Fit Tip Friday: Complexes Aren’t Complex!

Hello and happy Friday!

It seems like the excitement of SeaWheeze weekend took its toll on me, because I woke up Tuesday morning with a nasty cold. Either that, or dumping a bucket of ice water on my head for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge did it. Whatever it was, the past few days have been spent coughing, sniffling, and generally feeling sorry for myself 😉

The good news though is that this forced me to take some downtime, which gave me an opportunity to get a lot of researching and planning done that I’ve been meaning to do. Sick productivity for the win!

I wholeheartedly agree

I wholeheartedly agree

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I’d really been looking forward to getting back in the gym and hitting the weights hard this week. I’m taking a few weeks off running before I get back into it for my final half marathon of the year, but with this cold I really wasn’t feelin’ it. I tried a Barre Fitness class (which I will be writing about in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned!) and had a nice long walk incline walk on the treadmill yesterday.

During Barre and my treadmill walk I noticed I was substantially less stuffed up and my coughing held off, which only proves my theory that exercise really is the solution to all of life problems.

Pissed off? Go take it out on the iron. Sad? Go for a run and get those endorphins flowin’. And apparently now if you’re sick you can just keep moving to keep the symptoms at bay 😉

Of course if you’re feverish or feeling really ill rest will probably do you better than exercise, but oftentimes when clients ask me if they should exercise through a cold, as long as they feel up to it my response is “yes”! Just take it easy, keep the intensity low, and be mindful of those around you and sanitize everything you use.

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend anyone who’s sick perform these complexes I’m about to give you, it’s definitely a great way for someone who’s in good health to get a kickass workout in a short amount of time.

In these terms, a complex isn’t something difficult or some weird set of emotions you’ve developed like the God Complex or the Madonna-Whore Complex (yes that’s actually a thing).

When I talk about complexes, I’m talking about a set of movements completed consecutively for either reps or time. Complexes are commonly done with a barbell, but you can also do them with kettlebells, dumbbells, and even just your own body weight. Rest breaks are typically avoided to work at conditioning your muscles and cardiovascular system.

I like to throw complexes in at the end of my workout as a high intensity finisher, however some days if I’m just looking for something quick and dirty I’ll head down to the gym in my apartment, set a timer for 20 minutes, and toss around a barbell.

Why do complexes? They get your heart rate UP. It’s recommended that you avoid using too heavy of a weight with complexes, since it’ll need to work for both your weakest lift and your strongest one. But that doesn’t mean the intensity won’t be there! Performing these movements non-stop will get that heart pumpin’ and will kick your metabolism into overdrive. Hellooooo calorie torching!

The addition of a loaded object into cardiovascular training also generates a different hormonal response than steady state cardio performed on a treadmill or elliptical would. When done for long periods of time, cardio can increase cortisol which is a catabolic stress hormone that can break down muscle and contribute to increased abdominal fat. Not cool. On the other hand, loaded complexes stimulate the release of anabolic hormones that promote muscle growth and repair, just what we want when we’re looking for a lean, sculpted body.

Not only that, complexes can be done in a short amount of time with minimal or no equipment. You of course could make a full 30 or 60 minute workout out of complexes, but if you keep the intensity high there’s no need to have them last longer than 20 minutes.

With complexes you can improve your aerobic fitness, your anaerobic fitness, your strength, your endurance, your overall badass-ery AND shed fat. Why wouldn’t you want to do them?!

barbell-complexIt’s important to note, however, that when working a complex into your routine you want to be sure you’re comfortable with the exercises you’re choosing. Complexes often involve a lot of volume, and you don’t want to be performing an exercise incorrectly with such intensity (or at all). With the timer going and a desire to push through your reps to get your session over faster, it can be easy to let your form fall to the wayside. DON’T DO THIS.

Don’t rush and take breaks when you need them. There’s no point trying to look like a hero and injuring yourself in the process. Shut the ego up and do your work with care.

I’m sure you’re just itching to get your complex on (I know I am after writing this!) so I’ll get you started with a few variations, one you can do with your own body weight, one you can do with dumbbells, and one you can do with a barbell.

Body Weight Complex
Squat Jumps x 10
Push-Ups x 10
Split Jumps x 10
Inverted Rows x 10
Deck Squats x 10
*As many rounds as possible (AMRAP) in 20 minutes*

Dumbbell Complex
Alternating Shoulder Press x 1 min
Dumbbell Squat x 1 min
Alternating Two-Arm Dumbbell Row x 1 min
Alternating Dumbbell Reverse Lunge x 1 min
*5 rounds* – DO NOT PUT THE DUMBBELLS DOWN BETWEEN EXERCISES!

Barbell Complex
Romanian Deadlift x 10
Bent Over Row x 10
Hang Clean x 10
Front Squat x 10
Push Press x 10
*AMRAP 20 minutes* DO NOT PUT THE BARBELL DOWN BETWEEN EXERCISES

So what’s the takeaway here? Pick four or five exercises, choose your weapon (body, dumbbell, barbell, etc), choose reps or time, and GET SWEATY!

Here’s a video demonstrating the above barbell complex, but with 5 reps instead of 10 to save filming time.


Have you ever done a complex before? If so, what’s your weapon of choice? If not, why the heck haven’t you?! 😉 

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4 thoughts on “Fit Tip Friday: Complexes Aren’t Complex!

  1. Good read! I like doing complexes – dumbbell or body weight as that’s what I have at home. I kind of fell off the weight band wagon for a few weeks when I was going nuts training for my last half’s, but have been putting weights back in the ol’ routine a few times a week.

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