Complexes: Who, When, How?

Discussion in 'Kettlebell' started by vegpedlr, Feb 18, 2019.

  1. vegpedlr

    vegpedlr More than 500 posts

    Lots of talk here about AGT and A+A. But I also see many reports from people about what great results they get with complexes, both BB and KB. Hector, Neupert, Flynn etc. all have well received programs, especially the db KB versions. But they all look pretty glycolytic to me.

    Who should train with complexes? Why would one want to? When should one do them? How should one go about it?

    And on the flip, who should NOT, why wouldn’t one, when’s the wrong time, how would one do them wrong?
    Neuro-Bob likes this.
  2. wespom9

    wespom9 More than 500 posts Certified Instructor

    Would not do with a beginner. Too much workload for someone not completely dialed in with their technique.

    Generally helpful for hypertrophy. Will naturally be glycolytic due to the nature of it, but longer rest period between sets can lessen this. It's a good mixup from more low rep/neural strength type of work. I know Neupert is/was big on using them for 4 weeks then switching to something more pure strength oriented.
    WxHerk likes this.
  3. North Coast Miller

    North Coast Miller More than 2500 posts

    Personally I use them timed once/week to improve muscular stamina at the high end of what I am capable of. In conjunction with HIIT they have improved my heavy resistance (for me) recovery tremendously - they have not done much for my top end, but that isn't really what they're best for.

    That said, you have a lot of flexibility when it comes to loading, rest periods etc that can be manipulated to target strength or endurance. By function they are going to be glycolytic, but by moving the working focus around you can do a lot to help active recovery.

    They come in very handy for group training, body comp, and if simple exercises are used they are great for beginners - my 11yr old twins (boy/girl) are currently doing :
    20 jump squats
    crabwalk one end of house to the other
    bearwalk same
    duckwalk same
    12 sit throughs each direction
    20 burpees

    Shake it off and repeat 3 - 5x
    In this case is just a very basic mix of strength and conditioning that requires very little skill and helps with mobility, balance, wind

    This is one of the best blog posts on the topic in form of circuits:
    The Official Steve Maxwell Website
    Neuro-Bob likes this.
  4. McGrath

    McGrath Double-Digit Post Count

    Who should train with complexes? Anyone that has technique dialed in and wants to put on some muscle.
    Why would one want to? they are challenging and fun (subjectively), to put on some muscle. They are also pretty straight forward and easy to understand - no calculating percentages, NL, ARI etc... They are great for parents of young kids/toddlers as most can be done under a half hour and they are simple and easy to follow since it's been proven that if you have 1-3 year old kids you become a zombie and can't do things like count, add, think straight. "Do this, for this many reps, this much rest, this many times through." Not much thinking or decision making. They are very direct and get results as long as you're eating enough. My wife loves complexes, especially Pavel's moving target complex and Geoff Neupert's KB Muscle as she's a simple person and likes simple things, and she really feels like she "got a workout" after.
    When should one do them? I'd say when you aren't training for anything else, or aren't playing a serious sport in season, and right before you go to the beach :)
    How should one go about it? Pick one you like and let it rip.

    Who shouldn't? Anyone injured or severely deconditioned/coming off injury, anyone playing a sport in-season, someone not proficient in the movements, anyone that's not ready to commit. Also, someone who likes to program hop... 2 and a half weeks of the Total Tension Complex isn't "doing the complex." Commit to the program. I'd say you're "doing them wrong" if you modify/change and bastardize the program and question everything. Anyone who can't do the program as written and complete it I suppose. Little ramble there, hope this helped bud.
  5. Marc

    Marc More than 500 posts

    A+A is "longer lived", i.e. you can (and in fact should) do them over a prolonged period of time.
    Complexes are indeed very glycolitic based and therefore typically last 4-12 weeks (12 weeks is the absolute max). Complexes are def nothing that you should do regularly. Once completed you should switch to something else for the next 4-12 weeks (in most cases rather towards the 12 weeks).Complexes sessions are pretty brief in and time efficient but they tax you a lot both physically and mentally. With that being said I would not recommend pairing them with another strenous activity, i.e. if you decide to run a complex programme give it your all for the alloted time and keep other activities light. Basically you can design complexes for strength, hypertrophy or endurance. Due to the longer TUT most complexes will naturally fall into the hypertrophy/endurance range. Complexes are def not for beginners. You absolutely have to be confident in all of the exercises because you will also have to do them highly fatigued, so not for beginners. A+A on the other hand will even improve your tecnique since you are fresh before every set and use a relatively heavy weight for low reps.
  6. conor78

    conor78 More than 500 posts

    Niek Schokkenbroek likes this.
  7. North

    North Double-Digit Post Count

    Geoff Neupert's KB Express and Hector’s KB snacks are spot on for me at the moment!
    McGrath and Mark Limbaga like this.
  8. Mark Limbaga

    Mark Limbaga Quadruple-Digit Post Count Certified Instructor

    of your sked is very hectic and unpredictable, yes for sure but don't be surprised the programs can get you stronger
    Denny Phillips likes this.
  9. Denny Phillips

    Denny Phillips Triple-Digit Post Count

    I just finished Genesis by Hector and after testing this morning my 6-8 rep bells became my 12 rep bells.
    McGrath and Mark Limbaga like this.
  10. Mark Limbaga

    Mark Limbaga Quadruple-Digit Post Count Certified Instructor

    Very awesome news..

