Dumbbell Strength Complex

This is one of my favorite strength complexes that I like to use personally and for clients as well and for a few reasons. One, it hits all of our major muscle groups. Two, because it’s a complex there is a high metabolic demand which leads to a higher calorie output post workout. Third, it’s very effective if you’re looking to get a quick and effective workout in. You could easily complete 3-5 sets in under a half hour. I promise you’ll be absolutely lit up in no time! And last, it can be sequenced in a variety of ways. But before we get to that, let’s address the specific moves in the complex.

Essentially, this is a five part complex:
1. Burpee
2. Renegade Row
3. Squat to Bicep Curl to Press
4. Reverse Lunge
5. Pull Up

As far as weights go, I generally recommend a weight range of 10-25# for females and 25-40# for males. Due to the high metabolic demand, fatigue can compromise form and with the unilateral load of a renegade row, we don’t want to get too crazy with weight to minimize risk of injury. We’re not looking for hypertrophy with a complex like this. This is more for strength endurance and power endurance, so keep the weights a little lighter.


Single Reps:  Performing this sequence the first time through I’d recommend this scheme first.  Simply perform 1 repetition per move and then repeat the complex between 5-10 times.  This way you can complete the sequence successfully and it will help you gauge any adjustments that need to be made with your weights.  Specifically, you’ll get an idea where you could push for more reps and/or where your ceiling for reps on certain exercises would be.  For example, most will be able to perform more lunges compared to pull ups.

An alternative to completing a fixed number of  single rep cycles is performing the sequence for a set time.  Usually 5-10 minutes is plenty and either way is effective, personal preference is mostly what it boils down to.  Rest 2-3 minutes between sets, performing 3-4 sets total.

Ascending Ladders: Here you simply start with low reps 1-2 of each move, then add 1-2 more with each additional round.  There is really no right or wrong to how you approach this.  It’s all relative to your strength and endurance levels.  Discovering how high you can ascend to can serve as an effective way to measure improvement as well.  Perform 1-3 rounds total, resting 2-3 minutes between rounds.

Sample ladders reps:

Option 1: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Option 2: 2, 4, 6, 8

Option 3: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9

Descending Ladders: The opposite of Ascending, but now we start with higher reps (around 10-12) then subtract 1-3 more with each additional round.  Again there really is no right or wrong to how you approach this, simply play around and adjust it to your current strength and endurance levels.  Perform 1-3 rounds total, resting 2-3 minutes between rounds.

Sample ladders reps:

Option 1: 10, 7, 4, 2, 1

Option 2: 10, 8, 6, 4, 2

Option 3: 12, 9, 7, 5, 3, 1

Individualized Rep Scheme: This last approach is probably the most taxing overall.  Simply, you perform as many reps as possible of each exercise before progressing to the next.  For example, you would begin with the burpee to renegade row and repeat as many times as possible.  Followed by dumbbell squat to bicep curl with press…then lunges…then pull ups…then rest!  I recommend a full recovery of 3-5 minutes in between sets.  If you don’t…you won’t make it through the next round!  This is more of a strength based approach to the complex, so give put all you can into the set so you respect (i.e. want that full rest period).  Complete 2-4 sets total.

So there you have it!  Play around with it…get after it…and most importantly…