Complexes for Fat Loss, Strength Retention, and Heart Health
In business, you need to run away from “get rich quick” schemes. Similarly, nearly all the promises in the fitness world fall short. Some are useless. Some are damaging. Many work, but they take WAY longer than promised before you get results (at least for most people).
You may have heard about “complexes” – catchy name, but it’s really not a particularly new concept. The principles are rooted in good old track-and-field training. Do a reasonable amount of work in short, intense bursts, using full-body movements that involve some amount of explosive force. And don’t overtrain.
Reps, implements, rest periods, etc. all can vary. But again, nothing new here. So why are they popular “again”? Because they actually work pretty much as advertised.
Wanna burn a ton of calories without losing strength? Complexes are the ticket.
Wanna get in some excellent conditioning but hate “cardio”? Complexes are the ticket.
Wanna cycle in some lower-load, high explosive sessions on “recovery” days from heavy lifting? Complexes are the ticket.
Wanna get in some great training and only have 20 minutes? Complexes are the ticket.
Wanna try something that has a lot of hype around it, but actually does what it promises (for the most part)? Complexes are the ticket. [I promise to never say “are the ticket” ever again, never ever. Really.]
What are Complexes?
The basic idea (of which there are hundreds of variations) is that you take a single implement with a fixed load (a barbell, a kettlebell, etc., even your own body would count with some secrets I’ll share) and perform several different exercises for a few reps back to back. Then rest and repeat. No PhD needed. No superior genetics needed. And not a ton of time needed.
Complexes Are Not…
- … just regular lifting, with shorter rest periods
- … a new idea
- … a trademarked concept that costs money to use
- … “muscle confusion”
- … Crossfit (though some principles are similar)
Example of a Complex
Here’s a single (but really good) example… Load up a barbell with two 25s (so, 95 pounds total) and do the following without letting go of the bar between movements:
– 8 cleans
– 8 overhead presses
– 8 good mornings
– 8 front squats
– 8 rows
– 8 RDLs
– Rest 60 seconds
– Rest 60 seconds
Now, the actual weight will vary by user. You might want to just start with the bar. Yes, just the bar.
If you are really strong, perhaps you can do this with 135 but I doubt it. And as you get more conditioned you may work up to 5 rounds or maybe 6. (See notes below on total volume to shoot for.)
The pace needs to pop. Fast but not sloppy. Think about exploding the weight up and then lower under control. Don’t bounce at the bottom. Pause if you are getting dizzy or nauseated or sloppy.
No Silver Bullet
Despite the hype you might read about, Complexes will NOT do the following for 99% of the people reading this article:
– Will not add appreciable muscle mass by themselves (unless you are a total newbee)
– Will not overcome a bad eating plan
– Will not make you better at your sport
– Will not make you rich
– Will not get your kids into the college of their choice (which actually may not be such a bad thing, in my view…)
Why Do Complexes?
Complexes burn a ton of calories in a short period. They are essentially HIIT training, almost Tabata-like (remember, Tabata is specifically 20 seconds of balls-out work with 10 seconds rest for 8 rounds and 4 minutes total; most people can’t truly handle Tabata so I’ve recommended “Inverted Tabata” for novice/intermediates).
You also get the after-burn effect, or EPOC, where over the rest of the day you burn more calories due to the turbulent nature of the session. By the way, I think EPOC is WAYYYY overplayed but it is still a factor.
As far as conditioning, you tend to get what you train. Meaning, if you value being able to increase your work capacity for doing intense work in time periods of 20 minutes or so, then, duh, do more intense work in 20 minute periods and increase week to week. Complexes can help.
Another bonus with complexes is that you are training movements that support your lifting goals. My favorite complexes are those that use primary lifting movements like the Big Seven. A big part of getting stronger is ingraining the movements, even with light weight, over the long haul. Complexes can help.
Plus, they are just plain fun!
Now, don’t forget, good old fashioned lifting actually burns more calories than either complexes or traditional cardio. But most people on this site are already lifting as frequently and as intensely as they can while maintaining good recovery. Complexes are shorter and use less overall poundage so fewer calories. But complexes let you get in extra work without significant muscle breakdown – hence, they don’t impact recovery much.
Traditional cardio burns calories for sure. But it’s not muscle-preserving. Most people experience some loss in muscle and/or strength when they add appreciable amounts of steady-state cardio to their routines. Complexes will burn more calories and are not going to foster any muscle loss unless you are in a massive calorie deficit. [Note – I’m not anti-cardio and you can combine muscle building with running.]
Then there are explosive sessions, like sprinting or plyometric training, but they end up being so intense (if done right) that they take recovery days. Complexes are intense effort but not particularly heavy so recovery days are not usually needed.
How To Create Your Own, and More Examples
I’ll share some more examples, discuss progression, and show you how to create your own in the next article in a few days. Watch for it!