Ugh! Energy system development! I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but I hate cardio, I hate intervals, I hate complexes, I hate Tabatas, and I hate high reps. In fact, I hate anything that involves multiple repetitions. To me, heavy lifting is where it’s at! Sometimes my lower body workouts will consist of five singles of heavy squats, three singles of heavy deadlifts, and a couple of low rep sets of heavy hip thrusts before calling it a day. Yes, I’ve had workouts that had me performing around 14 repetitions in the entire workout (not including warm-ups). What can I say, I’m a low-rep kind of guy! Force me to perform a set of 10 reps and I’m liable to throw a tantrum and walk home. Oh yeah, my gym is my home so never mind (I have a garage gym). While this strategy may be great for strength, it leaves much to be desired for hypertrophy and fat-loss.
Recently, my weight has climbed to 240 lbs and I need to lean out. In Scottsdale, you really need to be lean in the summertime as there are always times where friends, family, and co-workers are having barbeques and pool parties which require you to take your shirt off. So I decided that in addition to cutting down on my carb intake, I’m going to start performing complexes at the end of my workouts.
Here are some unique complexes that I performed after yesterday and today’s workouts:
In the first complex, I am using a barbell loaded to 135 lbs. I perform 6 reps of:
1. power curls
2. bent over rows
3. push presses
4. full squats
5. good mornings
6. glute bridges, and
7. floor presses
Here’s the video:[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyPnTzICbAc&hl=en&fs=1]
Here’s what I like about the barbell complex (I know, technically you’re not supposed to set the bar on the ground in a barbell complex – I cheated)
– I’m kind of obsessive-compulsive about nailing each movement pattern, and with this complex I get in a quad dominant movement, two hip dominant movements, a vertical press, a horizontal press, a horizontal pull, and a vertical pull (if you consider the power curl vertical which I realize is a stretch).
– The exercise order flowed very well which makes it easy to remember.
– I feel like the body’s large muscle groups get hit hard with these exercises and as my work capacity increases I’ll get much more out of it. Nobody has ever doubted the effectiveness of axial loading!
Here’s what I will do differently next time around
– I just read my friend John “I Missed the Boat by Not Referring to My Abs as ‘The Situation'” Romaniello’s article on TMuscle entitled Complexes 2.0 – Optimize Your Fat-Loss Workouts where he discusses different techniques that can be utilized to optimize your complex methodology.
– Next time around, I’m going to perform more reps with the easier exercises and I might tinker around with the order like John suggests. Sadly, I feel like I could easily perform 20 reps of each exercise on its own but I’m in such mediocre condition right now it was hard just doing 6 reps of each during the complex.
– Next time around, I may experiment with different exercises as there are so many good ones to substitute in (power cleans, power snatches, hang cleans, hang snatches, jump squats, wide grip upright rows, deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, reverse lunge, military press, barbell curl, barbell hack lift, etc.).
– Next time around, I’m going to perform the exercises much more explosively.
JC Band Complex
In the second complex, I am using a pair of blue JC Bands. I perform 5 reps of:
1. chest press (left foot forward)
2. chest press (right foot forward)
3. row (left foot forward)
4. row (right foot forward)
5. body bend (left)
6. body bend (right)
7. Pallof press (left)
8. Pallof press (right), and
9. squat to face pull
Here’s the video:[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UC5ni5qIzg&hl=en&fs=1]
Here’s what I like about the band complex
– It reveals how strong your hips truly are from various directions. My friend who is much stronger than me at squats and bench press couldn’t walk out as far as I could as he couldn’t stabilize his body to get a good workout in his prime movers. It was as if the bands turned a Silverback gorilla into an ameba; he was all over the place. As he gains strength in his stabilizers and coordination with the bands, he will be able to get a much better workout. The stronger you are, the farther you can walk out which gives your hips (in this case the glutes, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, adductors, and hip rotators – which usually act as prime movers but with these band exercises they act as stabilizers in an isometric fashion) an even better workout. Strong weightroom guys initially suck at these until their smaller stabilizer muscles catch up in strength and their bodies learn to transfer force throughout the upper, core, and lower regions.
