There was a time when I’d ask people why they constantly failed to take the necessary steps towards reaching their fitness goals. I was usually met with the same response, “I’d love to, but I don’t have time”.
For years I used to think of this as nothing more than laziness, simply an excuse. I was busy, yet you didn’t see me skipping workouts.
Soon enough, karma came a-knocking and I found myself at the opposite of end of the conversation. Rising up the corporate ladder lead to more time stuck at the office and less time doing everything else, including working out.
The busier you are, taking care of your body and health is often the first thing to fall on the back burner, but here’s the thing: getting in shape doesn’t have to be as time-consuming as you think.
Even on a tight schedule, complexes can help you burn fat and build muscle.
(If you’re specifically looking to build muscle with complexes, check out this article.)
I’m sure that reading “burn fat and build muscle” and “25 minutes” makes you skeptical.
However, complexes are far from the typical empty promises that you see in late night infomercials.
But what exactly are they?
Ok, ok. You’ve waited long enough.
For example, imagine doing six reps of cleans. Easy enough, right? Well, instead of dropping the bar after completion, you transition immediately into rows.
Then into squats.
Then, finally, overhead presses.
All while never letting go of the bar. That’s a complex.
It’s simply a full sequence of movements with no rest periods in-between exercises. You can think of them as supersets, minus the rest periods.
Sounds pretty intense, doesn’t it?
Well, that’s the point: working harder in less time to achieve the greatest result possible. In fact, some of the benefits that complexes provide are:
– Increased endurance.
– Increased fat loss.
– Spiked EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption)(this allows fat loss to continue long after your workout is over).
– Lean muscle development.
– Extra time in front of the mirror.
Not too shabby for a 25-minute workout.
But now, while the concept sounds easy enough, there is still room for mistakes.
Just like any type of training method, exercise and weight selection play an integral role. So, let’s take a look at how we could avoid some of these common mistakes.
While stringing together a bunch of exercises may fall in-line with the definition of a complex, removing the thought process from the equation may prove to be disastrous.
Remember, you’re going to be performing a variety of back-to-back movements without ever dropping the bar.
Slapping together random exercises could lead to over training, or, even worse, injury. The trick is to select exercises that target opposing muscle groups.
For instance, if you are starting your sequence with barbell rows, try not to follow it with a movement that targets your lats or traps. Instead, aim to hit a different muscle group. Doing so will provide the previously worked muscle with some well needed active rest.
A good way to determine your exercise selection is to use an upper/lower or pull/push split. For example:
Upper/Lower: High Pulls, Back Squat, Push Press, Lunges
Pull/Push: Deadlift, Front Squat, Rows, Back Squat
Now, with that said, many of the movements you will be performing do, in fact, target many muscle groups. Compound movements such as deadlifts work the muscles in your back, leg, and glutes. While we recommend targeting opposing muscles, sometimes, it’s just not possible.
Don’t sweat it. Sticking to the rest of the formula will produce great results.
Now, for all you guys and gals who just want to perform the big lifts (e.g. deadlift, presses and cleans), you might want to go a little less hardcore when performing complexes. In fact, it’s advisable to select one big movement and use this as your starting point.
Remember, each exercise in the sequence is going to test your endurance.
If your complex consists of too many big lifts, then you might find yourself giving up early. Plus, there’s the high probability that your lifting form will suffer as well.
Before starting your complex, it’s a good idea to know how much you’ll be lifting. The fact that you are never letting the bar touch the ground (unless you’re deadlifting, of course) means that you must be wise about your selection.
So, let’s say that you’re starting off with barbell rows. At first, the temptation to add two 45lb plates to each side might sound like a good idea, but try to immediately follow that by lifting the same amount over your head. Not quite as easy, right?
Plan your complex ahead of time. Remember, your goal is not only to be done quick, but to also see results. Knowing the proper weight selection beforehand is the key to completing your complex successfully.
A good way to figure out the best starting weight for your complex is to determine what is the heaviest you can lift for your weakest exercise.
For example, if the overhead press is your weakest exercise in your sequence, and 6-8 reps with 60lbs is the most you can handle, then you should use this as your weight selection for the entire complex.
In other words: 60lbs for presses, 60lbs for rows, 60lbs for squats, and so on and so on. Now, what if 60lbs is not heavy enough for your follow-up movement?
Simple: shoot for more reps.
The beauty of complexes is that there are so many different ways of doing them.
Want to improve your endurance while increasing the rate of fat loss? Then timed complexes might be for you. Instead of counting reps, set a digital timer and perform every given exercise for as many reps possible within the given time frame.
The difficulty level is higher with this variation but the results are well worth the effort.
On the road? No problem. Body weight complexes are a great way to speed up fat loss, with the added benefit of not having to find a gym. If you have them, use resistance bands for increased difficulty.
My personal favorite are pyramid reps. They’re like regular complexes, but instead of keeping with a consistent number of reps, you add an extra rep to the next exercise in the sequence (e.g. 4 reps, 5 reps, 6 reps, 7 reps).
By now you should have a good understanding of how complexes are performed, but we’re not done yet.
To help get you started, here are a few sample complexes that you can try out immediately. Remember, all it takes is several minutes a day. Do these 3 times a week or as a complement to your current workout routine. Complexes can also serve as great finishers to any strength training day.
1 – Deadlift 3 x 6
2 – Hang Clean 3 x 6
3 – Front Squat 3 x 6
4 – Military Press 3 x 6
5 – Barbell Row 3 x 6
6 – Alternating Reverse Lunge 3 x 6
1 – Hang Clean 3 x 6
2 – Front Squat 3 x 6
3 – Push Press 3 x 6
4 – Bent Over Rows 3 x 6
5 – Alternating Forward Lunges 3 x 6
1 – Upwright Row 3 x 8
2 – Front Squat 3 x 8
3 – Overhead Press 3 x 8
4 – Alternating Reverse Lunges 3 x 8
5 – Curls 3 x 8
Complexes not only helped me change my outwards appearance, but they also helped me become a better person.
No longer do I criticize others whose progress has stopped due to time constraints. Instead, I show them why they don’t need to spend hours at the gym. Everyone has the ability to transform their body and a few minutes is all it takes.
For more on barbell complex training and how to create your own complex training program, check out this article.