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Meet Rob Shoecraft, pictured above as he crushes something called a complex (a form of exercising that I've been using a lot lately and that you're about to become intimately familiar with).

I first met Rob when I posted to my Twitter account that I was wanting to inject some freshness into my exercise routine and was looking for a unique mash-up workout program that incorporated stuff like mobility, gymnastics, strength training and high-intensity interval training.

Rob replied and said:

Ben, here are the details of the heavy strength training/plyometrics/gymnastic-esque program I mentioned on Twitter today:

-Heavy Strength Training:

Like I mentioned on Twitter, I used Dan John's “Easy Strength” concepts for the framework of the program. The principles behind Easy Strength are best explained by Dan John himself here, but to sum it up neatly: strength training should be treated like skill practice; focusing on quality movement and maximum tension.

I love this program because you “get to” perform compound movements like squats and deadlifts five times/week. The key is to use a weight that makes it “easy”. It's almost like lifting by ear. In short, if your 60% max goes up, so will your 1 RM.

I performed five exercises 4-5 times/week, namely an upper body push, lower body push, lower body pull, upper body pull and a heavy carry. I varied the set/rep scheme daily (e.g. 2×5, 6×1, 1×10, etc) and changed the exercises themselves every 2 weeks, while sticking with the same template (push, pull, carry, etc…).

On the the third iteration of exercises, I substituted a couple traditional strength days for power/speed training, which included plyometrics (more on that below).

-Gymnastics/Animal Flow:

I began nearly every session with several mobility exercises and 5-10 minutes of animal flow (just set the timer and go). My animal flow and gymnastics skills are novice, but I enjoy the heck out of it. Great way to warm up the body through a huge variety of movement (can also make a great standalone workout).

Most of what I know about animal flow, I learned from Gold Medal Bodies' online “Elements” course. They focus primarily on bear crawl, monkey, and frog variations. The beauty is that they're applicable to just about any fitness level (i.e., a monkey swing could be a 2-inch shuffle to the side or a handstand).

The sky is the limit here. As your movement skills improve, you could begin to incorporate more “gymnastic-esque” movements into your warm-up, or even start substituting gymnastic strength movements with lifts in the “easy strength” platform (e.g. handstand push-ups in place of upper body barbell press).

-Plyometrics:

I used plyometrics to work on two different training goals; conditioning (and fat loss) and power.

-Conditioning:

Throughout the program, I included HIIT workouts (e.g., Tabata sets, hill sprints and barbell complexes), which immediately followed my “Easy Strength” routine from Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline as a “finisher”.

Because I was literally doing deadlifts, squats and barbell press variations almost every day – albeit with relatively light weight – I needed to be mindful of recovery. That said, I used a CNS tap test app on days I planned to end with a HIIT session to make sure I was up for the task. On a side note, I didn't experience much in the way of muscle fatigue at all during the program.

-Power:

As mentioned above, on the third iteration of my program (right around the fifth week), I substituted my traditional lifts for exercises focused on speed and power. For example, instead of doing 2×5 front squats, I did 3×2 quality jump squats. I substituted carries for short sprint work.

-Results:

I was somewhat surprised to have any strength gains from the program, which is something Dan John laughs about throughout his book (people just won't believe that you can achieve improvements without killing yourself).

I went up 15 lbs in my bench and ~20 lbs on both deadlift and squat after 6 weeks, which may sound modest, but I thought it was fantastic. I attribute a lot of my squat improvement to the added hip mobility I gained from all the animal movements (purely anecdotal, of course).

I didn't perform any objective measurements, but I'm quite certain my conditioning remained the same, if not improved. As you know quite well, you can achieve a lot of ground with a few short Tabata sessions.

-Example Programming:

I'll leave out the set/rep schemes for the sake of brevity; Dan John also includes suggested formats in the article linked to above (in general, keep total reps per exercise below 10).