– It gives the shoulder stabilizers a great workout too. Whenever I use the JC Bands for some hard upper body work my rotator cuff muscles are very sore the following day.
– It reveals left/right asymmetries. As you can see, I’m more coordinated with my left foot forward than with my right foot forward. This type of training will help eliminate those asymmetries to build a more balanced, coordinated body.
– Watch the scapulohumeral rhythm on the chest presses! It looks like a push up plus, ableit an open-chain one. This movement requires a ton of serratus activation and scap protraction. Lots of freedom of movement for the scapulae on all upper body presses. The combination of rotator cuff and serratus activation on the presses along with the mid trap and rhomboid activation on the rows and face pulls make this workout an excellent shoulder conditioner.
– People underestimate how strong these bands are. I estimate that if I walk out far enough and perform a chest press I can have the equivalent of 300 lbs of tension at the end range of the movement. I bet most viewers will watch this video and assume it’s easy. Try it! Most are very surprised with the level of difficulty.
– You can’t get nearly as good of a conditioning workout with cables as you can bands as the bands are perfectly suited for explosiveness with their elastic nature. If you trained explosively with a cable column the weight stack would end up busting.
– Talk about full body integration! Everything is working together; you have transfer from the hands all the way into the ground with everything contracting in between.
– The bands allow you to hit a variety of directional load vectors: anteroposterior, lateromedial, torsional. You get core-stabilization from all directions.
Here’s what I’ll do differently next time around
– I just read my friend Nick (The Italian Stallion) Tumminello’s article on T-Nation entitled Six New Tabata Workouts for Fast Fat Loss where he shows an awesome complex with the JC Bands.
– Next time around, I’m going to perform the exercises much more explosively.
– Next time around, I’ll get better intuitively at judging the right distance necessary to provide optimal tension for each exercise.
– Next time around, I may experiment with different exercises as there are so many good ones to substitute in (band shoulder press, band lat pull, swimmer’s pull, one arm fly, sprint starts, speed alternating punches, speed alternating rows, hip rotations, etc.)
I think it’s wise to perform a variety of complexes in order to condition the body to all types of directional load vectors. Complexes can be performed with barbells, JC Bands, kettlebells, dumbbells, bodyweight exercises, trx systems, the grappler, battle ropes, Indian clubs, etc.
Hope you enjoyed the videos!
How do you feel this kind of training fits in with typical weight training sessions?
If, for instance you had squats programmed into your lifting session / part of your workout, would you still incorporate it in your complex (as described above?).
Do you think using “lifts” in energy system training will interfere with strength improvements when you are using the same or similar lifts in lifting workouts?
How do you think that this (potential) interference would compare to interval or tabata style training involving less-similar movements (striding, lateral movements, etc.).
Apologies for the many questions, just something I have been wondering recently myself and would appreciate your views.
Howard – great questions!
1. I’ve never been a big fan of complexes. I always felt I should have my strength training portion where I used barbells, db’s, bodyweight, kb’s, bands, etc., and my conditioining portion where I used an Airdyne, rower, prowler, or a hill for sprints. However, I’m becoming more open-minded to them.
2. I don’t think it interferes with strength on various lifts. Six months ago I would have said that it will lead to slow twitch fiber conversion and make athletes slower, but now I don’t agree with that.
3. I like the idea of using striding, lateral movements like slideboard lateral slides, tabatas, Airdyne intervals, etc. for athletes more often than using complexes. I like the band complexes because (as mentioned in the article) they help teach total body integration and help strengthen weak links. If I was a team strength coach I’d have 20 of these JC bands and every athlete would do them at the end of the workout one or two days a week.
