotate your shoulders, and you will lose the effect on the rotator cuff muscles.

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Practice these six essential exercises to sculpt a beautiful back and preserve your spine.

A strong back isn’t just a head turner at the gym. It’s also one of the keys to keeping our spines happy and healthy over time. Upper-back strength also plays an important role in shoulder health. When we have deficits in our posterior chain (aka the upper back), it can cause early wear and tear and pain throughout the shoulder joint and neck.

For those of us who sit for long stretches of time during the workday, we’re predisposed to injury. Practice the following exercises to bulletproof your posterior chain. Take on the entire circuit or add one or two moves into your existing routine. The reps are intentionally low so you can focus on form and target very small muscle groups.

Bulletproof Back Workout

Bent-Over Row With Barbell

Bent-Over Row With Barbell

Hinge at your hips with your back in a neutral position and eyes looking forward. Using just the bar or a very light weight, perform sets of 10 with good control as you fully extend your elbow out of the row position.

Deadlift

Deadlift

When performed correctly, the deadlift is really a full-body workout. However, in order to keep your spine in a neutral position, focus on engaging your middle taps and lats in order to prevent any excessive rounding of your lower back. You can achieve this by pinching your shoulder blades together and making sure your knees are back so that tension is felt in your hamstrings before pulling up from the ground.

Plate Raise in Quadruped

Plate Raise in Quadruped

Begin on all fours and make sure your lower back is in neutral. A good way to check in with your body is to bring your bellybutton to your spine by breathing in gently and holding this contraction throughout the exercise. Use a light plate no heavier than 2.5 to 5 pounds to perform plate raises in this position for 30 seconds on each side, repeating two to three times. You should feel this in the back of your shoulder as well as your midback. Try to keep your neck from tensing in order to decrease recruitment of your upper trap.

Plank With Row

Plank With Row

Start in a plank position. Use the same strategies to achieve a neutral spine as directed for the previous exercise. Grab a pair of lightweight dumbbells and perform a rowing motion leading with your elbows. You should consciously think of pulling your shoulder blades down and back during this exercise.

Banded Pull-Apart

Banded Pull-Apart

Using a lightly weighted band, grab the ends so there is some tension before you begin to pull it apart. Pull the band apart until your shoulders are in a full T position. This exercise will target little muscles in your upper back called rhomboids and the more superficial musculature of your middle traps. It’s great to assist posture realignment, especially if you find yourself at a desk for most of the day.

Dumbbell Row

Dumbbell Row

Using a bench, set up in front of a mirror, if possible, to ensure you begin with a flat back. Use your opposite arm to support your weight. Bring your leg outside of the arm you are rowing with and press into the bench with the opposing arm for stabilization. Try to go heavier on this exercise, but only with a weight that still allows you to maintain a good back position. 

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