-Weeks 1 & 2, Days 1 & 3:

Foam rolling and lacrosse ball SMR (self myofascial release)
General dynamic warmup/mobility work
5-10 minutes of animal flow using bear, frog and monkey
Flat bench, front squat, deadlift, weighted pull up, dumbbell farmer carry

-Weeks 1 & 2, Days 2 & 4:

Foam rolling and lacrosse ball SMR
General dynamic warmup/mobility work
5-10 minutes of animal flow using bear, frog and monkey
Flat bench, front squat, deadlift, weighted pull up, dumbbell farmer carry
8-16 x Tabata rounds of burpee+broad jump+shuffle back or tire flip+jump through to other side
Day 5 (this day has just a touch of Brooks Kubik's “Dinosaur Training“):
Foam rolling and lacrosse ball SMR
General dynamic warmup/mobility work
Heavy sandbag clean and press 10 x 1 EMOM (every minute on the minute)
Sandbag bear hug carry

-Weeks 3 & 4, Days 1 & 3:

Foam rolling and lacrosse ball SMR
General dynamic warmup/mobility work
5-10 minutes of animal flow using bear, frog and monkey
Incline bench, back squat, snatch grip DL, lat pull downs, trap bar carries

-Weeks 3 & 4, Days 2 & 3:

Foam rolling and lacrosse ball SMR
General dynamic warmup/mobility work
5-10 minutes of animal flow using bear, frog and monkey
Incline bench, back squat, snatch grip DL, lat pull downs, trap bar carries
High rep complexes (Defranco's “Built Like a Badass” complexes are neato, also used a couple Dan John mentions in “Mass Made Simple”). Funk Roberts' 10-minute circuits work great here too.

-Weeks 3 & 4, Day 5:

Foam rolling and lacrosse ball SMR
General dynamic warmup/mobility work
Heavy sandbag clean and press 15 x 1 EMOM
Sandbag bear hug carry

-Weeks 5 & 6, Days 1 & 3:

Foam rolling and lacrosse ball SMR
General dynamic warmup/mobility work
5-10 minutes of animal flow using bear, frog and monkey
plyo push-ups, bulgarian jump squats, banded kettlebell swings, short sprints

-Weeks 5 & 6, Days 2 & 4:

Foam rolling and lacrosse ball SMR
General dynamic warmup/mobility work
5-10 minutes of animal flow using bear, frog and monkey
Fat bar bench press, Zercher squats, deficit DLs, type writer pull-ups, barbell Turkish get-ups
HIIT heavy bag work

-Weeks 5 & 6, Day 5:
Foam rolling and lacrosse ball SMR
General dynamic warmup/mobility work
Heavy sandbag clean and press 10 x 2 EMOM
Sandbag bear hug carry

Thanks to Rob's shockingly long but highly useful links, tips and programming in the email above, I was able to string together a ton of his recommendations to create my own training routine that I outlined in my article “What Is The Perfect Workout For 2017?“.

Then, a few months later, the infamous Rob wrote to me again, saying:

“Ben, I've been working on a filterable exercise complex table for the last month. It allows you to search for complexes based on equipment, body parts worked, planes of motion, etc. At the moment, I have ~100 in the table, and am continuing to add to it…”

When I clicked through to check out this exercise complex table Rob spoke of, I was absolutely blown away. The table, along with Rob's article “The Not-So Complex Program“, turned out to be one of the most useful free resources I've ever discovered for implementing one of the most potent training tools you'll ever discover: complexes.

I reached out to Rob to see if he could spell complexes out for us in even more detail and he graciously agreed. So in today's article, created by the slightly twisted mind of Rob Shoecraft and edited by yours truly, you're going to discover exactly how to use complexes for potent strength gains, increases in power, massive fat loss and conditioning breakthroughs, warm-ups, cool-downs, mobility and more. 

Rob's quite a unique, entertaining author, and I think you'll enjoy this gem. So pull up a puke bucket and soak it all up, baby.


Mikey, Mouth & 48 Rep Sets For Strength Gains

I recently saw one of my friends try to stab another friend with a screwdriver.

I was hanging out in my garage with my two pals, Mikey and Mouth (Corey is his real name) a couple weeks ago, having some laughs and drinking some beers. We got on the subject of training (as we often do). Mikey is an amateur bodybuilder, and Mouth is a competitive powerlifter.

They started to get into the weeds over things like “sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy”, specifically which of those has the greatest effect on strength gains. Yep, pretty typical dialogue between these two. The conversation got a little intense, but all-in-all it was pretty civilized…that is, until someone brought up the subject of “rep schemes”.

Then, just like a couple of board flamers on a forum thread, these guys were actually shouting at each other over the benefits of 8-15 rep sets versus 1-5 rep sets.  I personally didn’t say much and pretty much stayed silent, sipped my beer, and enjoyed the entertainment.

