Abstract We introduce acyclic polygraphs, a notion of complete categorical cellular model for (small) categories, containing generators, relations and higher-dimensional globular syzygies. We give a rewriting method to construct explicit acyclic polygraphs from convergent presentations. For that, we introduce higher-dimensional normalisation strategies, defined as homotopically coherent ways to relate each cell of a polygraph to its normal form; then we prove that acyclicity is equivalent to the existence of a normalisation strategy. Using acyclic polygraphs, we define a higher-dimensional homotopical finiteness condition for higher categories which extends Squier’s finite derivation type for monoids. We relate this homotopical property to a new homological finiteness condition that we introduce here.