The Art of the Finish: 4 Calorie-Burning Methods to Complete Your Workout

Expert Opinion

With Guest Blogger, Tim Rigby, M.A., NSCA-CPT

You’re at the gym as usual, grinding out reps in the pec-deck apparatus or pedalling furiously on the stationary bike. Suddenly, *BING* the intercom chirps out from high above: “Attention, gym members: the gym will be closing in 15 minutes.”  After swearing politely under your breath, your mind engages in determining a strategy to make the most of the last quarter-hour so you can be fully satisfied that on this day, you emerge victorious over the gym. But before you go balls-to-the-wall furiously (and then inevitably burn out prematurely), pay attention to some methodical approaches to wrapping up your workout which will yield more effective results.

The number one thing to keep in mind is that you should be interested in keeping your metabolism stoked not just while you’re in the gym, but for hours afterward when you’re chilling at home in your favourite chair watching TV. Looking at the big picture dictates that you concern yourself not just with calories spent at the gym, but whatever you can burn 24 hours each day. This being the case, here are four calorie-killing methods for closing your training session (two weight training, one cardio, one either format):

(Weight Training) Drop Sets

When it comes to muscle growth, training to failure regularly is a good thing. By contrast, when training for strength, you want to train to failure only once in a while. But who says you can only fail once per set? Drop sets employ descending amounts of weights, so that when you fail, you simply lower the weight and rep out until you fail again. Technically, there’s no limit to how many times you can fail, but it’s generally accepted that three drops to failure is effective for totally exhausting the muscle group by burning additional calories (and setting the course for great growth). Here’s a sample scheme to finish off your biceps doing preacher curls:

60 pounds to failure on rep 12;
50 pounds to failure on rep 5;
40 pounds to failure on rep 5;
30 pounds to total failure on rep 5

(Weight Training) Speed Sets

Speed sets are a very effective weapon for evoking an incredible pump at the end of the workout to prime your muscles for growth. However, it cannot be understated that just because you’re going to be performing reps hastily, this doesn’t mean you’re allowed to sacrifice form. Make sure you complete the full range of motion and don’t cheat. In simplest terms, all you’re doing is accelerating the positive and negative elements of the rep. Typically, speed sets are done with isolation moves like the pec-dec fly at the end of a chest workout. Simply drop the weight significantly and crank out about 20-30 reps using strict form. However, for our purpose here of killing calories, we’re going to suggest you perform a compound move like squats or deadlifts – again, with very light weight using good form.  our rep scheme for squats (say at the end of a pre-exhaust workout) may go something like this:

Sets of 10, 8, 6, 4 reps;
Speed set of 20 reps

(Cardio) Modified Tabatas

At the end of a cardio workout, you have an opportunity to optimize your calorie burning for the next several hours. First, determine at what point you’ll arrive at the 4-minutes-left mark in your cardio workout. Then, perform a series of very high-intensity intervals wherein you’ll go about 90 per cent of your maximum effort for 20 seconds, then slow it down and cruise at a moderate pace for 10 seconds.  Once you do this for eight cycles (“tabatas”), you’ll have seriously fired up your metabolic engine.

By definition, standard tabata training has you go at 100 per cent of your maximum pace and you don’t precede it with several minutes of cardio. Therefore, you may choose to perform a pure tabata at the completion of weight training for a double-shot workout. However, if you put in the effort to do exclusively say 30 minutes of bike or 20 minutes of treadmill (no weight training), you’ll be more than warmed up and primed to tap deep into your fat reserves to provide energy during and after your modified tabatas. Go very hard, but just ease off a little from your 100 per cent pace – after all, you’re going to be pushing yourself eight times.

(Weight Training or Cardio) Plyometrics

Here’s a fun way to finish off your workout with some intensity. In the words of Van Halen, “Might as well jump!” There are many ways you can perform a jump, be it a vertical, broad, depth, squat jump, etc. Whichever exercise you choose, simply use it at the end of your workout to ramp up the intensity and knock off a boatload of extra calories. The beauty of plyometrics is that they’re not only a dynamic athletic move requiring movement from your entire body, but they’re well-suited to use after both a weight training or cardio workout.

Just like with speed reps, strict form is essential with plyometrics. Since you’re performing them at the end of your workout, you’ll be somewhat fatigued, and your focus may be diminished slightly. It’s important for you to concentrate hard and not let your form suffer. For example, one vital aspect of plyometrics is when you land a jump: make sure you never land with legs fully extended. Let the strength of your legs soften the blow by flexing a little at the knees. Aim for three sets of 10 to 12 reps with only a brief rest in between (say, 30 seconds). This will enhance your cardio conditioning as well as improve your muscle strength and fire up your metabolism for superb calorie burning.


The tips included here are suited for intermediate to advanced fitness athletes.  Beginners should stick to straightforward weight training or cardio workouts until their skill level improves. Make no mistake, the most elite fitness athletes in the world perform these fantastic finishes and the results speak for themselves.

Like other specialty techniques, don’t use these four tips each and every workout or you’ll expose yourself to the risk of overtraining (and possibly injury). Depending on your specific workout goals, choose any of the above methods no more than two to three times a week at most. Remember to treat your post-workout time just like any other workout, where you consume a protein drink and/or supplementary BCAAs. Because of the higher metabolic rate you’ll experience, you should also consume one liter of water within the first hour post-workout (the risk of dehydration is not wildly substantial, but it nonetheless exists), then sip water frequently thereafter.

You may be amazed that the fruits of a little extra labour can be so bountiful!