Training with Complexes

A Method Behind the Madness Post About Complexes and Complex Training by Brackenfell Personal Trainer, Kevin Anderson

Success isn’t an accident, and it sure as Hell ain’t luck. People who are successful are intentional about their methods and habits. That is why I pay very close attention to those who excel at coaching and business. I want to learn what they know and then put it into practice.

And as I study the great minds, one rule continues to surface: the KISS rule:keep_it_simple


Keep It Simple Stupid

This is a great rule to live by and to pattern one’s life after. It is also a great way to design workouts.

Everybody knows we need to exercise, but it can be overwhelming to figure out what the best workout is for weight loss. Time restraints (we are all busy!) and space considerations (few people have the luxury of a dedicated workout space in their homes) complicate the matter even further.

And of course wading through the mountains of gimmicks and bad information out there adds another layer of difficulty. The average person doesn’t know where to begin!

You will be glad to learn that there is a simple way to blast through all the misinformation and create a workout program that is customized for your unique needs. It will burn fat, speed up your metabolism and tighten your entire body: it is called Complexes.

If you want to get the most effective workout possible in the least amount of time and space, complexes is your answer. Do it at home, do it on vacation, do it at work. That is the beauty of complexes: they’re doable, which means you will do them, which means you will get results!

What are Complexes?

When building complexes, remember the following key points:

  • Decide on 2 (or more) similar exercises that use the same tool or weight, and do them for a set amount of time or a set amount of repetitions.
  • The secret to complexes is that you do each exercise in a sequence with no rest at all between them. (For example, do not put the weight down at all until you are completely finished with that particular complex.)
  • Keep in mind that in order to get the most benefit (such as burning belly fat, becoming more conditioned and adding lean muscle), you need to progressively ask more of your body. You can progress in a variety of ways:

a) Do more exercises in each Complex: For example, progress from 3 exercises to 6 exercises in your complex.

b) Add more intensity: Add more weight or do a more advanced variation of your exercises.

c) Raise the density: Do more repetitions in the same work session or keep the repetitions the same and add more weight. At the same time, shorten your rest/transition times.

What are the different kinds of Complexes?

Listed below are the 3 basic kinds of complexes. They are arranged in order from the least difficult to the most difficult:

1. Succession Complexes:

Succession complexes involve the completion of all the repetitions or work session for all exercises prior to going on to the next exercise. Here is an example of two variations of Succession Complexes. Perform each exercise for 15 seconds and then immediately move to the next exercise with no rest.

Kettlebell Complex

1- Snatch (L)

2- Snatch (R)

3- Clean (L)

4- Clean (R)

5- Squat (L)

6- Squat (R)

Rest for 60 seconds and repeat up to 8 times for 20 total minutes

Body Weight Complex

1- Spiderman Climbs

2- Frog Jumps

3- Inchworms

4- Monkey Lunges

5- Duck Walks

6- Gorilla Jumps

Rest for 60 seconds and repeat up to 8 times for 20 total minutes

2. Sequence Complexes:

When performing sequence complexes you will shift from one exercise to the next until you have completed the whole complex. This presents a bigger mental and physical challenge than the succession complexes. Here are some examples of total body sequence complexes that employ a 3 minute sequence:

3-Minute Sequence Complex: Perform 3 minutes of continuous work followed by 1 minute of rest for up to 5 total rounds. Here are a few examples:

Resistance Band: Curl + Squat + Press

Body Weight: Reverse Lunge + Hip Hinge + Lateral Lunge (switch legs every 30 seconds)

Dumbbells: Hip Extensions + Chest Press + Skullcrushers

3. Combination Complexes:

Combination complexes require combining various exercises to create a smooth motion with very little rest/transition in between exercises. You can join a deadlift, high pull and squats-to-presses, for example. When these are joined you end up with a clean and jerk. Integrating small moves into a single large move causes this complex to be the most ‘complex’ of all.

You have a wide range of tools available to use with your complexes. Each of the following is appropriate: dumbbells, bands, kettlebells, barbells, cable systems, bodyweight, battle ropes, suspension trainers and medicine balls.

How to create a Flawless Complex

1. Decide on the amount of weight to use for each complex by choosing the weight you can use for your weakest exercise in the complex. For example, if your weakest move is the overhead press, select the weight that is appropriate for that move (keeping in mind the number of repetition or length of work session required). This is the load that you will use for each of the exercises within the complex. It is better to pick a weight that can be used for most upper body moves since it is weaker than the lower body.

2. Perform your weak moves near the beginning of your complex, since this is when you will have the most energy. For example weak side (arm, leg, side rotation), muscle groups that lag (upper back, hamstrings, glutes) and movement patterns than lag (moves that pull the upper body and also moves that are hip dominant).

