How to Effectively Use Complexes in Your Training

Upon reading the title of this article, your first question may be… “what are complexes? I’ve never even heard of them!”

You wouldn’t be alone – most people haven’t heard of them! They’re like a version of a superset, where you pair exercises together without a rest. The difference really though is that in a superset you’ll complete a set of two exercises back to back without a rest, in a complex you’ll complete two exercises back to back in a single rep.

Take a look at the video to get a better understanding. In this case the complex is a clean, hang clean and split jerk triple…

Training complexes originated in the weight lifting world and have crossed over into general training as their effectiveness has been realised. They’re a way of pairing exercises that compliment each other and ‘flow’ in such a way that you don’t need to take breaks in between – at the end of each exercise, the bar is in the correct position to start the next one, so to speak.

It means that the rep intensity is much higher than normal, so you’re working harder in a shorter period of time. Given intensity is a key indicator of workout effectiveness, complexes are a way of making a workout harder, without making it longer.

Benefits of using complexes in your training

There are numerous benefits to using complexes in your training all with different positive outcomes for various elements of your health, technique and training efficiency. Here are three of the major benefits to using complexes in your training…

Increased workout intensity

This one is pretty obvious – a complex of three separate exercises in a single rep makes for much harder sets than the same exercise repeated. This is because you’ll use more of the muscles in the body with each rep, plus you’ll tax the neural system more than normal, making the workout harder.

Additionally, you’ll reduce the workout duration because you’ve managed to perform various movement patterns within the same exercise, reducing the need for extra sets.

Ability to practice various exercises

In a complex you’re performing back to back exercises, giving you a chance to practice movement patterns and technique quickly and easily. You’ll be able to focus on the execution of good technique because there’s repeated chances to practice movements.

how to effectively use complexes in your training

You won’t wait to perform separate sets of an exercise if you programme them within the complex.

Improved reps quality because fatigue is less of an issue

When you are performing a set, your technique typically breaks down towards the end of a set because you’re fatiguing. When you’re repeating the same movement pattern in a set of lifts, you’re constantly using the same muscles so that fatigue is quicker.

Take this video as an example of how complexes can distribute fatigue, making it slower to affect technique. In the complex there is a deadlift, clean, front squat and push press in the complex. The nature of this means that although it’s a legs-heavy complex, there is enough effort distribution across the body to ensure you don’t over-tire quickly.

How to use complexes in your training

Now you know what complexes and their benefits, the next stage is to understand how to most effectively use them in your training. Here are a few basic tips…

Pick exercises that compliment each other

A successful complex is one where the end of each exercise put the bar into position for the next one. Case in point being a snatch into an overhead squat – the snatch leaves the bar in an overhead position, which is perfect for an overhead squat. Take a look…

Work on large muscle groups

The most benefit to be gleaned from a complex is when large muscle groups are used, so rather than use a complex such as push ups to plank, you would be better served to use a complex such as cleans to front squats or something similar. The reason for this is larger muscle groups typically have a higher work capacity so can cope with more exercise.

Practice good technique

A complex is only as good as the execution of each lift, so rather than focus on making the reps as tough as possible, make them as effective as possible. Execute each lift with the best technique you can and ensure that the reps are clean and not rushed.

Work within fatigue limits

Effective technique is rarely possible at the very edge of fatigue limits. If you are pushing yourself to extremes you are unlikely to be practicing good technique, so never push a complex to absolute fatigue. Work until you are tired, but not exhausted.

Complexes are a fantastic addition to your training when used properly, so follow the guidelines in this article and you’ll take your training to a new level by pairing exercises. You’ll also have fun by creating and executing new movement patterns which could have a beneficial knock on to health and performance.

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