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Complexes for Size and Strength


I read the article about doing complexes rather than cardio.

My question is this, can the complexes be used for size and strength increases ?
Now i realise that to start the complexes you need to start with a lower weight, but surely if you are doing a total body workout using complexes then the rules of progression would work in the same way ?

I am going to try this whatever the responses, but, i would still like some opinions.

Now yesterday i gave this a go!!

1 'Set'
10 x Deadlifts
10 x Bent over rows
10 x front raises
10 x front squats
10 x overhead press
10 x back squats
10 x behind the back shrugs
10 x bench press
10 x skull crushers
10 x barbell curl

And then repeat the set 5 times.

Now in fairness i did the above workout with a 30kg barbell, and today i am sore as hell.

Prior to this my 'standard' efforts were as follows:-

Bench press 100kg x 10
Squat 70kg x 10 (have only recently gone back to squatting
Deadlift 150kg x 10

Yes, i know, i need to lift heavier and eat more.
But i wanted to give this method a try.

If i could add 2 kg to the barbell every 2 weeks, then in 10 weeks i would be doing the above the a 50kg weight, which starts to sound quite a lot more taxing ?
And the 2kg increment sounds do-able because i will be doing the workout 3 times a week, with weekends off ?


It doesn't sound like it'd provide the type of stimulus that makes a muscle grow.

Sure, it'd stress the whole system, and your VO2 max would skyrocket and your RHR would drop and you'd be really healthy, but probably small too. Like those crossfit guys.


Using a complex for size or strength is like using a treadmill to build bigger legs. It might work, but there are much more effective methods.

Not really. The nature of training with a complex requires you to always cater the weight you're using to the lowest load you can handle in the series of exercises (and by the way, the series you used kinda sucks. I'll get to that in a bit though.)

5 sets of 10 exercises at 10 reps... how in the world did you plan on this improving your strength? Reps are too high to build strength, and at 30 kilos, the weight is (hopefully) too low to be much of a challenge in most of the exercises.

That's because the exercise selection is poor. Front raises? You really think there's much point to deadlifting, squatting, and shrugging (shrugs??? I'd rather go with high pulls) the same weight you can front raise? From the point of view of building strength or size, there really isn't.

Even things like curls and extensions... if you've got your mind set on doing those, consider doing something like an "accessory complex" with 3-5 isolation exercises for arms and shoulders. That way the load will be more relative to the exercises you're doing.

Dude, if you can front raise almost-half your bodyweight for 10 reps, I'd be surprised to say the least. I'd mark your proposed plan off as "sounds good on paper, but won't pan out."

If you do want to use complexes for size, stick with 2-5 reps per exercise and fewer total sets. But even then, you're kinda using a screwdriver to hammer nails into a wall. (Using a tool for a job it isn't ideally suited to.)


I guess you could try doing the bear (hang clean, front squat, push press, back squat, push press) at higher weights for fewer reps or maybe some kind of Oly lift progression (i.e. jump shrug, hang pull, hang clean and maybe throw in a jerk or a push press), but that'd still be defeating the purpose of doing a complex in the first place. Complexes are primarily a conditioning tool and should be treated as such.


Thanks for the replies, they are all very valid points.
It has certainly made me think about the structure of the workout......perhaps its something i could do (once i have re-thought the lifts) to increase my VO2 levels to enable me to train with greater intensity once it has been completed ?

Thanks again.


Didn't Thib write a piece about complexes for size/strength a while ago in a Monday article? Something like the reality show circuit?

One thing sure is for size/strength, decrease the reps and add weight.


I really thought complexes were a replacement for cardio. You use them to burn fat.

So if you wanted muscle and size you lift heavy weights for low reps most days then do a complex one day a week to burn back some of the fat your putting on with the additional muscle.

Just my 2c


Also another point is that a man with zero training has equal strength in the bench press and the overhead press ?
Which is why i am returning to very low level weights.

Another point i wished to make is that i will be removing the front raise from the above list.


I think you may be missing the point to a complex. You're supposed to use ONE piece of equipment and not put it down for the whole duration of the complex. The bench press that you included doesn't allow for that. Either you'd waste time carrying the same barbell to the bench and load it up with weights, or you'd end up using a different barbell for the bench press. In either case, you're no longer doing a complex.

isolation exercises also have no place in a complex, because they will limit the amount of weight you can use for your larger compound exercises.

Finally, you're also using complexes for the wrong reasons. They are a great addition to your workouts, but using them to build muscle and strength is like using a toothbrush to clean the floors of the playboy mansion.


One thing you may want to try is not trying to get the whole program in a single complex. If you split it up into a few complexes, you could use higher weights (by grouping the higher weight exercises together), ensure smooth transitions, and you could even adjust the rep scheme to allow for a closer to even distribution of intensity.

Here is an example of what I mean:

Using 150 lbs
Deadlift for 12 reps
Clean for 5 reps
Front Squat for 10 reps
Push Press for 3 rep
Row for 3 reps

Other exercise selections include the above mentioned "(hang clean, front squat, push press, back squat, push press) at higher weights for fewer reps or maybe some kind of Oly lift progression (i.e. jump shrug, hang pull, hang clean and maybe throw in a jerk or a push press)"

Note: these numbers are just wildly made up, and I have made no attempt to get real numbers -- such a project would depend on your individual lifts anyways. But you could use a heavy enough weight to generate a size/strength gain in all of the lifts, it would just be more pure strength emphasis with the low reps in the lifts that would normally require lighter weights. For the even lighter lifts (e.g. front raises and curls), just do a second complex and use a similar rep scheme if appropriate. I agree with others that this approach will be sub-optimal for size/strength, but you may enjoy it and if done right (perhaps not an easy task) it may give you some improvements in size, strength and conditioning on a limited time.

Also, as a brief side note, while complexes are improved by not needing to change equipment, it is not totally necessary if you transition from one exercise to the next without rest. It would be strange to count it as a complex if you transition from skull crushers to curls without letting go of the bar (something which I imagine takes a few breaths worth of time) but did not count if you did chin-ups and then dips (about a 1-2 second transition time). So if you switch one loaded bar for another quickly, or DBs, or to pullups or whatever, you'll get the same basic effects -- just make sure the transitions are not at all complicated and thus do not start to become rest periods.


The workout you did was effective right now seeing how your body is so sore. However if you continue down that road you can forget about getting bigger. Like dude said about training your legs with a treadmill.


Soreness doesn't mean it was an effective workout. Just means it was a new stimulus.