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A Complex Matter

Complexes. Just saying the word can send shivers of terror down the spine of any trainee who knows the vomit inducing power of complexes. I’m sure that by now most trainees have heard of a complex and, very likely, have tried them on a few occasions. If you happen to be reading and scratching your head in confusion, allow me to elaborate.

A complex, very simply, is a series of exercises right in a row using a barbell or dumbbells. Generally the movements flow smoothly from one to another. The amount of reps can vary from 3 of each exercise to 20 if you so wish. Even the movements can vary widely. So long as it follows this basic format it can be called a complex. An example might be something like this:

  • Stiff Leg Deadlift x10
  • Bent Row x10
  • Power clean x10
  • Front Squat x10
  • Military Press x10
  • Back Squat x 10

This would equal 1 set. As you can see this would be a very challenging and very effective to burn some fat. In most articles you read concerning complexes, fat loss is the usual purpose discussed. This is understandable as there is little else quite as effective for this purpose. However, I like them for another reason altogether.

When Istvan Javorek created complexes way back in the 60’s they were done to accomplish more than fat loss. They could be used to increase strength by the use of lower reps while increasing conditioning and work capacity as well as movement practice or “greasing the groove,” to borrow a term from Pavel. It is this purpose that I love complexes for.

As a trainer, I may only see a client 1 hour per week yet I still have to get them results. As such, I try to use any tool that allows me to combine multiple goals in one. I love to use a complex to efficiently accomplish many things:

  1. Warm up (by pyramiding in weight or reps each set)
  2. Groove proper movement mechanics for various lifts by the use of sub-max weights (i.e. Squats)
  3. Increase work capacity
  4. Increase power/explosiveness
  5. Grip strength
  6. Fat loss (of course)

A great way to start adding complexes into your routine is to use them for a few sets of higher reps, 10-12, at the beginning of your workouts to warm up (as stated above) and then finish your sessions with another few sets of lower reps, perhaps 3-5, for more strength and fat loss.

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