Simplify The Complex

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been giving you an inside look at how we use strength training to help our members look fitter, feel better, and achieve more. We talked about Combination exercises and Big Circuits. The Big Four. The Big Three.

But if you are looking really practice social distancing and have limited space at home—or are trying to just trim down the ‘things’ you have in your life—I’ve got one more idea.


Relax, This Isn’t Going to be Too Hard
Before you get anxious, a complex is not all that complex. Just consider that it uses only one piece of equipment.

Like it’s relative, the combination, a complex is a series of strength exercises performed with the same piece of equipment in a seamless flow. Where a complex differs is that each exercise is performed for multiple repetitions at a fast pace before moving to the next movement. In practice, this means that you will use a lighter weight than with your combinations since you are focusing on speed…but speed without the loss of proper technique.

Limited equipment. Focus on technique. All good things, but there is another reason I like complexes, and that is that that they are self-limiting. This means the amount of weight you use is limited by the exercise you have the most difficulty with.

As a result, each exercise within the complex can be performed for a different number of repetitions depending on where you need to improve. So, to build a complex we will want to stick with a few principles:

  • Select exercises that follow the same metabolic resistance training methods we’ve discussed. This means large, multi-joint movements that demand a considerable amount of energy to perform, rather than isolation movements.
  • Use the heaviest weight possible as long as you can move fast and with safe form.
  • Plan on achieving between 2 and 15 reps per exercise within the complex.
  • Do not rest between exercises contained in the complex. Only rest for 1-3 minutes between complete sets of the complex.

Barbells have long been the traditional tool to perform complexes, but I have a hard time with many barbell movements. I lack the flexibility for a good catch position, and the fixed-grip of a barbell locks my shoulders into positions that are not ideal for my geometry, especially when doing overhead movements.

But fear not, there are other fun tools like kettlebells and sandbags that are more forgiving and allow a quicker mastery of technique. Let’s take a look at one of my favorite complexes and how it can be modified to fit a variety of situations: Sandbag Bent Over Row, Clean, Push Press, Front Squat.

The exercise selection seems hits all the ‘Big 4’ I’ve talked about previously:

  1. Upper body pulling (Bent Over Row)
  2. Hip dominant (Clean)
  3. Upper body pushing (Push Press)
  4. Knee dominant (Front Squat).

With this selection, we should have an excellent fat burner to work with! (But you already knew that :P)

The limiting exercises for me will be the Push Press and the Front Squat. I’ve got an injured shoulder and knee, and while I can perform the movements, I can manipulate my intensity (the weight used) and the volume (reps) to play to my strengths while looking out for my health. So for me, the programming might look like this:

  • Bent Over Row x 6 reps
  • Clean x 6 reps
  • Push Press x 2 reps
  • Front Squat x 2 reps

And to turn this into a complete workout, I could use 3-5 sets and a 1-3 minute rest between sets.

So here’s what you would see when you see me working on this complex: I would do 6 Rows, 6 Cleans, 2 Push Presses, and 2 Squats as quickly as possible. Then, I would rest for 1-3 minutes before beginning the next set. See it for yourself here VIDEO.

Knowing my body like I do, I would select a 40-pound sandbag because I want to move as quickly as possible and still be careful with my shoulder and knee.

This specific complex could be done in literally hundreds of different configurations by adjusting the number of reps for each exercise. For example, each exercise could be done for 10 reps. Or it could be done in an every minute on the minute (EMOM) or as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) format. Ascending and descending ladder configurations are possible, and it could be tweaked to focus on power development or cardiovascular endurance. And you’ve also seen how it can be made to work for injuries and preexisting conditions.

Here’s another example using a single dumbbell:

  • Single Arm Bent Over Row-right x 5 reps
  • Offset Suitcase Squat-right x 5 reps
  • Single Arm Push Press-right x 5 reps

Then you would switch and do a set on the left side:

Rest 1-3 minutes between sets

2-4 sets each side

If you’ve been paying attention (and I know you have), you may have noticed that we made a further modification: unilateral exercises for more core activation.

I could go on and on, but you get my point. Combinations, Big Sets, and Complexes can be integrated into an existing workout or become a complete workout in themselves. Armed with the tools of Metabolic Resistance Training, you now have an arsenal of workout options at your fingertips.

If you create one and want me to take a look or if you have any questions, shoot me back an email.

–Coach Brad







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