Things changed, however, when Mouth said something out-of-line about Mikey’s wife’s looks (it was mean and irrelevant, but she is kind of homely). Mikey pushed Mouth off of his stool, which caused him to fall off and shatter his iPhone screen.  Mouth jumped up and punched him right in the, well, mouth.  Mikey, a former high school all-state wrestler, shot a double leg, and took the party to the floor. They rolled around my garage, beating the crap out of each other for a solid thirty seconds while I made a frantic but futile attempt to break it up.  Being 6’3” and 245 pounds doesn’t seem to help much when you’re trying to separate two drunken, rage-fueled meat heads. There was blood all over the place, and no one was quitting.

Mouth was able to make some space in Mikey’s clinch.  He reared his leg back and kneed him in the crotch full-tilt.  Mikey – and this is the first time I’ve ever seen this – reflexively puked in Mouth’s face! Mouth jumped off, completely panicking, trying like a madman to wipe the vomit from his eyes.  Mikey scrambled and grabbed a phillips head off of the floor and mounted him.  He pressed the steel underneath his jaw line. I grabbed Mikey by his shoulders and tried to throw him off, but he was holding on like a man possessed, screaming maniacal nonsense about his wife’s brow line and bodybuilding rep ranges.

I knew I only had seconds left before Mikey did something stupid. So I yelled out the only thing I could think of…

…“48 rep sets are the best for gains!”.

Mikey dropped the screwdriver, looked at me and they both started laughing.  They got off of each other, shook hands, hugged, made out and apologized. Once things settled down and most of the bodily fluid was mopped up, we sat down and cracked a couple more beers.

It was at this point that they both asked me the same thing almost simultaneously.

“What did you mean by 48 rep sets are the best for gains?”.

After they both promised not to stab me, I gave the explanation you're about to read.*

*Note: This story never happened, Mikey and Mouth are two characters from The Goonies, I actually don’t even have any friends, and I managed to hack Ben's website and add in these lies to my article without Ben Greenfield’s knowledge (I guessed his site’s password – it’s “DeleteriousDude1981”). Really, this was the only way I could trick you into beginning to delve into the nerdy science you're about to read below. But hey, if you're seeking one of the most potent methods on the face of the planet to get fit incredibly fast, you'll thank me later.


Why I'm In Love With Complexes

That rep number of 48 isn’t just something I pulled from my shorts.

It’s actually the exact number of reps I typically complete when I add Dan John’s Mass Made Simple Complex to my workout (Ben actually interviewed Dan about this and a whole bunch more in this podcast). This complex features the following compound exercises all completed in one fell swoop: bent over rows, hang cleans, front squats, overhead presses, back squats and good mornings.  The catch is, you can’t put the barbell down until you’ve done all those exercises, and (in my favorite gut-crushing case) that’s eight reps of each (yep, 48 pretty reps all in a row).

The Mass Made Simple barbell routine isn’t the only complex I use to program workouts (not by a long shot), but becoming acquainted with it while completing John’s mass-gaining program a few years ago exposed me to a completely new tool to work with.

You know what? I'm sorry. I shouldn’t have said “completely new”. Fact is, strength coaches have been serving up these things called “complexes” as a choice dish for decades. They were first talked about in the mainstream training world by a fella named Istvan Javorek back in the 70’s. What I meant to say was, however, that complexes were new to me. But I’ve since been using them for supercharging conditioning, melting fat, busting through strength plateaus, and even adding efficiency to lame, drawn-out warm-ups.

At the beginning of this year, complexes and I took our relationship to the next level when I created a this free fat-burning and strength complex program that features – you guessed it – nothing but complexes for accessory lifts.  So why would I devise such an esoteric, delicious scheme?

First of all, I did it because complexes are, in my opinion, the cornerstone of any fun time in the gym. Take Alwyn Cosgrove’s “Evil 8” for example, which you can see in it's full, nitty-gritty video detail in my exercise complex database here. It’s a five round painfest of deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, bent over rows, power cleans, front squats, push presses, back squats, and good mornings.  Pushing oneself to the brink of death during a workout might be an experience only truly enjoyed by sickos like Albert Fish and Ben Greenfield, but when it comes to a blend of mitochondrial density building, cardiovascular training and lung-sucking, lactic-acid flooding strength building, moving 12000+ pounds of volume in 10 minutes is a heck of a lot more entertaining than black-hole training on a treadmill, and much more efficient too.

That being said, the primary reason I created a program constructed almost entirely of complexes was to indulge myself in the fruits of their versatility. As a matter of fact, I challenge you to find a single fitness goal that complex training can’t enhance.

