Uncomplicated Complexes

In the barbell domain, a “complex” is a series of exercise movements performed sequentially without resting or putting the weight down. Once each sequence has been completed, the bar is placed on the floor for a brief rest period before beginning another round. A well planned complex is an excellent form of training for strength and muscular endurance.


Here’s a basic version:

Barbell Complex

  1. Hang Clean
  2. Front Squat
  3. Military Press
  4. Back Squat
  5. Push Press
  6. Romanian Deadlift
    • Warm up with two to three rounds of the complex using light weights. Start with the empty bar, adding weight each round until you determine the appropriate poundage for your working sets.
    • Perform three to five rounds with the working weight. Select a load that will allow you to perform eight repetitions of each movement for the first three rounds.
    • On days when you perform rounds four and five, do six reps of each movement for the last two series.
    • Rest sixty seconds between rounds.

For balance, variety, or if dumbbells are all you have available, a dumbbell complex is an excellent alternative.

Dumbbell Complex

  1. Bent Row
  2. Squat
  3. Overhead Press
  4. Stiff-Legged Deadlift
  5. Front Squat to Push Press
    • 5-8 reps each movement
    • 60 second rest between rounds
    • Repeat series 3-5 times


Substituting Lifts

You can substitute lifts with other lifts if you choose to do so, provided the substituted lifts are of a similar category to what they replace. For example, if the complex calls for a Military Press, you can do Behind the Neck Presses, or Push-Presses instead because each of those lifts are upper body dominant pressing movements. What you don’t want to do is take an upper body press and replace it with something from the lower body pull dominant category like a deadlift.


Designing Your Own Complex

Include at least one variation of each of the following:

  • Squat
  • Row
  • Press

When combined, these three movements engage most of the muscles in the body.

The rep range can also be modified for individual purposes. For example, sets of three reps would be ideal to develop absolute strength. Increase the reps slightly for more hypertrophy. Lower the weight and increase reps even more to place the focus specifically on endurance.

A well designed complex, by itself, provides a full-body strength & conditioning workout in a short amount of time. Also, because these workouts don’t require much space, they’re ideal for a garage gym or the backyard.


Finishing Up

If you’re feeling ambitious, add in three sets of chin-ups, push-ups and bodyweight squats for maximum reps once you’ve fully completed the complex.

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