    What's next on your menu?
  11. Denny Phillips

    Denny Phillips Triple-Digit Post Count

    Planning on doing the 4-Week Transitional Phase and then determine where my goals lie. I presume you have done 701A and would like your thoughts on it. One of the things that has occurred to me is that with both Genesis and Dry Fighting Weight being 3x weekly I am probably recovering better than when I put the pedal to the metal with frequency. I am unwilling to surrender much to being 62, but I have to be practical as well. Do I stand to recover as well with 701A as with Easy Strength for example?
  12. Mark Limbaga

    Mark Limbaga Quadruple-Digit Post Count Certified Instructor

    I'd like to know what your primary and secondary goals are of that is possible
  13. Denny Phillips

    Denny Phillips Triple-Digit Post Count

    1) Maintain/build strength and maintain a measure of explosive capacity. 2) Improve/maintain body comp.
  14. Griff

    Griff Double-Digit Post Count

    I want to give a slightly different perspective on complexes. I think complexes are some of the most beneficial things we can use with beginners. The only reason that we think of complexes as being advanced is because we tend to use advanced movements with them.

    I started using complexes of simple movements like halo's, goblet squats, deadlifts and rows as warm ups for all of my classes as well as many of my 1 on 1 training sessions. What I've found is a little surprising. My students are learning movements quicker and I'm able to gauge their readiness almost immediately so I know whether it's a good day to challenge them or spend more time working on recovery/technique.

    When performing the complexes I will usually include paused isometric holds in various positions like the bottom of a squat. I've found that without exception my students squat,hinge and rowing patterns have improved from the added time in those positions (if you're doing them wrong it's very tiring). Since I teach classes at a public gym I get a lot of new students popping in and this drastically shortens the time needed to teach the basic kettlebell lifts while not being boring for my experienced students.

    I think that a person can use complexes all the way through their lifting careers and just change the lifts that they incorporate as they become more advanced. My wife who is an SFG as well uses complexes of swings, presses, snatches etc before her heavy lifting too. I really don't see a downside as long as you're leaving something in the tank.

    On a side note complexes were first used by Istvan Javorek to teach the Olympic lifts. Others like Al Miller and Johnny Parker (as outlined in their book "the System") use complexes to develop movement competency and base levels of conditioning with their football athletes before adding heavy lifting. It's a method that has been working really well for me.

    Don't be afraid to experiment. (y)
    WxHerk, fractal, wespom9 and 3 others like this.
  15. Tirofijo

    Tirofijo More than 300 posts

    How long were you doing Genesis?
  16. Bro Mo

    Bro Mo Quadruple-Digit Post Count

    I like complexes for a few purposes:
    1. Time constraints. Able to increase the density of training and get more done in less time especially if doing antagonistic complexes that allow one to rest while still working.
    2. Equipment constraints. If I only have a light bell and want to do something that a heavier bell would be more ideal, I want to fatigue myself with something else a little before. For example, with jerks, it helps to fatigue a little with presses to help force the correct jerk technique because it's necessary just to get the weight up after presses.
    3. Work Capacity. Increasing the total work time of a given set. Maybe it's just keeping weight moving longer (i.e., snatches > cleans > lunges > squats > presses > swings) or maybe it's for time under tension of a specific muscle or group of muscles (i.e., clean & presses > clean & jerks)
    4. Movement patterning. Somewhat similar to the equipment constraints, sometimes I find doing swings and high-pulls right before snatching helps improve the snatches.
    I use them more sparingly now than I used to. I went through a phase where I made everything a complex. Partly because it was beneficial at the time and partly because of the novelty. Kettlebells are so easy to do complexes with that it almost begs to be done.
    conor78 and runninggirevik like this.
  17. ali

    ali Quadruple-Digit Post Count

    Hi Denny...Do you ever look out your spikes and burn up some track?
  18. Denny Phillips

    Denny Phillips Triple-Digit Post Count


    It's an eight week, 3xweekly program. I did, however, perform Week One twice due to leaving the needed bells home during a holiday trip to visit friends and relatives. So, in my case, it wound up being a nine week program by mistake.


    I seldom cut loose beyond hill sprints nowadays. On occasion I will run a few sets of three 110m hurdles (meaning three hurdles, not full sets). I love the three-step rhythm and the nostalgia of once being able to perform a semi-faultless sprint over barriers. I've been more concerned with aerobic development sticking to MAF principles. I still like to do Mach drills as part of a dynamic warm-up that I've used for years with my college and high school kids. Brent McFarlane is my guru.
    Tirofijo likes this.
  19. watchnerd

    watchnerd Triple-Digit Post Count

    Complexes are conditioning tools. They're good for getting a 'good workout'. That doesn't make them great for training other attributes.

    There are many other conditioning tools (sled pushes / pulls, loaded carries) that allow one to synch deeper into fatigue than complexes due to their simplicity. Or, alternatively, to stay in the fat burning zone for a long time.

    But people should be aware complexes aren't the best choice for increasing power (you can't generate max power for 20 reps) or for max strength (a 20 RM weight tests your muscular endurance, not your limit strength).

    Whenever I've trained for a specific sport, complexes were not done for anything other than conditioning.
 likes this.
  20. watchnerd

    watchnerd Triple-Digit Post Count

    I don't touch them when I'm in a pre-meet weightlifting training cycle because I'm practicing singles, doubles, and triples of sufficient weight (>80% 1 RM) that I can't do high reps and the rest periods are long.

    In other words, they don't help me compete.
 and Bro Mo like this.

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