I’ll wait here while you work on that.

Oh!  You are finished? Well, allow me to retort.


Complexes For Fat Loss

Not only are steady-state treadmill death marches a most boring way to burn calories, but they’re exremely suboptimal.  How do I know this?  First of all, I read the book Beyond Training (where I also learned that the laptop I’m using to write this post is slowly frying my gonads – but don’t worry, I think you’re worth the technological sacrifice I'm making here).

Second, complex training, especially with high repetitions (generally 8-10 reps per exercise) has worked body composition wonders for my clients and I that I have never witnessed with any other training program, period. I personally dropped fourteen pounds of body fat in a month on the aforementioned complex program (while admittedly on the semi-restricted carbohydrate diet I detail here).  I achieved those results without taking a step, pedal or row of traditional cardio.

Here's a before-after photo:

Incorporating high intensity training like complexes allows you to enjoy the metabolism-boosting benefits of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) for several hours after you put the weights down. So, while you definitely burn modest calories during the act of completing the complex set itself, afterwards your body keeps working all day, breaking down your fat stores in an effort to replenish the phosphagen and glycogen your nasty complex greedily stripped from it.

So how do you achieve fat loss with complexes?

The possibilities are endless, but a quite simple start is to choose half a dozen exercises with a single piece of equipment or your own bodyweight, and to complete 8-10 reps of each exercise without stopping (trust me, you'll want to start with a lighter weight than you think you need).

I find full body complex bouts are the best for fat loss, alternating the exercises between upper body and lower body (e.g., overhead presses followed by front squats), and/or using hybrid compound lifts (e.g., thrusters, overhead squats, etc). I keep my rest intervals moderate (90-120 seconds), and rarely go over five rounds (mainly because doing so would kill me or leave me puking away all my precious nutrients).  These complexes can be best served at the end of a strength training day, or even as a standalone workout.

Examples of complexes that are perfect for fat loss (see videos, demonstrations, details and more examples on my free Exercise Complex Database):

Keith Weber’s Man Maker

Javorek’s Dumbbell Complex

Joe Defranco’s Built Like a Badass Be-Zercher complex


Complexes For Conditioning

What makes a person tough?  Is it the hair on her chest?  The mustache on her face?  Perhaps if she’s both tough and handsome?

Frankly, real toughness is discovered when a person wants nothing more than to quit halfway through their first 80 rep set, but pushes through the agony and finishes anyways – then does it all over again three more times. Some might call that heart or grit, but when you get right down to it, toughness is really just a deep trust in one’s conditioning.  You can’t always re-create those overtime, 12th round, last lap, dig-deep situations, but you can sure as shucks train your body to get ready for them with some hard and fast bouts of conditioning.

“Conditioning”, a decades-old industry buzzword, is the practice of increasing your aerobic capacity, lactic threshold, and ability to sustain near-maximal output by way of exercise.  It may come as no surprise to you that there’s a tremendous overlap between conditioning and the fat loss strategies mentioned above.  When your mitochondria gain robustness, not only does your metabolic health improve (so that you burn fat better), but your energy output increases as well (so that you go faster and harder longer).

Here's how to do just that with complexes…

First, you’re correct in assuming that the same complex approaches that you would use for fat loss will also correlate positively with improvements in conditioning.  Having said that, there are some other factors you might want to consider for optimal conditioning results.

Perhaps the most commonly tweaked variable is time. For example, if you’re getting ready for a fight in The Octagon, you need to be able to last for five-five minute rounds with only a one minute break in between.  Does that mean you should complete five-five minute complex intervals with limited rest?  That might not be a bad idea occasionally.

The specifics of sport specificity and recovery won’t fit on this site, but if your conditioning goals align with a particular sport or event, then you can easily spike your programming with a sport-specific complex that’s going to help you go the distance.

Time isn’t the only tweak.  Repetition and set modifications also enable productive suffering.  Rep scheme models such as ladders and pyramids allow you to create a less linear workout – one than might more closely resemble the chaotic topography of the event you’re preparing for.

Fleming’s double kettlebell pyramid complex, for instance, demands one rep of each: cleans, front squats, push presses, and sumo deadlift high pulls; then two of each; then three; all the way to five…then back down again.  There’s nothing more soul-crushing than making it through five sets of brutality, and realizing that a pyramid has two sides (at least it’s all downhill from here).

