Repetition is key when it comes to improving any skill. You don’t get better by setting goals—you get better by doing. “The goal is just an event — something that you can’t totally control or predict. But reps are what make the event happen,” says James Clear, author of Transform Your Habits.
Changing your body requires the same mindset. No matter the skill—torching body fat, improving flexibility, or increasing muscle size— you’re going to have to put in the repetitions. Lucky for us, this process can be accomplished by adding 5-minute workout finishers—simple workout circuits—to the end of your program. These finishers will add crucial skill exposure to your routine during the week, and dramatically shorten the path to your goals.
Before we jump into the sample 5-minute finishers below, remember there are certain movement skills that are best developed at the beginning of the workout, not the end. Skills like top-end speed and cut-on-a-dime agility require high input from your nervous system, so work on those moves when you’re fresh, typically at the beginning of the workout (not what we’re doing here).
1. Emphasize Fat Loss With EMOM Training
Maximize every minute at the end of your workout with EMOM workout circuits. EMOM stands for “every minute on the minute,” and it’s your formula for cranking up your heart rate at the end of your workout. If you’re going to make this work for fat loss, the key is picking exercises that will challenge your entire body. You can do this with almost any exercise, but doing a pushup EMOM (while challenging) is much different than doing squats. So, for the goal of crushing more calories, we’re focusing on exercises that involve more muscles. Remember, all of these drills are designed to last for 5 minutes.
Here’s how it works: We’ve provided many examples below, but you can adjust reps and load as you see fit. Let’s say you’re doing dumbbell thrusters, which is a combination of a squat and an overhead press. You’d start the timer and do 10 thrusters (it’ll probably take around 20-30 seconds if you’re doing full reps and in control), and then rest the remainder of the minute. Your next round starts at the top of the next minute. You’ll complete 5 rounds and then call it a day. The higher the reps go, the lower the weight you’ll use. But, if you set the reps a little lower (such as 5 reps on deadlifts), you won’t use your true 5-rep weight because of the short rest, but you can go heavier and still get the desired outcome.
Complete one exercise EMOM at the end of your workout two to three times per week:
1. Dumbbell thruster: 10 reps
2. Squats: 15 reps
3. Kettlebell/dumbbell swing: 15 reps
4. Deadlift: 5 reps
5. Dumbbell farmer’s walk: 30 seconds
6. Med ball slams: 20 seconds
2. Build New Muscle with Hypertrophy Finishers
“You have to really ‘push the envelope’ in terms of volume and muscle trauma to stimulate new gains in size,” says Bryan Krahn, a physique enhancement coach. And there’s no better way to add volume (total number of sets and reps) and shock factor to a muscle than hypertrophy complexes. What’s a complex? It’s pairing together individual movements and doing them one after the other with no rest. All you’ll need is one piece of equipment, a little floor space, and five minutes to fully exhaust your muscles.
Choose whether you’d like to key in on your lower body, upper body, or biceps and add that complex to the end of your workout two times a week.
Lower Body Complex
Complete two rounds of this complex in five minutes:
Dumbbell squat jumps (not max height, just a small hop off ground)—10 reps
Dumbbell goblet squats—10 reps
Bodyweight squat jumps (not max height, just a small hop off ground)—10 reps
Bodyweight air squats—10 reps
Upper Body Complex
Complete this complex as many times as possible in five minutes:
Dumbbell curls—6 reps
Dumbbell upright row—6 reps
Dumbbell overhead press—6 reps
Close-grip push-ups—6 reps
Bicep Complex (aka the Bicep Pain Train)
This doesn’t always work well in a gym, but if you’ve got access to several pairs of dumbbells, it can be a ton of fun (and brutal on your biceps.)
Start with a weight you can curl for 8-10 reps and do 10 reps. Drop the weight five pounds and do 8-10 more reps. Work your way down the rack until you’ve done six sets.
3. Reduce Soreness With Flexibility Finishers
Static stretching after your workout can help loosen areas that are overly tight from contraction after contraction during your routine, and therefore act as another great workout finisher. You can boost the benefits of static stretching by adding focused breathing, which helps your body transition out of the “fight or flight” mode of your workout.
“Deep diaphragmatic breathing has been shown to increase parasympathetic tone, enhancing our body’s restorative processes. Conscious breath training is our window into managing the autonomic nervous system,” says Kevin Carr, strength coach and founder of Movement As Medicine.
Hold each stretch for 10 deep breaths, fully inhaling and exhaling:
Wall hip flexor mobilization hold (5 breaths each side)
Split quadruped adductor mobilization hold (5 breaths each side)
Standing pec doorway stretch (5 breaths each side)
Rack lat stretch
For more fat loss tips, be sure to check out our Faster Fat Loss article by Jen Sinkler, or head to Born Fitness Coaching to apply for coaching, where you’ll get a personalized fitness and nutrition plan to help you reach your goals.
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Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and, according to The Huffington Post, “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, E! News, and The Cheddar.