What if I told you, Morpheus-style, that there was an old school and somehow frequently forgotten training method that would allow you to build some muscle, shed fat, and improve your conditioning WITHOUT pounding on your joints… and get it all done in a hurry?
Sounds like a Complex!
Complexes, particularly kettlebell complex training, are one of my favorite go-to techniques for people who are time crunched but need to work on their conditioning, drop some fat, and hit a lot of different angles at once. There’s enough time under tension to provide a bit of a muscle-building effect, you can add in some isolation-type exercises to train some “bodybuilding”, and you can save the ground-pounding of running or jumping.
What Do I Mean by a “Complex”?
A complex is simply a collection (well-planned, hopefully) of exercises performed without putting an implement down or taking a break. What this does is allows you to hit multiple exercises in a short amount of time with an escalating demand on your cardiovascular system to create a pretty strong training effect in a brief time frame. Coach Istvan Javorek claims that he invented the complex with a barbell or dumbbell. As to the veracity of that claim, I couldn’t tell you. He does have some great info on complexes on his site, though, so check it out.
Three Tips To Keep In Mind With Complexes:
1. Base your load on your limiting factor exercise. There’s usually one exercise in a complex that’s going to be pretty clearly the lightest load. Often this is a press for most of the complexes I prescribe. That’s what you should pick your weight on, otherwise you’ll go too heavy and have to keep slowing down or putting the weight down, which is going to greatly reduce the effectiveness of the complex. Trust me, you won’t need that heavy a weight if you’re doing a complex right!
2. Mind your grip. Complex training is going to be hard on your grip, since even though other muscles groups will shuffle the load around a bit (and thus catch a break), your hands and forearms are going to be doing work for most of the complex. On one hand, this helps to build great grip endurance, which is always a good thing. On the other hand, you can get smoked pretty quickly if you over-grip, as a lot of people do. Be mindful of how hard you’re gripping the barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell, or sandbag and only use the grip you need to control the implement.
3. BREATHE. Lots of people develop a tendency to hold their breath during sets of weight training, or only breathing a couple of times during a set. This isn’t good (and if that’s you then work on it), but you can get away with it during a set of eight or ten reps. During a complex, however, where the set might run 40, 50, or even 60 seconds you’re going to be hitting the wall fast if you don’t get some oxygen in.
How To Use Complexes:
There’s a couple of ways I mix in complexes when programming. First of all, for a conditioning session I’ll often make the entire workout just a few rounds of a complex, or maybe alternate the complexes with some restorative bodyweight or mobility work. The complexes would be the intense conditioning component while the bodyweight was the lower intensity. If the goal was to just sneak in a quick conditioning session then I might just do 2-5 quick rounds of a complex with a rest break between each round and be done in ten minutes.
The other way I like to use complexes with the athletes at Relentless is as a quick “finisher” after some of our strength work. If we’ve been doing fairly heavy strength work with lots of rest breaks and I know they’re not going to be in for some conditioning work in the next few days we’ll sometimes blast a quick 3-6 minutes of complexes to get some assistance (bodybuilding) work in while hitting the conditioning base a little, too.
Try out two of my favorite low-equipment and space complexes, which you can do with one or a pair of kettlebells or dumbbells here!
Single Kettlebell Complex
Double Kettlebell Complex
Looking for more ways to jack up your high-performance lifestyle without searching high and low and running around the internet rabbithole? Let me drop them in your inbox. Sign up on the right!