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A Complex Issue

Develop strength and improve your technique with complexes for Olympic lifts.


With the increasing popularity of CrossFit Olympic lifts have recently experienced a resurgence. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that there are far too many arm chair Olympic lifting experts popping up like pills at a Charlie Sheen party. These keyboard warriors have more experience cleaning the porcelain throne and most of their jerking experience comes courtesy of Larry Flynt Publications.

When I learned to perform Olympic lifts, it was a rule that you keep the volume relatively low in the classic lifts like the snatch and power clean. Today guys doing rep maxes in these lifts. This not only undermines the intended purpose of using the Olympic lifts, force production and speed, but it also puts the athlete at much greater risk for injury.

The Olympic lifts, being as technical as they are, require attention to detail and a relatively fresh body because when the body gets too fatigued, proper technique is the first thing to break down. The butt may shoot up out of the bottom of the lift or the back may round during the first pull. Both of these are big no-nos in the Olympic lifts and will invariably end in a missed lift, or worse, becoming acquainted with the local orthopedic surgeon.

A rule of thumb for the people I train is that six is the highest number of reps performed in a set of power cleans and or the snatch.

And this is with a small repositioning rest (10–20 seconds) between each rep. After six reps, the fatigue can put you out of position, putting you at risk for injury and also reinforces bad positions that can become habits if done too often.

Don’t get me wrong — volume does have its place in a properly periodized Olympic lifting program, especially in the beginning phases of your accumulation cycle where the goal is hypertrophy and building a base for future training.

There are many ways to achieve this volume without performing high-rep power cleans and the snatch. One of the most effective ways to get volume is by performing complexes.

Complexes Made Simple

A complex is basically the use of two or more lifts in conjunction with each other to create one set. Complexes can be used as a low-rep set to work on your weaknesses, but for the purposes of this article we’re talking about complexes being used as way to achieve some volume in our workouts.

A sample volume complex could be four hang snatches followed by four overhead squats or five power cleans followed by five front squats. You want to perform the more technical lift first and follow it with a less-technical move, which can be There are many combinations of lifts that can make up your complexes, and this is where your knowledge of your body

and its weaknesses comes in. If you’re strong from the second pull to the catch but have trouble squatting out your cleans, then you need to work on your leg strength. If your second pull is your problem, but you can squat a house, your complex should reflect that.

If your overhead position in the snatch isn’t rock solid, you could do four hang snatches followed by four overhead pause squats; pausing on the bottom of the overhead squat will help reinforce your catch position. You can’t pause an overhead squat without being in a balanced position.

The programming of complexes into your training requires knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses, but a simple eight-week cycle would look something like this. This should be done early in your training cycle where you are primarily concerned with hypertrophy and building a base for training later on down the road.


These complexes should be done with the same weight, and directly following each other. Don’t take a break in between the two lifts.

If you’re looking to safely add volume to your Olympic lifting program while still working towards the ultimate goal of lifting more weight, give the complex a try.