Uncomplicated Complexes Redux

One of the earliest posts on my blog was this one, about barbell complexes. Here’s a brief review, for those of you unfamiliar with the subject:

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.

If you’re a fan of the complex format, but want variety beyond just the barbell and dumbbell versions that I provided, you’re in luck because there are plenty of other tools that can be used in similar fashion.

Like these…

Chin-up Bar

For bar complexes, I like to keep the reps low and use set progression. Stay with the 3-5 rep range and perform as many sets as possible until you are no longer able to hit the required reps. Rest briefly at the end of each round, but don’t let your feet touch the ground between exercises.

  • Muscle-up
  • Dip (from top of bar)
  • Front Lever
  • Pull-up
  • Hanging Leg Raise
Contrary to the standards posted on this sign at my local park, 10 chin-ups is not a “championship” level performance. But 10 rounds of this complex is. Congratulations, I’ll mail you your trophy.

Barbell Plate

Because plates aren’t just for slipping onto barbells anymore. Depending on your strength level, grab a 10, 25, or 45 and perform 3-5 sets x 6-10 repetitions of the following. This complex is also good to use as a warm-up if performed with a lighter plate or medicine ball.

  • Front Raise
  • Halo
  • Curl to Press
  • Figure Eight
  • Squat (plate held at chest)
The plate complex also works with an appropriately sized medicine ball.


You’ll hold a kettlebell in each hand for this one, so it’s mostly for you fancy people who can afford matching sets of kettlebells. If you’re one of these people, I’d just like to mention that my birthday is coming up. Anywho, hit these for 5 reps each, except the swing, which I like to do for higher rep ranges (10-25 is about right). Do as many rounds as possible in a pre-determined time period — these can wipe you out in a hurry, so I suggest starting with a ten-minute time limit. Make sure you’ve spent time perfecting your form so all the exercises can be safely performed in conditions of increasing fatigue.

  • Double Clean
  • Front Squat (kettlebells in “racked” position)
  • Overhead Press
  • Double Swing
This thing.

Complexes can efficiently engage a large amount of musculature in a short period of time and are easy to tweak to assure steady progression. They also don’t require much space, so it’s a great option for those of you who like the exercise in the backyard or garage. As always, using your imagination with your workout tools can help motivate you and change things up when staleness creeps in.