Updated: Mar 22, 2018
What is a complex?
Basically, they are barbell exercises that combine multiple movements into the same set.
For example: Power Snatch + Hang Snatch + Snatch + Overhead Squat In other words, you’re performing all four of these movements without stopping. You do a power snatch, lower the bar down to the hang position and do a hang snatch, drop the bar and then go straight into a regular full snatch, and then do an additional overhead squat while you’ve already got the bar overhead. Then you drop the bar, and you’re done. That’s one rep. If you completed a set of three reps, you would basically be doing twelve movements (3 reps x 4 movements per rep = 12). In this case, it may be written in a programme as:
4x3(1+1+1+1), meaning you perform 4 sets of 3 repetitions of the complex given above. You’re doing these movements without stopping, but that doesn't mean that they're performed for time. It's not a race. In fact, the more patience you have when performing the complex the better. They are to be performed with technical precision. No quick sloppy reps here! There’s absolutely no limit to how you can use these, or how long/short you can make them. How much weight should you use? That depends on the type of complex. Generally, the longer and more complicated the complex, the less weight should be used. The shorter and less complicated the complex, the more weight you can use.
Hang Clean + Front Squat + Power Jerk - more weight
Clean + Hang Clean + Jerk - less weight Another example of a short complex would be something like Hang Clean + Clean Since this one only incorporates two movements, you would probably be able to use reasonably heavy loads. A long complex would be something like Clean Deadlift + Hang Clean + Power Clean + Clean + Front Squat This one incorporates five movements, so the load would need to be lighter.
What are they for?
Complexes will depend various benefits depending on how they are designed, but the ultimate aim of them is to:
Work on a particular weakness of a lift
Provide the athlete with some variety
Improve work capacity / muscular conditioning during General Prep Phases
For example, if the athlete is struggling to improve their weight distribution / placement in the pull, prescribing a complex that involves them pulling at various speeds from various heights may be useful and give them opportunity to get a feel for correct weight placement and balance.
Snatch Deadlift + Pull from low hang + Pull from below knee
Complexes are not sport specific. In fact, nothing is sport specific for weightlifting other than performing maximal singles of both the Snatch and Clean & Jerk. Training, as such, can get a little boring and monotonous, particularly when working near to competition. Complexes provide the lifter with a little variation and fun in their training, particularly earlier on in the season during General Prep Phases.
Muscular conditioning or work capacity is essential for all weightlifters to develop. Im not talking cardio or intervals here, I'm talking an increased volume of technically and physically challenging repetitions. High volume phases allow the lifter to adapt in order to respond better to higher and heavier work loads later on in the programme. Developing a lifters work capacity early on in the season will help them take more away from intense training periods before the competitive season begins. Complexes help with this.
Personally, I think you can gain a lot of control over your technique by using complexes. You have to perform different movements in succession, as a result your body develops a wider range of mastery and control.
How do I structure them?
You can get really creative with the design of complexes, but don't go crazy. Yes they can help provide variety and fun in your training, but their main benefit is that they help you develop a particular skill or help develop works capacity or muscular conditioning.
Below are a sample of complexes that provide some benefit. Here are a few complexes that have some value, in my opinion:
Clean Deadlift to the knees with two-second pause + Clean + Front Squat
Hip Snatch + Snatch + Overhead Squat + Drop Snatch
Behind-the-neck Jerk + Push Jerk + Jerk
3-position Snatch Pull + Hip Snatch + Snatch
Power Clean + Clean + Jerk
Snatch + Hip Snatch + Snatch
Front Squat + Jerk