Making complexes your new favourite workout

Making complexes your new favourite workout

by Evigan Xiao 02 Feb 2020

For working professionals, spending time in the gym can be something of a luxury, so it makes sense to want to be as productive and efficient as possible. As a fast-paced method of weight training, complexes can be extremely useful when it comes to building a respectable amount of strength and conditioning within a short amount of time. Not only do they help in building muscle and burning body fat, but they also come as an alternative to regular deload sessions and allow you to skip boring cardio work. If you are thinking about replacing regular workouts with complexes, then here are a few key principles that you can consider in order to make the process a simpler one. 


Complexes are a group of exercises done back to back without any rest in between. While this might make it sound like a traditional circuit training format, that is where the similarities end. The defining characteristic of a complex is that the exercises are done without the hands letting go of the implement (e.g. barbell) or changing the load. In other words, you’re quite literally hanging on until the set is completed.


While complexes may be dissimilar from typical workouts, a targeted and careful approach to making it work is no different from other physical exercises. Good form matters no matter the workout, and you should always ensure that you are in full control of the weight instead of it being the other way around. Instead of rushing through the complexes and increasing the risk of injury, try increasing your loads while maintaining good form. This will ensure that you’re not short-changing yourself by biting off more than you can chew.


One good piece of advice to follow would be to perform the most difficult and technically challenging exercises early in the complex. This makes it easier on your body, as you will be better able to carry out these exercises properly when you’re still fresh and in the zone. So, if you decide to include more technique-intensive exercises like the clean, jerk, snatch, or any of its variations, you should try to perform these lifts first in the complex and avoid doing more than five reps to minimise the possibility of incurring fatigue-related injuries.


Another important tip when performing complexes is to alternate between upper and lower body exercises. As with all exercises, there is a need to strike a balance between the two. Alternating between complexes with an upper and lower body focus also helps moderate your workout by enabling each portion of your body to relax while you train the other part. Similarly, do endeavour to give your hands a break by performing a variety of exercises such as lunges and squats in between grip-intensive movements. This is important as the friction between the palms of your hands and the bar often causes pain, and can in turn limit your ability to carry heavier weights as your workout progresses. 


Lastly, the type of exercises that you string together is crucial to forming a complex that works for you. Selecting random exercises and threading them together is not the way to go, especially because this will not help you reach your fitness goals and may even cause overtraining and injury. One way to construct your complex workout would be to group your exercises based on upper/lower or push/pull movements. It is also important that the exercises flow into one another as seamless as possible; don’t put a rowing movement right after a back squat.


Upper/lower complex example

A – Front squat

B – Push-press

C – Romanian deadlift

D – Bent-over row


Push/pull complex example

A – Hang power clean

B – Power jerk

C – Good morning

D – Lunges


Contrary to what it eponymously suggests, complexes are, in fact, not that complex. If you’re still unsure about how you should plan your complexes, you can always visit our recommendations here. As long as you take these nuggets of advice into account and constantly aim for progression, you will be well on your way to a more effective fitness regimen that reaps significant gains.