As in the case of fat burning ambitions, total body complexes tend to have the greatest effect on conditioning, and I can’t think of a single piece of equipment that won’t get the job done.

Examples of complexes that are perfect for conditioning (see videos, demonstrations, details and more examples on my free Exercise Complex Database):

Fleming’s Double Kettlebell

Ferrugia’s Timed Complex

Funk Robert’s 10-10-10

Critical Bench Sandbag Complex


Complexes For Hypertrophy & Muscle Building

Leaning out and building endurance are both terrific endeavors, but what about getting that jack, that 70's big, that swole look you might be going for (or for you ladies out there, than lean, curvaceous tone)? What can complexes do for muscular hypertrophy?  The short answer is, a lot.

The slightly longer answer is, it depends on what kind of hypertrophy you’re targeting.  There are two generally accepted forms of hypertrophy that I briefly mentioned in my Mikey and Mouth story earlier.

The first is myofibrillar hypertrophy, which is an actual increase in myofibril size and density, and this is most associated with high-tension, low-rep strength training.  I’ll get to that a little more in the following section.

The other, more popular form of hypertrophy is sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which is an increase in muscle cell cytoplasm (sarcoplasm), the cellular fluid that allows for greater glycogen storage.  This is the stuff that Arnold was talking about when he waxed on experiencing a graphically satisfying pump in the weight room (I’ll keep it clean and just call it a “sarcogasm”…I'm pretty sure I just coined that term).

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is more fleeting than its myofibrillar counterpart, and thought to be only a modest factor in absolute strength development, but it sure looks cool. Swelled up muscle cells are what give bodybuilders that coveted swole look, especially during the workout (where they'll often find a mirror, and bask in the glow of your transient hypertrophy-induced vascularity).

Complexes are a beautiful tool for helping you achieve these tantric-level sarogasms.  You can definitely pack on a little muscle using the high rep, full body model discussed in the two previous sections (especially for novice lifters), but to really harness maximum muscular microdamaging power, I find an isolated compound approach works best.

This is not that complicated. Just choose a muscle group that you want to destroy, and stack two to four exercises on top of it.  Men’s Health magazine, for example, recently released a simple chest-killing complex that consists of as many reps as possible (also known as “AMRAP”) on the dip stand, immediately followed by AMRAP dumbbell chest flies, immediately followed by AMRAP push-ups – simple, elegant and effective.

You can take the “complexity” a step further and start playing with range of motion and hand/foot position.  A classic example of this is the barbell 21 rep bicep curl complex.  The original rendition calls for seven top range half-curls, seven bottom-range half curls, and seven full range curls.  Jim “Smitty” Smith took it a step further with seven reps of each of the following: narrow grip, regular grip, and wide grip.  If you really want to hurt, make it 28, and slap on seven eccentric cheat curls at the end.

Jeff Cavaliere has another brilliant little biceps exercise: cable curls to concentric failure (a regular tempo bicep curl), then eccentric (cheat curl with a slow negative), followed by isometric failure (hold in the top contracted position for as long as possible).  I’ve since taken the same triphasic failure approach for leg curls, tricep extensions, dips, and leg raises.  The suckiness is off the charts!

A quick note: not all hypertrophic complexes need to be completed to failure, but for maximum results, you should use a weight that has you crying on the last rep.  I recommend putting these exercises at the end of the workout, when you no longer require basic motor control.

Examples of complexes that are perfect for muscle hypertrophy (see videos, demonstrations, details and more examples on my free Exercise Complex Database):

Three Storm Fitness’s Triphasic Dip Complex

Squeeze Press and Fly Combo

Smitty’s New 21s


Complexes For Strength

When you’re stronger, everything is easier.  I’m not just talking about pulling loaded barbells off the floor or repossessing couches with people still sleeping on them.  Walking, running, jumping and standing are all made safer and more efficient when a strong body is doing the work.

Strength is physically manifested by a combination of dense muscle fibers (a result of the myofibrillar hypertrophy we talked about earlier) and resilient joints and ligaments working together through intramuscular and intermuscular coordination (your ability to recruit fibers within muscles and between multiple muscle groups respectively).  In short, absolute strength is the ability to produce maximum tension, and you’re functionally strong when you can do it without thinking about it (unconscious competence).

