Complex Workouts: The BEST Way To Develop a Lean, Healthy, and Athletic Body

Anyone ever get tired of endless cardio sessions?  Have you tried HIIT, but want something equally as explosive and beneficial to add to your routine?  Keep reading, because there’s something out there that is just starting to gain traction in mainstream fitness circles and will change the way you workout forever.  That something, is complex workouts.

What are Complex Workouts and Why Should I Do Them?

Complex workouts are a form of weight training that are intense enough to replace traditional cardio sessions.  Just like your body adapts to weight training, it will also adapt to repetitive cardiovascular activity as well.  Using complexes in conjunction with a HIIT routine and general strength plan will help you break through this adaptation.  Additionally, complex workouts are going to hit your muscles in a very intense way, helping you build lean muscle mass and break through any strength plateaus you may have hit.  Been doing the same old thing for months on end?  Start doing complex workouts now and you’ll wonder why you waited so long in the first place.

You know those really fit people you see at the gym, or on the street; the ones that look like they were blessed with a perfect body.  Do complex workouts and you’ll start looking more and more like them; no joke, exaggeration, or over blown hype whatsoever.  Complex workouts are THAT effective.  Look at complex workouts as a cardio training but with weights.  You’re getting the best of both worlds, minimizing your time spent working out, and hitting your body harder than almost anyone else in the gym. 

How Do I Do Complex Workouts?

Contrary to their name, complex workouts aren’t all that complex.  Even better, you’ll use one piece of equipment the entire time, making this something you can even do at home.  Whether you’re using a barbell, dumbbell, medicine ball, etc, you’ll be keeping the weight the same for the entire complex.  You move from one exercise to the next, with no rest between.  A typical complex consists of 4-6 exercises, 6-10 reps per exercise.  That said, there are times you will go above and beyond the 6-10 rep range, as I’ll explain below.

All Complex Workouts are Not Created Equal

In theory, it may seem like you can string together any 4-6 exercises and call it a complex.  Technically, you can, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be anything more than a giant waste of your time.  The best complexes have been carefully tested and refined to produce the best results.  Some key points I’ve uncovered in my experience with complexes:

  • Exercises like the deadlift, power cleans, high pulls, etc. require a lot of technical ability.  Exercises like this should come earlier in the complex.  You really don’t want to lose your form on a power clean, so make sure not to do them when you’re already exhausted.
  • Avoid using a weight that is heavier than what you can handle on 8-10 reps of your weakest exercise.  For instance, if the most you can handle is 50 pounds for 10 reps of an upright row (if this is your weakest exercise in the complex) then 50 lbs would be what you would use for the entire sequence. 
  • Along the point above, you will naturally be stronger on certain exercises.  You can no doubt squat more than you can upright row.  Since you’re using the same weight throughout, feel free to add some additional reps to your squat. 
  • Utilize active rest.  Exercises need to be set in a way that allows opposing muscle groups to rest.  Using a push/pull format is generally a good idea.  For instance, performing bent over rows is a pulling exercise.  Following that up with an overhead barbell press would be a pushing exercise.  This would allow your back and bicep muscles to rest while working your shoulder and neck muscles. 

Using expertly crafted complexes will make the difference between burning a few calories and making a permanent change in the physique of your body.  Remember, the order, prescribed reps, and selection of exercises are what makes complexes so effective.

Using Complex Workouts

As I mentioned above, complex workouts utilize one piece of equipment.  I’ve given you two complexes below; one uses a barbell, the other a set of dumbbells.  Remember, you’re doing these primarily as a way to get your cardiovascular exercise, with the added benefit of hitting your muscles at the same time.  Keep the intensity high, do your best to limit rests between exercises, and focus on your breathing throughout.

Barbell Complex Workout

Key Points:  Repeat this entire complex 5-7 more times, with 1 minute rest after the end of each complex.  Overhead barbell press will likely be your weakest exercise, so aim to use a weight for the entire complex that you would typically use to perform 10 reps of the overhead barbell press

Dumbbell Complex Workout

  • Bent-Legged Deadlift
  • Snatch
  • Squat Press
  • Plank Rows
  • Push Ups
  • Curl Press

Key Points: Repeat this complex 5-7 times, with 1 minute rest at the end of each complex. 

