Updated: Dec 4, 2018
Before we talk about complexes lets talk about some basic principles to give a bit of background to the topic.
To build a lean body, increase strength and reduce body fat, resistance training is hands down the best method. Muscle is metabolically active tissue requiring more energy to sustain thus burning more calories throughout the day. So the more muscle you have the more energy you require and the more calories burned.
So how can we build muscle? As we said above through resistance training, however more specifically building muscle is about utilising whats know as time under tension, or TUT. When you move an external load, your muscles are under tension as they contract and relax, the longer they are held under this tension the more they will grow. This is where you may have seen protocols like tempo training when it comes to building size.
Finally to help build that lean body we can utilise what is know as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC. EPOC occurs when the body can’t take in enough oxygen to provide the body what it needs, racking up an ‘oxygen debt’. The body replenishes this debt post workout burning calories well after you have finished training, burning more body fat.
So how can we benefit from these 3 principles in one sweat inducing workout? Complexes.
Complexes involve performing a series of movements back to back without rest or putting down the external resistance you are using such as a barbell or kettlebell. This means straight away equipment demands are low as you are using one piece of kit.
Complexes typically involve compound, multi-joint movements such as squats and presses as these are proven to give you the biggest bang for your buck in terms of mass building and hormonal response, due to their full body nature. So while we can use a variety of exercises I would avoid doing your favourite arm circuit as a complex.
So why do they work so well? Due to the time it takes to perform 1 full complex your body could be under load for 1-4 minutes meaning that the muscle building principle TUT is in full swing and you are getting some great muscle building effects. As the movements are being performed back to back without rest it immediately increases the EPOC demand of the session meaning it is a great conditioning workout as well as helping you burn body fat.
So what more do I need to say? Complexes are a great way to build muscle, increase strength, get lean and improve conditioning all in a short space of time using one implement. However, they are not easy so expect to be in the ‘pain cave’ from set 1 if you have used the correct weight. Here are a few tips to maximise the benefits of a complex.
– Perform the exercises as quickly as possible trying to avoid resting between exercises. – Do not put the implement down!! – Use 4-6 exercises to avoid over complicating for 2-10 reps depending on goals. – Rest 1-3 minutes between sets and keep sets to no more than 5 depending on rep scheme. – Try and increase either the weight, reps or speed each week. However remember 1 movement will be the limiting factor so only increase weight based on performance of that lift. – Utilise after your normal strength routine for a real mass building kick (keep reps low). – Use as an independent conditioning session performing complexes for time or higher reps.
Here are a couple of examples to get you started:
Complex 1 (the mass builder) credit: Dan John
Using a barbell perform 5 reps of each movement back to back without rest or putting the barbell down – Bent-over Row – Hang Power Clean – Front Squat – Military Press – Back Squat – Good Morning
Complex 2 (conditioning heaven)
Using a kettlebell perform all allocated reps back to back without rest or putting the KB down – 2 arm KB Swings x 30 reps – 1 arm KB Swings x 20 reps (10 each arm) – 1 arm KB Cleans x 10 reps (5 each arm)
Fire Breather variation – 2 arm KB Swings x 40 reps – 1 arm KB Swings x 30 reps (15 each arm) – 1 arm KB Cleans x 20 reps (10 each arm) – 1 arm KB Push Press x 10 reps (5 each arm)
I know I said keep the reps between 2-10 but that applies to strength/mass goals. This is for those with HIIT/conditioning goals.
There you have it, an effective tool to get fitter, faster, stronger and leaner.