Making Complexes Not So Complex

A tried and true tactic for everyday fitness

Photo by Victor Freitas from Pexels

Everyday fitness is about a lot of different things, but first and foremost it is a measure of your strength — the ability to move and manipulate resistance — and your conditioning — the ability to work longer and recover quicker.

Often, these two things — strength and conditioning — are trained separately. Do some lifts, then run on the treadmill. We can do much, much better.

Enter the Complex

Let’s start with some definitions —

  • An implement, for our purposes, is a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, sandbag, set of gymnastics rings, or any other appropriate tool made for training.

  • A rep, or repetition, is one complete cycle of an exercise, loading up a muscle and then unloading it. Multiple reps in a row is called a set.

  • A complex is a series of exercises done one set at a time with a single implement without putting it down. One cycle through a set of all exercises is called a round.

Whew. Now that that’s over… let’s look at it in a more practical manner. Here’s some examples of complexes with a variety of implements:

Complexes are, in short, doing a bunch of work with a thing before you put that thing down.

Why, Though?

Good question. Why do this thing some internet guy said is good?

Complexes (should) use compound lifts and will cover most if not all of the muscle in your body each round, which is very time efficient. Complexes switch exercises when you begin to fatigue, allowing you to keep working your conditioning without sacrificing the load for strength work. Complexes are simple to execute and use a single tool, so can be done in almost any gym, and without hogging a bunch of equipment.

These are time efficient strategies to improve both strength and conditioning, to get you out of the gym sooner, doing more of the things you love.


There are many ways to do complexes. Play around with a few different styles and find what you like best. I personally like complexes with 3–5 exercises done in sets of 5–8 reps done for as many rounds as possible in 15–30 minutes. (Hint: if this looks a lot like density training, that’s because it is)

I personally find that any complex that recommends different rep numbers for each lift is a recipe for disaster — you will very quickly lose your ability to keep count. But it’s simply enough to adjust all rep numbers to be the same.

If you’ve never done complexes, give yourself 4–8 weeks doing them 3 times a week. I guarantee improvements across the board.

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