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Building Strength and Power With Complex Training

Building Strength and Power With Complex Training
Kenny Croxdale, B.A., C.S.C.S. and Tom Morris, M.S., C.S.C.S

Reprinted with the permission of the author and Mike Lambert - Powerlifting USA Magazine - Feb/2001 Powerlifting USA subscriptions- Call 1-800-448-7693 to order.

Strength, speed and technique are the most important components in cranking more weight. You have to be strong enough to lift the weight, fast enough to push it quickly through your sticking point, and as Dr Tom McLaughlin said, "Technique is everything". Complex Traiing is a way to develop all three aspects simultaneously.

For years, the development of powerlifting was brute/absolute strength. Louie Simmons' innovate methods have demonstrated that speed is essential to elevating more weight. Simmons has put the "power" in powerlifting as well as emphasizing technique. .

Power/speed training is schooling for your neuromuscular system, teaching it to fire faster. You want to outrun your sticking point with speed. Think of moving a heavy weight through a sticking point as driving your car through a mud hole. Ever stop in a mud hole? You sit there, spinning your wheels. What you want to do is have enough speed that the momentum carries you through the mud hole, i.e, your sticking point. The more speed you have going into the mud hole, the greater chance you have of making it through. The same thing applies to you squat, bench press and deadlift. You want to blow past the "Bermuda Triangle" of your lift, that point where it gets lost.

Before discussing how complex training can improve your powerlifting, let's take a look at what complex training is. Pavel Tsatsouline defined complex training in his book, Beyond Stretching as "[t]he plyometric/weight lifting sequence". More specifically, complex training involves the performance of an explosive plyometric movement followed by a strength movement. Tsatsouline definitely felt like it worked. He explained that since preceding a strength movement with a similar, explosive plyometric movement allows for a greater weight to be used during a strength movement, a greater training effect is elicited. He gave the example of Dr Fred Hatfield would, during competition, precede his squat with a verticle jump and his deadlift with a depth jump.

Canadian strength coach, Charles Poliquin, although not mentioning complex training by name describes its use in his "1-6 Principle". Poluqin was introduced to the theory by Dragomir Ciorosaln, 1984 Olympic bronze medalist in Olympic weightlifting, at the National Strength and Conditioning Association Convention in San Diego in 1991. Poliquin applied his "1-6 Principle" with great success to bobsledders, lugers, skiers, and speed skaters preparing for the 1992 Olympic Games. Poliquin mentioned how other top athletes used what is now being called complex training in their training programs.

Although Poliquin's "1-6 Principle" is designed to increases strength, he states that this type of training will also increase power. "If you do a 6RM [the maximum load you can lift for 6 reps] load within 3-10 minutes of doing a max single, you can use a greater weight than you could if you hadn't done the 1RM set." In other words, the 1RM somehow stiumlates teh neuromuscular system, causing it to perform a heavier than usual 6RM.

Dr Donald Chu defines complex training a bit differently. "Complex training matches pairs of exercises from two sources: a resistance pool and a plyometric [power/speed] pool." According to Chu, "[b]y itself, strength training will produce results, but not to the same level" as training simultaneously with a similar, explosive plyometric movement.

William Ebben and Dr Phillip Watts, in their article entitled, "A Review of Combined Weight Training and Plyometric Training Modes: Complex Training", which appeared in the october 1998 Journal of Strength and Conditioning, defined complex training as "alternating biomechanically comparable high-load weight and plyometric exercises in the same workout".

Additional data presented in the 1998 Journal of Strength and Conditioning article, "Accute Enhancement of Power Performance from Heavy Loaded Squats" reveals that "performing a heavy half-squat prior to a loaded countermovement jump testing can enhance jumping performance."

Therefore, for the purpose of this article, complex training will be defined as utilizing a strength movement followed by a similar, explosive plyometric movement followed by a related strength movement. In either case, it appears that the power and/or strength movement will be increased, i.e., greater than if the two different movements were not performed consecutively.

Althougth the mechanisms by which complex training works are not well understood, a number of possible factors have been identified. Ebben and Watts identify these factors as follows: neuromuscular, hormonal, metabolic, myogenic and/or psychomotor. These authors do suggest that neuromuscular adaptations seem to best account for the increased performance associated with compelx training. "High-load weight training increase motorneuron excitability and reflex potentiation, which may create optimal training conditions for subsequent plyometric exercise. Also, the fatigue associated with high-load weight training may force more motor units to be recruited during the plyometric phase, possibly enhancing the training state."

Is utilizing complex training to improve one's powerlifting performance a new concept?  To answer this question, one only needs to look at what Louie Simmons is doing.  There are definitely similarities between Simmons' program and complex training.  Simmons' program  is "unidirectional" which means that you focus on only one thing at a time.  Simmons' twice weekly training sessions focus on strength (usually heavy weights and grinding it out) one day and speed (blowing it through the roof at 50-60% of maximum) on the other day. 

Complex training applies the same basic concept, with a twist.  Complex training combines strength training and speed/power training in the same workout, whereas Simmons trains those same components on different days.  The end result of Complex  Training is an increase of power and strength. 

Performing a strength movement followed by a power movement elicits a neurological response that enables you to develop more power, thereby allowing for a greater training effect.  In other words, performaing a strength set followed by a power set will enable you to perform a power set more expolsive with more speed. 

Baseball players are a great example of the use of this concept.  Prior to going to the plate, some attach a weight to the end of the bat and take practice swings with the bat.  When using a heavier bat, their warm up set becomes their strength set.  Their next set at the plate is their power set.   The batter generates more power/speed at the plate.  The batter hammers the ball harder.  This is compelx training!

It is exactly what you want to do with yuur squat, bench and deadlift, generate more power.  Only instead of hammering the ball, (the ball being the sticking point fo rhe batter) you hammer your sticking  point.  You want to rip through your sticking point just as Mark McGwire does with the ball. 

So, now let's take a look at the recommended exercises, reps, sets, and rest periods when implementing Complex Traiing.  Think of complex training as a super set of two exercises for the same muscle group.  Exercise one being your strength set, while exercise two is your power set. 

A great way of increasing your Bench Press would be doing heavy weighted dips (or a similar movement that involved the same muscle group as the bench press) for your sstrength movement.  Taking a rest period and then doing a set of the Bench Press for your power movement. 

Your strength sets need to be close to your maximum.  Your power sets should be kept beetween 30-60% of your 1RM. 

Repetitions for complex training need to be kept low for both your strength and power exercises.  Repetitions should be in the 1-5 range for both your strength and power exercises.  Sets should range between 5-9 per exercise with the rest periods of 3 minutes or longer between sets.

An exaple of a Complex Trainig Program for the Bench Press would be Exericse One/Strength-Heavy Weighted Dips X 3 Reps - Rest Period of 3 + minutes.  Exericse Two-Power Bench Press (30-60% of your max single) X 3 Reps.  Rest Period of 3 + minutes.  You need to repeat the sequence above for for a minimum 5 Sets of  Heavy Dips and 5 sets of the Power Bench. 

Complex training will work for you, if you employ it correctly.  The extent to which compex training will work for you depends on your committment to the program.  We guarantee it will never work if you never try it.