Let’s face facts. Building muscle and getting strong are the “fun stuff” when it comes to weight training. No one wants to put in the work of “cutting down” regardless of whether it’s for a competition, an athletic weight class, or just to look good on the beach in the Cayman Islands. Talking about the best ways to strip away body fat just isn’t fun.
It’s easy to pack on size and add strength when the rules, less a few particulars, are simple – eat big, train smart, and train hard. However, fat loss is a different beast. We have to think about caloric restriction, what foods to avoid, meal frequency, our intensity in the weight room, workout duration, timing of cardio, intensity of cardio, and key supplements. So tell you what, I’ll give the goods on the weight room stuff, and the other experts can handle the rest of that. Deal?
In comes the hallowed complex
Complexes can be performed with either barbells or dumbbells, and can involve anything from as few as two movements to basically as many as a lifter can handle. At the end of the day they have major benefits for the body when it comes to fat loss. Here are a few:
- They increase time spent under tension
- They get the HR up and often into a state of EPOC (excessive post-workout oxygen consumption)
- They raise the metabolic demand (because of the above point)
- They can encourage release of key hormones depending on the nature of the complex
To perform a complex, the rules are simple. Perform a series of exercises in a row without putting the weight down between exercises. You go right into the next exercise with no breaks. Of course, it makes things easier if there’s some form of “progression” through the chain, so that the exercises somewhat “flow together”. It would be a real hassle going from say, a deadlift, straight into a back squat with a barbell, since you’d have to first deadlift the bar, then clean it up to your shoulders, then press it over to load it on the back. You’ll see what I mean as we get into the workout.
There are many ways to spin this, so here are a few examples:
Sample Complex A – Single Barbell
A1) Romanian Deadlift
A2) Bent-Over Rows
A3) Hang Cleans
A4) Push Press
A5) Back Squats
As far as reps go, since we’re using the same weight for all the exercises, clearly some movements will be a touch easier than others (i.e. deadlifts vs. push press). Adjust the amount of reps per exercise accordingly, using more reps for the easier movements, and less for the harder ones. Also, don’t use a weight that is heavier than your 10 RM for any of the exercises you choose. An ideal rep scheme for the above complex may be something like this:
Romanian Deadlift: 8 reps
Bent-Over Rows: 6 reps
Hang Cleans : 5 reps
Push Press: 5 reps
Back Squats: 8 reps
An easy way to kick things up a notch would be to turn up the volume on the legs. Two sets of squats in the same complex are no joke. Watch me die in this suicidal complex of bent-over rows, front squats, push press, and back squats, all performed for five reps.
Sample Complex B – Dumbbell
A single pair of dumbbells can also make up an effective complex.
A2) Dumbbell Clean and Press
A3) Reverse Lunges
The good thing about using dumbbells is that since unilateral exercises have the chance to enter the mix (in this case lunges and renegades), the body spends much more time under tension. More time carrying weights does nothing but good for hormone release, conditioning and development.
Enough With the Basics, Bring in the Unconventional!
Single Muscle Group Complex: Focus on isolating one muscle group by starting with the most isolated movement and moving into the biggest compound movement while successively increasing reps. Here’s an example of a back complex performed by yours truly. I perform high pulls for seven reps, then Yates rows for 10 reps, then finish with bent-over rows for 15 reps. This strategy is to tap into a larger portion of back fibers as the giant set continues.
Single Dumbbell or Kettlebell Complex
A1) One-Arm Snatch – 8 reps/arm
A2) Goblet Squats – 10 reps
A3) One-Arm Clean and Press – 8 reps/arm
A4) Reverse Lunge – 8 reps /leg
Nothing fancy here. Just metabolic blasting fit for a king. Your heart rate will be going crazy for the rest of the week!
I borrowed this from strength coach extraordinaire Joe DeFranco. Check it out here:
A Few Side Notes
You can make weighted complexes your full workouts by doing multiple rounds of each complex. Focus on five rounds with a three to four minute rest between each round depending on the intensity of the complex. Once again, remember to use the 10RM of the smallest exercise for the complex. In my first barbell complex example, the smallest exercise would be the push press.
It’s Not That Complex!
The point of this article is simple — we just want to employ methods to spike our metabolism, get the heart rate racing, use our strongest muscle fibers, and subsequently trigger the most fat loss. As I mentioned earlier, the best part about complexes is that we can still work in a weight and rep range to keep our strength levels, well, level. We can also avoid sacrificing too much muscle to extensive longwinded cardio routines. The result is more conditioned muscle and workouts that cut your gym time in half. Now who wouldn’t want that?