For video demos of all exercises, head over to

The Incredible, Versatile, and Amazing Complex

The beauty of complexes lie in the fact that they are so versatile.  Plyometric complexes, BOSU complexes, medicine ball complexes are examples of workouts which make great complexes that will leave you begging for mercy.  You can even change-up the rep ranges by introducing pyramid schemes (adding reps to each additional exercise in the complex), reverse pyramid schemes (subtracting reps to each additional exercise in the complex), or timed schemes (lifting for time, not reps).  With complex workouts there are so many ways to keep things varied, interesting, and best of all, effective.

Complex workouts will have you burning tons of calories during the workout, spike your EPOC better than just about anything else, improve endurance, improve lean muscle mass, and have you looking wonderfully toned, athletic, and fit.  Even better, you can get in and out of the gym in less than 45 minutes knowing you hit your body MUCH harder than those slackers chugging along on the elliptical or the bros taking 2 minutes to stare at themselves in the mirror between each set. 

Bottomline, if you want to look fit, healthy, and strong, a well-designed complex workout is the best and fastest way to get there. 

Have any questions or ideas about exercises that would be well-suited for a complex?  Comment below and let’s get this discussion started!

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16 thoughts on “Complex Workouts: The BEST Way To Develop a Lean, Healthy, and Athletic Body”

    1. Alright, I think I’ve got something for you. Since you’re fitter than most, I’ve made it a little tougher than normal for you…oh, and pull ups are included 🙂

      1. Push Press
      2. Pull Up Burpee (jump up and do a pull up, come down, do a burpee, repeat)
      3. Upright Row
      4. Bent Over Row
      5. Good Mornings
      6. Shrugs


      1. Standing Military Press
      2. Single Arm Bench Row (switch sides half way through set)
      3. Push Up/Dip Swings
      4. Dumbbell Swings
      5. Dumbbell Russian Twists
      6. Curl Press

      Those are both pretty killer and a variation of something I do myself on a semi-regular basis. Let me know how it works out for you!

      1. Oh super excited Matt! And I love Burpee Pull ups! 🙂 It’s on today! lol… actually my glutes are still sore from yesterday so this is perfect today. Actually I want to do cleans so I may sub one exercise from the first group for a clean, what if I sub the the upright row?

      2. Ha..sore glutes are the best, in that sadistic I-love-pain sort of way. If you want to do cleans, why not just turn the push press into a clean and press? Think that would be a pretty intense way to go about it.

        I’m doing a swimming day today..gonna give this one a go tomorrow with the clean and press myself. If you want another workout to try and you’re up for a bit of a challenge, look up “The Heartpounder Workout”. We’ve got a lot of people competing for time on that one…think the best female time is 20:10 at the moment..not a bad way to follow up a complex day!

      3. sounds good I’ll sub the push press… well tomorrow I’m doing #3 of the leg/glute workout so I’ll do the “Heartpounder” on Thursday if you think that sounds good. 🙂 And I’m super competitive so I will definitely time myself on that one.:)

      4. That complex workout you gave me for today was awesome! Loved it, the Burpee pullups killed, and I think I was a little delirious by the end of it all…thank you!  hahahah… 🙂

  1. Would you consider Les Mills Body Pump a complex workout?   I take this class at my gym 3 times a week and the results are amazing!

    1. I wouldn’t consider this a typical complex workout. Complex workouts traditionally use 5-8 exercises, with a fairly standard rep set 6-12 reps. The complex is repeated typically 5-8 times. This isn’t to say Les Mills’ Bodypump isn’t a solid’s just not really a complex workout.

      Combining multiple formats of exercise..bodypump, complex workouts, hiit workouts, yoga, pilates, etc. is the core concept of Body Diversity Training (which we have developed and preach) and is the best way to make continual progress.

      Thanks for your comments. If you haven’t already, you should check out our full site, We’ve got tons of OnDemand group fitness classes (like bodypump) and DVD-style workouts streaming to your smartphone, tablet, computer…Great supplement to your standard gym routine! Any other questions please feel free to ask.


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