Most strength coaches will tell you that the best way capture strength gains is to lift lots of heavy weight with low reps and rest than you think you need to.  Heavy weight demands maximum tension.  Time spent under said tension can only last so long before total failure and possible injury occurs.  Not only does lifting heavy exhaust your phosphagen stores, but the neural effort it takes to coordinate the tension blasts your CNS as well.  This is why rest between sets, as well as throughout the week, is encouraged when grinding out lifts like heavy squats and deadlifts.

Your core musculature–namely your transverse abdominus, multifidus and pelvic floor–is the centerpiece of all your movement, at least it is for those who like not being broken, weak and pathetic.  It’s your closest ally in your fight against gravity, especially when gravity has a 200 lbs sandbag with him.  My favorite part about using complexes for strength training is that it forces your core to be on high alert as your transition through multiple exercises.

Here’s how you do it

For the sake of our physical integrity, we need to honor the aforementioned fundamentals of strength training; lift lots of weight, lower the reps, and increase the rest.  This is why most of the strength-based complexes I perform feature between 2-4 reps per exercise, and three to five minutes of rest in between rounds.  Nearly any complex that features multiple compound movements can be tweaked for strength by adding weight to the bar and lowering the reps.

For instance, Ben Bruno’s Brutal Leg complex calls for 10 front rack barbell lunges, 10 front squats, and 10 back squats.  I tweaked it for strength training, and performed the same exercises using heavy doubles instead of 10s.  I used my strength on the lunges to determine the weight on the bar (like most human beings, I’m weaker on one foot that two), and completed three rounds with roughly four minutes of rest in between.

Another trick you can use to creep closer to your strength potential is to complete complexes that feature the getup.  One of my 64 year old clients asked me how what she can do to make sure she’s always strong enough to care for herself.  I spent the next two weeks helping her perfect the kettlebell Turkish getup, and prescribed a daily dose. If you can do a getup every day, you shouldn’t have any trouble wiping yourself and going to the store (after you wash your sunspotted hands).

Getups could also fall into the mobility section below, but in terms of strength, they’re tough to beat.  In Pavel Tsatsouline's book, Simple and Sinister, he mentions that old time Russian strong men wouldn’t train their apprentices until they could perform a getup with a 100 lbs over their head.  True or not, this makes good sense. Few other exercises require you to maintain tension through multiple levels and planes of motion, as well as perform both unilateral and bilateral exercises in a single rep.  If you think about it, the getup is really a complex in and of itself, so other exercises you accompany with it is just icing on the cake.

Finally, the simple act of picking up heavy crap and walking with it is one of the most underrated methods of strength training in the gym.  Carrying complexes are about as straightforward as it gets.  Pick up a dumbbell, press it overhead and waiter walk 30 ft, turn around, place it at your side, then carry it back like a suitcase.  When you get back, pick up a second bell and farmer walk it back and forth, then finish off with 10 shrugs.  Repeat the same circuit on the other side, and tell me you need to do crunches to get an ab workout (you will be lying).

Examples of complexes that are perfect for muscle strength (see videos, demonstrations, details and more examples on my free Exercise Complex Database):

Levi Markwardt’s Bent Press and Getup Complex

Diablo Crossfit’s Kettlebell Carry Complex

Ben Bruno’s Brutal Leg Complex


Complexes For Power

Power is defined in exercise physiology as “strength times speed” or “volume over time”.  By those definitions, just about any complex strategy discussed so far should fit the bill for power development, right?  Ya know, you’re very astute. I look forward to seeing what you’re capable of this semester, missus.

Sure, it’s true, based on the basic algebraic formulas above, that if you increase your strength or volume through your complex training, you can indeed become more powerful.  This is the same logic that strength coaches at every level use to make their athletes hit harder and jump higher.  They build up their strength, and in the process often build up inches on their vertical, and pancake statistics on the offensive line.

So why then, smart guy, can’t Donnie Thompson – a 1300 lbs squatter – dunk from the three point line?

Because, at some point, strength gains are going to start deleteriously affecting speed (the other half of the power equation).  So, yes, you can use strength training (complexes or otherwise) to develop power, but it will only take you so far.

What can you do when you’re too strong for your own good?  You can explode.

Power and speed development are fostered in a host of ways, but the key across the board is to focus on quality.  We’re not talking about simply keeping strict form.  Rather, we're talking about executing every rep at the absolute top of your ability and training your central nervous system to go off like an orchestrated fireworks display.  As Joe Defranco mentioned during a CPPS course that I took with him, this method of training builds up your “speed reserve” and your central nervous system's ability to hit all the right buttons at all the right times.  The moment you get tired or sloppy during your training is the moment you’ve stopped building that reserve and started simply “working out”.

