When I refer to the term ‘conditioning’ I am referring to what many people consider any of the following; treadmill, stairmaster, intervals, circuits, skipping, or just generally getting a sweat on with the purpose of trying to lose that last bit of body fat.
Well there is another form of conditioning that is ideal for those that can’t bear to put the resistance work to one side and shudder at the thought of cardiovascular activities. These are known as complexes.
Complexes are a series of exercises performed in succession with a single implement, such as a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell. Not only do they build muscle and slash body fat they are, despite their name, relatively simple to design. For those interested in dropping some body fat in preparation for the summer months, complexes are for you:
• Complexes are a great option for a quick workout when time is an issue. Think 20 minutes maximum.
• They are a great fat loss and conditioning tool, whilst making for a viable option for in-season athletes.
• They provide a great chance to work on lifting technique. This is because complexes require significantly lighter weights than traditional methods of training, allowing you to work on form whilst simultaneously improving your conditioning.
• Complexes allow you to train hard without pushing yourself too far. Think aching joints from poor programming or nagging muscle injuries after months of refusing to leave the bench press alone. Great for when mentally you are ready for a workout, but physically you aren’t quite feeling up to it.
• Finally, they are also a great way to test your mettle. Whilst you shouldn’t approach every workout with the intention of killing yourself, no one has ever got better by not challenging themselves. Sometimes it’s best to ditch the training programme and just see what your body is capable of. Complexes are a good way to push to your limits without being reckless and in a relatively safe way, provided you do them correctly.
There are a few principles worth noting about each complex:
• Form/technique is important. Don’t be that person that does anything it takes to get the workout done without any regard for your safety. Just because the weights are lighter and you’re trying to improve your conditioning, doesn’t mean you should lift like an idiot.
• Put the hardest exercise early in the complex. Stick the most technical lifts at the beginning whilst you are still fresh.
• Employ a mixture of lower and upper body exercises into your complex. From experience, upper body complexes don’t work very well in practice due to the lack of endurance capacity compared to the lower body. Alternating between upper and lower body will promote a full-body training effect.
• Try and choose a load that is suitable for all the exercises in the complex. The load you chose for the complex is going to be limited by the weakest exercise, so avoid picking exercises that require drastic weight drops. I have found that varying the number of repetitions per exercise can help bypass this issue.
• Try to order the exercises in a way that flows. Try to structure the complex so the exercises flow seamlessly into the next so you can maintain correct technique and rhythm.
Below are a number of my favourite complexes. Remember to choose an appropriate weight (around 40-50% of your max) as the focus is on conditioning and fat loss, not strength work.
Barbell Complex 1
• Front Squat
• Military Press
• Back Squat
• Straight leg Deadlift
I normally shoot for either 5 (if lifting heavier) or 10 (if lifting lighter) repetitions per exercise. I only put the barbell down once I have completed all the exercises and aim to complete 5 rounds (1-2 minutes rest between rounds).
Barbell Complex 2
• High Pull
• Push press
For this complex, I complete 10 repetitions of each exercise and complete 5 rounds (60s rest between each round).
Barbell Complex 3
• Front Squat
• Reverse Lunge (each leg)
• Back Squat
5 reps (each exercise) x 5 sets. (90s rest between rounds).
• Cleans (5 reps)
• Press (5 reps)
• Deadlifts (10 Reps)
• Swings (15 reps)
For this complex, I alter the repetitions of each exercise. After each round, I rest for 90s and complete 5 rounds in total.
• Straight leg Deadlifts
• Press ups (on DB handles)
This is simple. 10 repetitions of each exercise completed for a total of 10 rounds. An absolute killer.
If you’re struggling to remember the complexes, print them out in large font and place on the floor in front of you. That way you won’t forget a movement in a longer complex. Of course you can make up your own complexes, just be sure to pick exercises that run smoothly from one to another. Try to complete two of these complexes a week, just add them to your “cardio” days or take a break from your normal routine and try them more regularly. Just remember to start off light!