What is the Point of Complexes?

If complexes were a person, we would date them so hard. They build muscle, they enhance endurance, and they expend boatloads of energy. In the spirit of our training generally relying on the the minimum effective dose principle, nothing better represents concept of training economy quite like the efficiency from performing a string of movements tied together.

Complexes can show up in a number of ways. They could be an Olympic hang clean complex, a plyometric bodyweight complex, DB hell trots, a complex on the rings, shrimp gumbo, shrimp creole. shrimp stew…tons of ways we can creatively take advantage of the physiological benefits at play.

Ultimately, all of the primary benefits of a complex are rooted in their ability to create a high training day density, which is when you deliberately perform a lot of volume and stress in a short amount of time. This density provided from complexes manifests itself into three main areas:

Muscle Growth
Anytime you are wielding a barbell for 30 seconds without rest,  you’re going to build muscle. It doesn’t matter how much weight is on the bar, you’re going to hit the requisite amount of volume for a hypertrophy stimulus. Said in English, reps are going to be high and muscles loves high reps. But it’s not just the volume that’s to credit. After all, you could just do 20 barbell curls and that is “volume.” It’s the nature of the type of volume that a complex provides. Let’s take a Hell Trot. A P360 homemade original dating back to 2011 when we came up with it.

With a set of DBs:

  • Push-Up +
  • Renegade Row +
  • Deadlift +
  • Curl & Press +
  • Lunge

Let’s now examine with our triceps are doing on it.

  • Push-Up — Triceps are acting as a prime mover.
  • Renegade Row — Triceps are acting as an isometric stabilizer on opposite arm and antagonist on working arm.
  • Deadlift — Isometric
  • Curl & Press — Prime mover
  • Lunge — Isometric

We just trained and built the triceps in a number of lengthened positions that extend well beyond say, 20 pushdowns.

Muscle Endurance
For the exact same reason, we’re developing a significant amount of muscle endurance. Your body is working hard to clear the lactate that is produced from that much anaerobic work at once, so the net result is an improvement at your muscle’s ability to sustain longer and harder amounts of work. For those of you who enjoy the P360 benchmark workouts, this matters quite a lot because most often we hit failure in efforts such as though because we can’t clear lactate from our muscles fast enough.

Lactate is mainly produced by Type-II muscle fibers which are highly glycolytic, however lactate is mainly cleared by Type-I fibers that have a higher mitochondrial capacity. Therefore, to get better at clearing lactate, even in the format of a brutally intense short duration circuit, we need to have trained Type-I fibers. To train lactate specifically, you want higher volume workouts that have you working at very intensities, but not high enough so that you hit failure (redline). Repeat the effort a few times with just enough rest that allows you to come close to repeating the effort you just did. This is exactly what complexes provide.

Energy Expenditure

We’re quite loud with our disgust towards the industry’s proclivity for driving fitness consumerism towards calories. It’s not that you shouldn’t burn calories, it’s that you shouldn’t make it the number one goal or determine your workout’s worth over what your watch says. But when it comes towards expending energy in a workout, complexes are one of the most time profitable ways to do so. We know that the bigger muscles we train, the more calories we burn. Big muscles are hungry muscles.

So in a complex like this, energy expenditure is going to be quite high through training the very large hamstrings, glutes, and lats all in one movement.