Complex Training

Complex Training



Complex Training was developed in Eastern Block countries and utilised by Russian and East German coaches from the 1970’s on. Complex training is essential for strength and power sports. It should be the core of every strength and power based training program.

Before we get into Complex Training, you must first address your weaknesses, correct them and turn them into your strengths. Then develop the appropriate program specific for your goals and for your sport. That is programming.

By doing it correctly, you give yourself the very best chance of succeeding. Complex Training consists of four components:

Resistance Training

Plyometric Training

Sprint Training

Sport Specific Training

When these components are worked separately, they will make a good athlete. However, when they are worked together, they will make a great athlete.

Complex Training is a combination of heavy weight training and plyometrics in the same workout session. Plyometrics are used in between sets or even part of the working weight training set. For example, if a workout calls for 4 sets of Squats, the athlete will perform box jumps between sets. This is known as a Complex Training set, and the athlete doing it enjoys the best results and benefits most from their training.

Resistance Training

Resistance Training is not just weight training. It encompasses throwing medicine balls, mobility using tubing and bands and performing body weight exercises.  It is classified as anything that makes a muscle work harder. Strength training raises the body’s ability to excite the motor neurons by nearly 50%. As a result, this gives the nervous system more involvement in the workout, which in turn, prepares the muscles for even greater challenges.

The activity must be at a high intensity of strength training to achieve best results. The resistance-training portion of the complex training will consist of low repetitions of moderate to heavy loads. This style of training produces the greatest amount of motor neuron firing and muscle fiber recruitment and therefore prepares the body for explosive plyometrics.

For example, you could perform 3 reps with a heavy load as possible in the Bench Press followed by a Medicine Ball Chest Press throwing exercise or Plyometric Push Up for the same muscle.

Plyometric Training

Plyometrics consist of jumping, hopping, skipping and throwing activities designed to make you faster. During the plyometrics component of Complex Training, you must train at maximum explosive speeds for maximum results. If you want your muscles to perform at higher speeds, you must train them at higher speeds.

Whatever you put into your training, you will get out.When performing quick explosive movements, you must allow for minimal contact for the ground (lower body) or hand contact surface (upper body).

Lower body Plyometric exercises emphasize quick foot movements and the ability to get off the ground quickly.

Upper body Plyometric exercises emphasize using medicine balls to teach the muscles to respond more quickly to external forces.

Sprint Training

Speed movement depends on two factors: Stride Length and Stride Frequency.

Stride Frequency is largely dependent on the genetic makeup of your muscle fiber tissue. It can be improved by pushing harder and faster off the ground. It is more difficult to improve stride frequency due to your genetic makeup. Therefore, athletes look to improving Stride Length. An increase in stride length allows athletes to cover the same distance as athletes with greater stride frequency in the same amount of time.

In order to increase the ability to push off the ground with more power, your workouts may have to be shorter but at a much higher intensity with longer rest periods between sets. Quality not quantity is essential here.

Care must be taken as these workouts are extremely stressful on the nervous system. Therefore, adequate rest must be taken in between sets. Recovery is paramount. Rest times should vary between 90 and 180 seconds.

Sports Specific Training

When training specifically for your sport, you must try to re-create the exact or very similar movements that are required and occur as part of your sport. The movements must be copied and applied to a working set of resistance training.

Complex training allows the athlete to work muscles in such a way that their slow twitch endurance fibers behave like fast twitch explosive power fibers. It is these fast twitch fibers that are a key to a powerful athlete. The idea is to stimulate the fibers you want with resistance training, then perform a sports specific movement or movements.

For example, a basketball player or a rugby union lineout jumper needs to train their jump power in order to improve their jump height. The player should perform a heavy set of double or triple Squats or Squat variation and immediately follow this with a set of repeated box jumps or rim jumps. See below for more exercise pairing examples.

Example Pairing Exercises:

  • Front Squat/Box Jumps
  • Bench Press/Medicine Ball Chest Pass
  • Lat Pulldown/Underhand Medicine Ball Throw
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press/Overhead Throw
  • Incline Bench Press/Plyometric Push-Up
  • Split Squat/Box Jumps/Depth Jumps
  • Seated Cable Row/Standing Backward Medicine Ball Throw
  • Squat/ Lateral Hurdle Hops

There are certain athletes who will benefit more than others with complex training. Listed below are general guidelines on how to use complex training.

Training Status

Athletes with a moderate to high training status benefit most from complex training. Training status is basically an athlete’s ability to handle the heavy stimulus placed on it. This is important because Post Activation Potentiation (PAP) relies on athletes to stay over the PAP/fatigue ratio.

We will cover PAP in detail in the next blog. Athletes with a moderate to high training status will benefit most. Newer trainees will find themselves more fatigued after the resistance movements, which decreases their plyometric performance.

Training History

Training history is similar to training status, but entails the amount of time an athlete has spent lifting. A longer weight room exposure will ensure an athlete’s muscle, nervous system, and gym knowledge are all well-equipped to handle a highly demanding PAP protocol.

A training history of more than 2 years will be sufficient. If an athlete doesn’t understand movement mechanics, the stimulus, or becomes too fatigued during a set, then complex training will be counterproductive.

Strength Levels

A stronger muscle will respond better to complex training due to its ability to increase motor recruitment, as opposed to fatiguing. A stronger muscle will also be able to move more weight, which further increases the stimulus.