3. Also perform moves that are a higher skill level demanding more coordination and motor skill near the beginning of your workout. Example of these include cleans, jerks and snatches.

4. If your complexes contain any quick, explosive moves, be sure to perform them early in your workout session as well. Examples of this type of move include plyometrics (box jumps, squat jumps, etc.) and ballistic kettlebell movement variations.

5. Strive for a smooth flow to your workout by choosing the sequence of your movements carefully. For instance, since the hold position is the same at the top of both the KB Goblet Squat and the KB 2 Arm Overhead Press, do them in that order.

6. Choosing exercises for your complexes is limited only by your skill, tolerance for pain and level of fitness!

And now for something really different…


Thunder and Lightning Complex Training!

Thunder and Lightning is what I call complex training, but it is different from the Complexes we have been discussing. This complex type of training involves alternating between intense strength training and power training.

First, let’s get clear on some terms:

1. Strength. Your strength is a measure of the force that your neuromuscular system can create. Strength is the basis that all bio-motor skills are built upon. Therefore, strength training moves are the THUNDER of the complex training. The speed with which you perform these exercises is slow and controlled (thirty seconds), but the resistance is high.

My recommendation is that you use a 3-1-X tempo which allows for up to 6 repetitions in thirty seconds followed by a thirty second rest. This will enable you to lower the weight in three seconds, hold for one count and then explode back to the start position and repeat for time. This will eliminate the reflex to bounce and stretch your muscles. Rather, they will be completely engaged and will therefore work harder.

2. Power. Power is defined as the quantity of work you complete in a unit of time. Another way of saying it is that power is the culmination of both strength and speed. So the LIGHTNING part of our complex set is the power training portion. The speed with which you perform these moves is higher (fifteen seconds then follow with a thirty second rest) but the resistance is low to moderate (or at least lower resistance than the strength training portion).

For instance, you might do heavily loaded front squats for the strength portion and then do bodyweight jump squats for the power portion. You will perform the jump squats better if you precede them with the front squats.

The reason for this has to do with the muscles fibers that are engaged. Research has shown that if you do a strength training move before a power training move (in a similar pattern), you will use more Type II b fast twitch muscles. The result is an increased gain in power.

Technically this is called Postactivation Potentiation (PAP) and it refers to the improved output of the muscle that occurs with explosive power moves after intense strength training. Because PAP results in a more natural enhancement of performance than if PAP is not used, it has become increasingly popular in the fitness industry. (Robbins, 2005)

In practical terms, this means that PAP makes it possible for you to enhance the effects of explosive moves such as sprinting, throwing, weight lifting and jumping. It is also useful for improving performance in sports such as kricket, netballl, rugby and track and field (French, Kraemer, Cooke, 2003; Hilfiker, Hubner, Lorenz & Marti, 2007).

Simply put, the PAP causes your central nervous system to completely engage which results in the usage of more muscle. This causes you to be more explosive in the subsequent power training moves.

The benefits of complex training include:

  • Increased muscle building and fat burn (so you have a tighter, more toned body)
  • Larger metabolic effect (so you burn more calories during the workout and in the 24 to 48 hours after the workout).
  • An increase in power and strength, as well as improvements in athletic performance. You will also find that you are able to break through plateaus that have been holding you back.

Thunder and Lightning: Session length-20 minutes. Switch between 30 sec of a strength training move and 15 sec of a power training move. Do 3 sets in sequence.

Station 1, Strength Exercise: Front Squats

Station 1, Power Exercise: Speed Squats or Jump Variations

Station 2, Strength Exercise: Push-ups

Station 2, Power Exercise: Speed Punches or Med Ball Pass Variations

Station 3, Strength Exercise: Deadlifts

Station 3, Power Exercise: Burpee Variations

Note: The insufficient rest times between moves will achieve an incremental and increasing fatigue during your work session. The result of this fatigue will be an improved work capacity, better cardiovascular building and increased muscle capacity. In effect, you get a great HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout!

In a time when we are surrounded by the so-called latest and greatest workout breakthroughs, it can be hard to sort through the noise and find what works. As is often the case, the simplest and most basic methods bring the best results while at the same time requiring the least amount of time and space.

If you are looking for the most efficient workout and getting the most bang for your buck, so to speak, look no farther than Complex Training. It is all you need to take your training to the next level!



Kevin Anderson – Owner of ForeverStrong Personal Training Services


Kevin Anderson is the President & Chief Fitness Officer of ForeverStrong P.T.  He also runs an at-home training program – Fitness 2 Go – providing the same great high-intensity intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts for all fitness levels as his personal training sessions…

Kevin is a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine, a certified Metabolic Training Expert, a Yoga and Pilates Specialist and spinning instructor.

Kevin has been helping clients achieve their health and fitness goals since 2010.  To contact Kevin for training, education or to have him speak at an event please email


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