4. In general I think you should have variety with your conditioning to prevent boredom and to offer a balanced program. Some may kick butt at the Airdyne but suck at the prowler. Some may kick butt at barbell complexes but suck at JC band complexes. You want to give them stuff they’re great at but also stuff they’re not so great at, which helps shore up weak links in addition to preventing overreaching.
Again, great questions!
Good stuff man! Nice work on getting up to 240–whoo ha! I head the AZ weather is nice every day now.
I don’t think there is ever any question that to drop fat, 50% of the equation is burning more calories by doing more volume; so complexes fit this quite well.
While I am not Bret and I look forward to his answer, my general thought is that it probably does not matter that much.
There is some interesting “interference” research done by Coffey and Hawley, et al. looking at this from a bio-energenics /adaptation angle
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Feb 26.
Early Time-Course of Akt Phosphorylation Following Endurance and Resistance Exercise.
Camera DM, Edge J, Short MJ, Hawley JA, Coffey VG.
Either way, set it up and test it out yourself and I would be interested in what you find.
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)
The weather is perfect right now!!! Thanks for the journal references! Always nice to have some research to support an argument.
Re-reading my questions – they are perhaps more relevant to training performance athletes with this protocol than the general public (which I think this post is aimed at). So possibly off-topic there slightly!
I have performed complexes before and used them with athletes, although not extensively so it would be hard for me to say X causes/does not cause Y result/interference.
In the study mentioned, I find it hard to take their findings and apply it in this situation, although I have not seen the full version.
Mike are you aware of any literature specifically concerning this kind of training?
I am certainly not against complexes, I just feel that they should be approached with caution when concerning athletes aiming to maximize performance.
With the general public, this stuff is light years ahead and far more efficient use of time than slapping someone on the elliptical and leaving them to it!
Howard, I know that Boyle and Dos use complexes (I think they use dumbbells most often) with their athletes. They’d be the folks to address this question to as they have tons of experience with it. I agree with your line of questioning and have some of the same concerns. However, as I alluded to earlier, in my old age I’m becoming more accepting of different methods. For example, the thought of having an athlete perform a set of ten reps would have scared me six months ago when I was more paranoid of making athletes slower. Now I wouldn’t fear that as form tends to be better with lighter weight (which makes it safer), and the higher reps help build work capacity or what I like to call “power endurance” if the reps are performed explosively. I’m not shying away from heavy lifting, just becoming less scared of lighter lifting.
I spoke with Coach Dos when he came to Newcastle over here in England about this and he felt the benefits of using complexes outweigh the negatives. I happen to agree with him in his situation there at the College of the Canyons and it does have a place.
Agree fully re: variety.
I actually quite like them personally for me – it just has to be the right piece to fit in the right gap in the puzzle with my athletes (that have more to lose/gain than me).
Loving the blog Bret, and cheers to MTN for the input too!
Howard, I have not seen a ton of lit on it, but to be perfectly honest I have not looked much either.
It all comes down to the coach running tests.
The coach says, hey, I will try this type of training and see how much it positively transfers to their sport.
If they do that, I don’t really care what they use as long as they can show it helped their sport for their athletes.
The only reason I care is that it gives me a really good starting point to run my own tests.
Good stuff guys!!!
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)
It is very nice article. I am happy dropping here to have an inspirations. Keep up your good job.
Thanks for this article! I was just thinking if I needed to add conditioning to my workout schedule. I used to do Mariannes workouts only then I got your book and now just do weight workouts.
I feel I”m getting stronger but I still have some fat to lose. So i think I can fit this in nicely. Before seeing this I was thinking, do I need to do 3-4 weight workouts a week AND 2-3 conditioning workouts a week? That would be alot for me to accomplish.
I like your videos, really helps see what to do. I also like the suggestions on the Tnation site, but I did not like his sexist comments on the Japanese photos. !
Those are far more degrading than any you have posted, I just mention it because of your one post asking for peoples opinions.
Thanks again for the great work you do for people like me!