It’s Monday afternoon. The day is winding down and THANK GOD because you’ve been at your job since 6am. You’ve got a couple hours to go and then it’s time to rush home, prep dinner, and then take Sally to violin practice. But out of nowhere, you get a call from the school nurse. Timmy just puked. Twice. You’re gonna have to go get him. Also, remember you have to take Scooter to the vet later tonight.
Yet even with all this going on, you really need to get some training in. You told yourself you’d get it done this week because last week life was just too hectic and you had no time at all. “Life will calm down next week” you told yourself.
But shocker, it didn’t. Life bitch slapped you with a strong pimp hand, held you down, and told you “today’s safe word is…THERE IS NO SAFE WORD, NOW SHUT UP AND TAKE WHAT I GIVE YOU”.
But not today life! You WILL train today! Even if it’s highly abbreviated, YOU’RE NOT GONNA LET LIFE WIN THIS ROUND.
It’s days like today where complexes come in handy.
What’s a Complex?
A complex is a series of movements/exercises done back to back with no rest in between movements until all your prescribed movements are complete. It’s similar to a circuit, but not quite the same thing. With complexes, you typically perform all the movements with one piece of equipment, like a barbell, and never put the barbell down until you’re finished all your sets.
Complexes are incredible for increasing training density (getting more stuff done in less time), burning fat, elevating your HR, and building muscle. They can also serve as a valuable conditioning tool for athletes if done at appropriate times with appropriate volumes. Or, if you’re looking to end a training session with a bang, complexes are just the bees knees.
There’s A TON of variations of complexes out there. You can use barbells, kettleballs, dumbbells, bodyweight, sandbags, sleds, bowling balls…just about anything. Here are 3 variations for you to try out if you’re running short on time, are in need of a challenging ‘finisher’, or are just looking for a spark to break through a strength or fat loss plateau.
- Hang clean x5
- Press x5
- Front squat x5
- RDL x5
- Bent row x5
With barbell complexes, you’ll never put down the bar in between exercises so you’ll need to be smart about selecting your load. A good rule is to find the exercise you deem to be the most challenging for the prescribed reps, in this case 5. For me (with this particular complex) it’s the press, so I would want to choose a weight that’s challenging for about 5 reps for the press. The other exercises might initially seem easy to perform with this load, but wait until your 4th of 5th round before you start throwing the word ‘easy’ around. Perform this for sets (3-5) or for a set time.
Barbell complexes are probably the most challenging type of complexes just because of the amount of external load you’re able to use.
**Note: barbell complexes require you to be pretty proficient with the major barbell lifts (olympic lifts, front squat, deadlift, RDL, bent row, etc). If you’re not, it’s probably a safe bet to practice these individually before you start doing them all together and in the presence of fatigue.**
- Single arm swing (R arm) x5
- Offset squat to press (R arm) x5
- Offset reverse lunge (R arm) x5
- Single arm bent row (R arm) x5
- Repeat L arm
This complex is a little more technically involved than the previous barbell complex. Having said that, if you’re not solid on swing execution, the rack position (where you hold the kettlebell to your chest/on your forearm), or have little experience with offset lifts (one side loaded at a time), practice these things first. Just like the barbell, the same rule applies here when selecting an appropriate weight.
The upside with kettlebell complexes is that they require only one piece of equipment and little space. This makes them perfect for days when the gym is extra crowded or if no barbells are available because it’s chest day for the bros.
- Jump squat x5
- Reverse lunge to lateral lunge w/ overhead reach x5/side (3 for the sake of the demo)
- Breakdancer pushup x10 (5/side, 3 each in this video)
A bodyweight complex might not be the most challenging thing for more experienced lifters as the load might be a little light, so feel free to incorporate some explosive movements to increase the difficulty. These are really great for workouts while traveling as hotels might not have a quality gym setup, which trust me, happens a lot. These could also be done as a warmup to a regularly programmed lift…sure as hell beats running on a treadmill for 10 minutes.
When it comes to complexes, the only thing holding you back is your creativity. These can be done with a variety of reps, sets, movements, and pieces of equipment. The ones described here about are about 3 of 5,930,846 combinations (I counted).
So if you’re ever really strapped for time or need a kick in the ass, give them a shot!