To optimize these sessions, you need to stay fresh, which means using a weight you can dominate and rest intervals that leave you keyed up (remember, your muscles don’t have to be fatigued to have a fried nervous system).

Once you start working in these explosive, high quality reps, not just any old routine will do.  I think the complexes best suited for power development come in the form of contrast training: execute one or two reps of a high tension exercise (e.g., a heavy deadlift), immediately followed by an explosive movement on a similar plane (e.g., a broad jump).  The heavy exercise primes your system for maximum contraction, and the subsequent explosive movement reaps the benefits.

Another example would be to complete a heavy front squat, followed immediately by a short sprint.  For power endurance (your ability to sustain power over time) and added conditioning, you can try the Litvinov workout: eight front squats followed immediately by a 400m dash.

Examples of complexes that are perfect for power (see videos, demonstrations, details and more examples on my free Exercise Complex Database):

Christian Thibaudeau’s Star Complexes

The French Contrast Method

The Litvinov Workout


Sport Specific Complexes

The secret to playing your sport better – are you ready to hear it?  OK: do you have a wobble board?  Good. How about an agility ladder? Awesome.  Blindfold? Check! Alright, now all you have to do is leave all that crap in the closet, lace up your shoes, and go play your sport.

Seriously, you can’t get much more specific than actually practicing the thing you’re trying to improve.  However, there are certainly circumstances that call for off-the-field training.  There are times when a perfectly reasonable way to enhance an athletic skill is to load up a similar movement pattern with resistance, and get to work.

The key to getting started is to first identify the areas that need to be brought up to speed.  Stability and asymmetry are both factors that can be improved to make huge improvements in athletic development, especially within the realm of injury prevention.  Barry Sanders used to juke and shuffle so well that his coach, Wayne Fontes, actually considered custom-tailoring a pair of game time MC Hammer pants for him. Not kidding. You’re not Barry Sanders, and no one can help you change direction in the middle of a dead sprint like he could, but some lateral lunges might keep you from blowing your MCL trying.

The beauty of complexes is that nearly every exercise has a different plane of motion and unilateral/bilateral variation. While I was assembling the complex database, I went through well over a hundred different routines, and noticed that very few of them included movement on the frontal plane (i.e., side-to-side).  Strength on the frontal plan is critical to dynamic directional change and base stability.  This simply wouldn’t do! So I remedied the situation by developing the Full Frontal Sandbag Complex.  I took three of my favorite lower-body sagittal plane (front-to-back) movements (the squat, lunge, and swing), and tweaked them to move laterally (the cossack squat, side lunge and pirate ship swing).

Of course, being able to change direction well is only helpful if you can do it in both directions.  If one side is weaker than the other, then you can bring it up to speed by stacking unilateral exercises.  Nearly any bilateral barbell complex can be modified unilaterally with a dumbbell or kettlebell.  Start with your weak side first, and don’t overthink it.

Examples of complexes that are perfect for power (see videos, demonstrations, details and more examples on my free Exercise Complex Database):

Three Storm Fitness’ Full Frontal Complex

Nick Tumminello’s Single Leg Complex


Complexes For Warm-Up, Cool-Down & Mobility

Few people warm-up properly before their workouts.  Fewer take time to cool down.  Yet even fewer possess the mobility to safely perform half of the exercises they’re attempting.

But who cares, right?  Shoot, when I was a kid, I used to load up on Big Mac apple pie casserole, play sixteen games of full court basketball, perform my daily max deadlift attempt, then meet up with the boys for a speedball bender at the Viper room.  Those summer nights!

All that mystical crap that everyone seems to think is optional like stretching and foam rolling is critical.  The older and more active I get, the more I realize how important it is to cater to recovery.  In fact, I’d argue that the effectiveness of your workout hinges more on the choices you make before and after you actually put the work in.

I don’t want to start sounding like an afterschool special, so I will keep this brief.

A good warm-up should get your fascia hydrated and free of movement-stifling adhesions.  It should elevate your body temperature, kickstart the aerobic system, and grease the groove for upcoming loaded movements. Ideally, it should also prime your CNS for show time.

