Let’s get Complex!

You’re ready to make this year count, so you’ve grabbed a friend, you’ve planned your warm-up and what your main movement for the day is.  You’re ready to get long, then get strong.  What comes next?

Fat loss is a massively popular New Years Resolution, and with seemingly infinite strategies to sell products and indoctrinate gym n00bies, it seems like fat loss it the most complex thing ever.  Let’s flip that around, and say that complexes make fat loss simple.

Complexes have become very popular recently, and it makes complete sense:  They’re a series of exercises done in quick succession, which creates a monstrous metabolic disturbance for the body.  They help burn fat and build muscle, and can also be one hell of a mental test.  After a hard workout, you might feel like the complex just kicked you in the face.  Here’s an example:

Eat the steak after it’s thawed. Good post-workout nutrition!

Complexes vary in which equipment they use, but they have one main component in common:  They consist of a series of compound movements, with all repetitions done in one giant set, to achieve the aforementioned metabolic effect.  Most complexes will include at least one pushing exercise, one pulling exercise, and one lower body exercise, but many include more.  For example, one might include a hang clean, a push press, a reverse lunge, and a bent over row.  The exercises don’t necessarily have to flow perfectly form one into the next one, but it certainly helps.

I’ve compiled a collection of complexes to complete your courtship of this conditioning concept, and “complex” is the only “C” word I’ll use for the rest of the post.  Below, you’ll see examples using body weight, the TRX Suspension Trainer, the Ultimate Sandbag, and the ‘bells; dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells.  This is nowhere near an exhaustive list, but it should open your eyes to some of the grouping possibilities with a variety of equipment:

Body Weight, from Joe DeFranco:

TRX, from Frankie Addelia:

Ultimate Sandbag, from Josh Henkin:

Dumbbells, from Neghar Fonooni:

Dumbbells, from Nick Tumminello:

Barbell “Beast”, from Wil Fleming:

Kettlebells, again from Wil Fleming:

You can use almost any piece of equipment, and the exercise possibilities are nearly endless.  When it comes to worrying about aerobic activity, you’re set for quite some time without worrying about that dirty c-word.  No treadmills in this neck of the woods!

While you can use anything for your complexes, I’d like to recommend using something that you don’t use for the majority of your training.  If you’re used to kettlebells, grab a barbell.  If you’re used to a barbell, use the TRX.  If you’re used to machines, find a sandbag.  You get the picture, right?  Do something that’s not normal.

Finally, make sure that the complex you’re using is appropriate for your body as well as the facility that you’re in.  You can’t do a cone-to-cone carry complex in a busy gym, and it’s going to be tricky to do a barbell complex in a confined space.  While the training effect is important, it’s not worth hurting yourself or someone else.  Be smart.

Let’s review:  You want to use big bang-for-your-buck movements, such as squats, rows, presses, carries.  You want to use appreciable weight, but the goal isn’t to develop strength; the weight shouldn’t feel heavy, but it should be challenging.  Finally, use movements that feel comfortable to you.  Make sure you can squat and press before you try to snatch, and if you find yourself stuck at the gym, ask a trainer for some tips or cues.  If you have questions, send me an e-mail or leave a comment below!


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