I truly believe that many people get into the fitness industry because they genuinely want to help people. However, what most people start off thinking is that there will be a lot of really intense training but it’s actually learning how to be most efficient with your time as possible. If you are lucky, you work with the same person maybe 2-3 times a week (the rare person is someone who trains with a fitness professional more than that), while we have that time we often have an overwhelming number of goals we want to achieve in a rather short time frame. That is a big reason I kept looking for better ways to perform total body workouts and improve their conditioning so that we could improve their strength, fat loss goals, and overall movement skills.
An incredibly valuable tool in accomplishing such lofty goals is using complexes and our DVRT flows. Neither complexes or flows are unique concepts of DVRT, but how we prescribe and perform them often can be and lead to greater success. Before we get into how to use flows and complexes, what is the difference?
A complex is when we refer to doing a specific number of repetitions of one lift, followed immediately by another.
The crew from Aspire Fitness NJ show a very good example of a complex.
A flow is different in that one exercise literally “flows” into another like below.
Enrique Ceniceros shows a higher level DVRT flow that makes for a tremendous total body workout as well.
Which one should you use? The answer you may not love to hear is BOTH! Not necessarily in the same training week, usually once a week I like to use either a complex or flow, sometimes you can use them as a finisher for the end of your workout. However, as you will see, my preference is to use flows and complexes as the main part of my total body workouts because they are quite intense and we are still going to load them!
Using Complexes & Flows For Total Body Workouts & MORE!
Social media has led many people to believe that complexes and flows are more of “dancing with weights.” That is often a function of two things. The most obvious is that people poorly construct and load their complexes and flows (this goes for a variety of strength training tools). The second reason is that often people don’t know how challenging some of these movements are because they are out of their realm of squat, deadlift, and bench press. However, our movement in life and sport are far more dynamic and complex so we do want to see that reflected in our total body workouts. There are still some good guidelines to use for creating good flows and complexes.
When you are performing a complex we still want to load the movements. Far too often people think complexes and flows are just for conditioning because they don’t load them appropriately. Of course we want to use a load that allows for proper movement, but with that said we want to use a challenging weight!
Coach Troy Anderson shows how we can make a weight feel much heavier by using our off-set grip for these movements.
The key in a good complex is to make sure you follow a rather simple idea. You start with the exercise where the weight is most limited to the exercise where normally the weight would be too easy. For example, if you had a classic bent row, clean, and squat complex we all know that people can clean and squat far more than they can row. Since the row is going to be the exercise most limited in this total body workout by the load we want that exercise first in our series. What will happen is that as the body fatigues from the accumulated work. The squat that may have been normally too easy now becomes pretty challenging. That is why when people program something like rows, squats, presses, and then cleans have a complex that makes the squat often feel too easy and the presses too difficult. Make sense?
We also want to be careful of complexes that have way too much movement pattern redundancy. For example if we did a bent row, then a deadlift, then a high pull, then finally a clean and press that is A LOT of hip hinging and can result in excessive fatigue in the low back and potentially issues. A bent row and clean can work but try to avoid more than two of the same movement patterns.
Smart Ways Of Using Flows For Total Body Workouts
People often see our more complex DVRT flows and don’t understand how they can build strength. The reality is we don’t start with the more complex movements, just like most strength training, we start with more foundational movements and start to layer over time.
Douglas Sheppard of J and D Fitness shows a good foundational flow. It doesn’t have to be very complicated.
Similar to complexes, when you are designing a total body workout you want to put the most challenging exercises earlier and avoid too much movement pattern redundancy. Of course in flows like Doug shows you can’t really press unless you clean so that is why you see the sequence as he lays out above. Flows are tremendous ways to teach people to have more reactive stability and develop more real world attributes. Often in life we have to perform multiple movement patterns in sequence and not just one at a time. It provides wonderful strength building in deceleration (which is huge for injury prevention and real world strength) as well as overall functional fitness. Like complexes, we want to use load as much as we can perform safely.
Maximal Strength Emphasis
These flows are where we are going to use heavier loads, but that doesn’t mean we completely sacrifice our stability and mobility goals. An example of a maximal strength flow is something like you see me perform below.
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Besides just being heavier there are some important attributes I use of DVRT to make each exercise equally challenging. You see on the clean and row I use more of a rotational movement which is the least stable version of both so it makes them quite challenging. Using the rotational pattern I then move into a drop step lunge (a forward step would be more challenging.) The lunge, more than a squat for example, keeps the load more equally challenging on my whole body. Then I could have pressed upon standing up from the lunge but pressing is a strong movement for me so I wanted to use a half kneeling position which shows a less stable body position that makes the movement overall feel like no exercise was under loaded and I was able to train strength, power, stability, mobility, and conditioning all at once.
How To Program Complexes & Flows
Due to their very intense nature, complexes and flows typically use repetitions of 5 or less. If you are performing much more than five then that could be a sign you are not using enough load. When we split the complexes or flows where there are two sides then we perform all of one, then break, then go to the other. Otherwise fatigue creeps up on us too fast.
If you are new to complexes and flows I would recommend resting up to a minute in between sets so you can recover and keep the quality of your training at a high level. The shortest I would recommend is 30 seconds, but a more advanced strategy that I got from Strength Coach, Robert Dos Remedios is to time how long it takes to complete your set of flows or complexes and that time becomes also your rest time. It is pretty challenging even if you think that you will get more than 30 seconds because this allows you load more and develop some pretty powerful total body workouts.
These are wonderful tools to add into your training and with many people training in a different gym environment where lots of different weights aren’t available, flows and complexes are highly effective solutions. Hope this helps you see how you can develop even better total body workouts and see how we create better solutions like Cory Cripe shows below!
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