A good cool down should down-regulate your body from the battle you just put it through.  It should bring your heart rate down easy, and help facilitate even distribution of your circulatory system.  You’re also likely in fight or flight mode (sympathetic) at this point.  A proper cool down should help shift you into rest and digest (parasympathetic), so you don’t upset your hormone balance and kick your adrenals in the teeth.

As for “mobility work”, it’s become a bit of a catch-all buzzword for flexibility, stability, and, of course, actual mobility.  Whether you address those elements in their own contexts or as a single entity, pain free range of motion, and strength maintained at its fringes is dependent on consistent and deliberate movement.

The reason I mashed all these fitness elements together in one section is because they go together so well.  The same warm-up I complete before a workout (sans the aerobic work and neural priming) often has the same elements as my bedtime routine; lots of SMR on the PVC pipe, and multiple movement patterns through maximum ranges of motion.  I realize I’m starting to stretch our definition of complexes here, but Tai Chi, yoga and pilates sequences also fit wonderfully into just about any warm-up, cool down or mobility routine. And animal flow or the type of gymnastics style exercises Ben talks about here can be employed for similar benefit.

Even controlled breathing exercises can be structured in a complex format to help regulate your nervous system. For example, I try to end every intense workout with a parasympathetic-inducing breathing complex that consists of a 1:2 inhale/exhale ratio (up to four seconds in and eight seconds out), a two-minute box breathing session, and a 5:20:10 second inhale, breath hold, and exhale sequence.

Examples of complexes that are perfect for warm-ups, cool-downs and mobility (see videos, demonstrations, details and more examples on my free Exercise Complex Database):

Joe Defranco’s Agile 8

Tactical Frog

Turkish Getup Mobility Complex


Summary

Sure, complexes are great as finishers (a fancy term for a tactic used to completely waste yourself before you walk out of the gym so you can feel like you got a “good workout”)…

…but don’t you dare typecast complexes as a one-trick finisher pony.

I simply won’t allow it. Few exercise methodologies allow utilization of the same skeleton framework to influence the oh-so-many different physiological outcomes you've just discovered that complexes can provide.

There are hundreds of existing complexes to help you on your way, and if for some reason you can’t find the right one, you’re now armed with the knowledge you need to tailor your own.  I just ask that you please not keep this to yourself. Instead, drop your favorite complexes in the comments section below and, provided they don't completely suck and provided you give me a good detailed explanation of your complex or complexes, I’ll add them to the complex database.

While you're at it, you can also leave any questions or other thoughts that you have below and, if it's anything more intelligent than a spam monkey trying to sneak in a hidden advertisement for a Viagra, hair-growth, multi-level-marketing supplement website, I promise to reply.

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5 thoughts on “The Most Potent Training Method On The Face Of The Planet For Fast Results, Supercharging Conditioning, Melting Fat, Busting Through Strength Plateaus & Banishing Long Drawn-Out Warm-Ups Forever.

  1. Nikki says:

    Ben I have gluteus tendonitis in my right hip and I was wondering if you had any tips about what I can do about it. Physical therapists just want money but I want to heal it and the scar tissue.

  2. moshe says:

    Hot dang, I had to stretch out the reading for this article over the span of a few days. It is l-o-n-g, but my, is it a good one. I feel like my mind has been blown. Ben, this isn’t relevant to the article, but what are your takes on magnesium citrate and magnesium supplementation in general? I hear that it’s good for the heart and some other things.

  3. David says:

    Ben can you please go into detail about bone health and supporting the bone matrix.
    how is it that starting strength says you need about double your bodyweight on your back for 5 reps to obtain bone health.

    1. Check out this paper from 1998, (Imai S, Kaksonen M, Raulo E, et al. Osteoblast Recruitment and Bone Formation Enhanced by Cell Matrix–associated Heparin-binding Growth-associated Molecule (HB-GAM) . The Journal of Cell Biology. 1998;143(4):1113-1128. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2132… it states:

      “Bone is characterized by an extraordinary capacity for growth, regeneration, and remodeling throughout life. This capacity has been largely attributed to a series of diffusible growth and differentiation factors that lead to formation of bone by inducing differentiation of osteoblasts (Rosen and Thies, 1992; Kingsley, 1994; Bonewald, 1996). ”

      The key take away here is: what can we do to encourage osteoblastic activity in bones. Studies show that stem cells, electric stim, (https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2009/06/episode-49-full-transcript/),

      or supplements
      (https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/kion-flex) can all help with bone growth, regrowth and repair in addition to weight training.

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