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Building Smarter & More Effective Complexes

Yeah, yeah, you’ve seen one, you seen them all. There is nothing “new” under the sun, everything has been done before, yada, yada, yada. But let’s stop to consider the words of Steve Jobs:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.

That is how I see new training ideas. It doesn’t have to be a crazy exercise or program, but just a connecting of things in a much better way in order to get an even better result.


The Original Intent of Complexes

I’m speaking passionately about outside-the-box thinking because I want to reintroduce a training concept to you – complexes.

Complexes may not be new to many of you, but most people only see complexes in one way: brutal conditioning sessions. But the original intent of complexes was a bit deeper than just beating yourself to a bloody pulp.

“Complexes may not be new to many of you, but most people only see complexes in one way: brutal conditioning sessions.”

Foundational complexes like you see above can be used to build proficiency in foundational movements and build strength/conditioning they just aren’t where we should stop!

One of the most legendary proponents of complexes, Istvan Javorek, saw them as a vital part of building all athletes. Whether it was to facilitate recovery, build a better base for more intense training, create muscle symmetry, improve mobility, or…well, just read his own words:

The main purpose of combination lifts is to improve and stimulate neuromuscular coordination, increase the workout load and intensity, stimulate the musculoskeletal system, increase the free weight program’s cardiovascular quality, and make a program more dynamic and efficient. The number of combination exercises is unlimited, depending on the coach’s knowledge and creativity, the gym’s equipment and apparatus, and the goals of the coaches and athletes.

We can start to build better complexes through some of our DVRT strategies like you see above or get into more patterns. 

Why You Are Missing the Point

Okay, so you think you already accomplish this with your complexes? The truth is that many people miss what can be achieved by thinking about complexes at their essence. Most complexes end up looking like a blended version of people’s typical workouts. They clean, they squat, and they press. Okay, now let’s do it all together! We end up missing out on building other movement qualities. We don’t get the muscle balance that is intended, and we become so efficient at these movement patterns that we lose some of the work capacity benefits we believe we are building.

What can you do? What should you do? In our Dynamic Variable Resistance Training system we lay out a plan for addressing such issues.

sandbag training

Always goes back to understanding the foundations of good training.

Use a Different Pattern

The body is capable of so much, but we often think in limited ways. We think of a hip hinge and we forget that this movement comes in many more forms than just cleans, deadlifts, and snatches. They can be done at different angles and under different conditions.

For example, a deadlift is hip flexion and hip extension. Guess what a step up is? Starts in hip flexion, then moves to hip extension. Sound familiar? Yet, with the step up we have a true single-leg stance and introduce the elements of stability and multiple planes. Pretty good, huh? Changing the pattern doesn’t have to mean moving to a completely new pattern, but simply adding new elements.

Complexes can and should be as progressive as any other training method or variable.

Having said that, performing patterns you typically don’t use is also important. Does your program have aspects of anti-rotation and lateral stability? Do you horizontally pull or is there any rotation to your movements? These are some of the common movement patterns many programs miss out on implementing. Skipping these can hinder real athletic or functional fitness.

Load the Body Differently

You have to love the saying, “A tool is just a tool. ” Such a popular, and at the same time ridiculous, statement. The reason that fitness professionals and strength coaches use different implements should be to achieve something unique that the tool can provide.

In the case of this sandbag complex, using a shoulder position seems quite simple, but axially loading one side of the body is rather tough in practice. This position essentially acts as a dynamic side plank. And it creates all types of compensation due to a lack of strength in areas of the body that usually get a pass during the symmetrical loading of weight.

“The reason that fitness professionals and strength coaches use different implements should be to achieve something unique that the tool can provide.”

It is just a matter of having one weight or two, but now we can strategically change the intensity and demands of the movement depending upon where and how the load sits on our body. This is a concept and variable that doesn’t typically fit into the normal rep and set schemes that so many are used to seeing and training.

Different tools can give us different opportunities even if the movements can look similar.

How to Do Complexes

Complexes are traditionally not done for high repetitions because there are multiple movements involved. In our case, not only do we have multiple movements, but we have drills that require, strength, stability, and coordination. In other words, this complex places as large of a demand on the nervous system as it does on the body’s metabolic systems. Therefore, we are going to keep the reps down.

With most of these movements it is easy to get in the mindset of “just get through it!” But the real benefit lies in how each repetition is performed. I don’t want you to “get through it.”I want you to strive for perfect reps and think about the movement. That means you may have to take a humble pill and drop your load, lower your plyo box, and keep to the repetitions prescribed in the video.

Don’t worry, though. I promise if you do adhere to such things, your fitness will be greatly rewarded. Possibly even in ways you never anticipated. Use this DVRT complex as a finisher or a workout, but always be aware of the concepts behind your training so you can accelerate your fitness results.

Discover how we build better workouts and systems of progression with our DVRT Workout Programs and Online Education that are both 25% off with code “save25” HERE