Meet the experts – ​training simply with complexes

Meet the experts – ​training simply with complexes

If you want a way to build muscle, burn fat and improve your general athleticism then complexes might be just what you're after, says BJ Rule of CrossFit City Road.

There's nothing new about complexes, but they might be new to you and they might be what's missing in your training. You can use them as the main part of a session, as assistance work, or as a finisher depending on what the current focus of your training is.

At CrossFit City Road we utilise complexes as part of our Weight lifting Club to get work done. The following complexes have become popularised by CrossFit. However, complexes have been utilised in strength and conditioning since strength and conditioning has existed.

If it's strength you're after, add complex 1: the Bear once a week for four weeks and add 5-10kg each week.

If you'd like to add some general conditioning complex 2: DT is what you want. This will give you muscle endurance and a grip of steel. You could add DT once a week for four weeks, time yourself and aim to beat your time each week.

And if if you really want to ramp up your metabolism and conditioning, then add complex 3: Litvinovs. These are just plain nasty intervals combining weights and sprints.

And for serious beast mode, add all three! Complex 1 on a Monday, Complex 2 on a Wednesday and Complex 3 on a Friday. Add in heavy squats, deadlifts and presses around the complexes and you've got a seriously effective strength and conditioning programme.

Complex 1: The Bear

The Bear is a big, bad grizzly mofo that I first came across in a Dan John article. The Bear is a simple, brutal and effective barbell workout combining a power clean, front squat, jerk, back squat and behind the neck jerk. Now different variations/ interpretations exist and all are completely valid and relevant. For example:

* For a power clean and front squat you can perform a clean

* For a clean into a jerk you can perform a thruster

* For a power clean, front squat and jerk you can combine them into a cluster

* Jerks can be anything from shoulder to overhead. Split jerks, power jerks, push presses, presses. However if you are able to strict press it the weight probably won't be have enough for the other movements in the complex.

* The back squat and behind the neck jerk can be a back squat thruster.

The above combinations of movements is one set, you can perform anywhere from 3-5 sets with 90-120 seconds between sets. A recommendation is to start with the empty bar (20kg), add 5-10 kgs per set and work to a heavy set. Repeat this each week and try and beat the heavy set each week for four weeks.

Start position

Feet hip width apart. Hands on the bar shoulder width and wider than the legs. Ankles, knees and hips flexed (bent). Back flat, chest up and eyes looking forward.


Movement 1

Extending ankles, knees and hips, power clean the bar to the shoulders.





Movement 2

Keeping the bar on the shoulders perform a front squat.


Movement 3

Get the bar from shoulders to overhead.



Lower the bar onto the back of the shoulders.

Movement 4

Squat the bar



Movement 5

Get the bar from the back of the shoulders to overhead.


Return the bar to the ground/ start position and repeat.

Complex 2: DT

DT is a CrossFit Hero workout. CrossFit Hero workouts are commemorative workouts which pay respect to fallen service people. DT is in honour of USAF Ssgt Timothy P Davis. This is a tough barbell workout that challenges your grip and your general conditioning. It's also a real lung buster.

DT consists of five rounds for time of:

70kg Dead Lift, 12 reps

70kg Hang Power Clean, 9 reps

70kg Push Jerk, 6 reps

For time means you perform this workout as quickly as you can. You perform 12 deadlifts, then 9 hang power cleans, then 6 push jerks. You then repeat this 5 times.

Movement 1

Dead Lift

This is a regular dead lift. The start position is with the feet hip width apart, hands on the bar just outside of shoulder width, ankles, knees and hips are flexed, back is flat. The bar is lifted from the floor to mid thigh by extending the ankles, knees and hips.



Movement 2

Hang Power Clean

The hang power clean starts from anywhere above the knee (the hang) and is cleaned to the shoulder or rack position. If a partial squat is performed to receiver the bar, the squat must be stood up before lowering the bar to the knee for the rep to count.




Movement 3

Push Jerk (see images, The Bear, movement 3)

The push jerk starts from the shoulders or rack position (where the hang clean finishes) and is jerked overhead. A push jerk is performed by dipping and driving with the legs with the bar on the rack. As the bar is driven overhead the legs bend as the arms are straightened to catch the bar. The legs are straightened with the bar locked out overhead to complete the repetition.

Complex 3: Litvinovs

Sergei Litvinov was a world champion hammer thrower in the 1980s who was more jacked and leaner than most of the other throwers. Due to his superior throwing ability and better physique, his training techniques were spotted, and closely observed by other athletes. A famous conditioning session of his combined front squatting 180kg for 8 reps then immediately sprinting 400ms, resting and doing this a total of three times. Simple, yes. Brutal, yes. Effective, yes!

We use these type of intervals with great effect at CrossFit City Road. If it's not safe or accessible to perform front squats with a barbell near a treadmill, use dumbbells or kettlebells, and substitute front squats with thrusters or kettlebell swings.

Movement 1.

Front squat

6-10 repetitions with heavy to moderate load.



Movement 2.

Immediately run 300-400ms. Rest 2 minutes. Repeat 3-5 times.


There's no need to overcomplicate this. Lift, then run, then rest, then repeat.

There you go, three very tough but very effective complexes that will take your conditioning to another level. Perform them with good form, add a little weight each week and reap the benefits. Give them a go and let me know how you get on.

BJ Rule is head coach and owner at CrossFit City Road, as well as a VPT at Gymbox Bank.

Information for a free trial at CrossFit City Road can be found at www.crossfitcityroad.com