Stay ahead of the holiday grind with Strength Complexes


Life simply gets busier once November rolls around.  Kids are out of school more, Thanksgiving is around the corner, holiday shopping sneaks up on us, and all of it getting compounded with the normal day to day grind.  With the madness the holiday season can bring, our fitness routine is usually the first thing that gets put on the back burner.  The primary reason being time or lack thereof. However, you don’t have to dedicate hours in the gym in order to make your workouts worth while.  In fact, you can get a lot of bang for your buck in as little as 20 minutes.  One of the best ways to do this is by using strength complexes.  Strength complexes allow for an effective total body workout similar to circuit training with the exception that we limit our workout to one piece of training equipment.  This can be in the form of dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, sandbags, TRX, anything really, as long as it’s simple and allows for a wide variety of exercises.  The first advantage of using one training tool is it minimizes set up time.  Second, it allows us to flow seamlessly from one exercise to the next without having to move to another station or even worse…waiting for the next piece of equipment to become available. Strength complexes come with many fitness advantages as well.  Not only are they great for building strength, but they are highly effective at improving cardiovascular endurance, and come with a high metabolic which taxes our bodies more in less time,  yielding a higher more calorie expenditure post workout, more fat loss, etc.  So before you decide to mail it in till next year give this workout format a try 2-3 times per week to get you through the holiday season and roll into next year without skipping a beat.

Okay, here’s how we set it up:

Choose your equipment: The only rule for this is choosing something that can be taken anywhere in the gym, preferably where you have ample space to maneuver.  My favorites are the TRX, dumbbells, barbells, resistance tubing, medicine balls, and kettlebells.  One isn’t necessarily better than the other, simply know that each has their own advantages and any of them will suffice.

Choose your movements: You will want to select exercises that focus on big muscle movement  that ideally include a pressing/pushing exercise (ex. Overhead Press, Pushups), a pulling exercise (ex. Dumbbell Row, TRX Pullups), and a compound leg exercise (ex. Squats, Deadlifts, Lunges).  These style of exercises cover all the movement patterns of the human body, giving you a complete total body workout.

Choose your weight: In general you will want to select a lighter weight since you will be working continuously with little rest.  Specifically, your weight selection should be based on exercises where you have to use lighter weight like overhead presses and rows.  Since you will be using the same weight throughout the sequence this will ensure that you can complete each movement successfully.  Naturally some exercises will be more challenging than others with this design, but we can adapt for the differences with our rep selection.

Pick a Rep Scheme: There are many options when it comes to choosing a rep scheme.  Here are four common ones that work really well

Ascending/Descending Pyramid: Start with 1 rep of each exercise. Each set add a rep until you reach a pre-determined number or simply once you can add no more. Then, descend the pyramid back until you finish with 1 rep again.

On the minute: Set a timer for 5-10 minutes.  Begin with your first exercise completing as many reps as possible. Go to the next exercise and continue to switch exercises at the start of every minute performing the maximum amount of reps each time until time until the clock reaches zero.

Sequence repeats: Do one rep of each movement continuously for either a designated time or until a total number of sequences is reached.

Accommodating Reps: You know your strength better than anyone else, so why not figure out how many reps is most suitable for you for each exercise?  For example, say you can do 10 dumbbell lunges per leg, but only 8 rows per arm, and 5 overhead presses? Then that is the perfect rep scheme for your dumbbell complex.

The workout: Once you have your exercises and reps selected, perform your selected strength complex until complete.  This will get your heart pumping and your muscles burning in no time!  Shorter complexes will usually take 5-10 minutes.  Rest for about 3 minutes and repeat performing a total of 2-3 blocks total.  If your complex takes longer (15-20 minutes) that’s okay.  Consider your workout complete.  Remember, the objective is to keep it short and sweet.

Outlined below is a sample dumbbell strength complex to get you started!

Dumbbell Strength Complex: Perform 10 reps each for a 5-10 minute block.  Complete 2-3 training blocks total  

  1. Burpees
  2. Renegade Row
  3. Thrusters
  4. Alternating Reverse Lunges

Exercise Descriptions:

Burpees:  Start in a standing position with your feet hip width apart.  Lower into a squat and place your hands on the ground shoulder width apart.  Hop or walk your legs behind you until you are in a pushup position.  For more challenge, lower your body until your chest hits the floor.  Immediately hop or walk you legs back underneath you and jump into the air.  Repeat for the desired amount of reps.

Renegade Row:  Start in a pushup position while holding a pair of dumbbells. Perform a dumbbell row with your right arm until your elbow is just past your body with the elbow bent at 90 degrees while keeping your torso as level to the ground as possible.  Return to the start position and repeat on the other side.  For more challenge add a pushup for every two rows (one on each side) performed.  Repeat for the desired amount of reps.

Thrusters: Standing with a pair of dumbbells in each hand at shoulder level. Lower into a squat position then explosively return to the standing position, pressing the dumbbells over your head.  Return to the starting position and repeat the movement for the desired amount of reps.

Alternating Reverse Lunges:  Start in a standing position while holding a pair of dumbbells. Step backward and sink into a lunge keeping your weight on the front leg.  Remember to keep your knee behind your toes.  Return to the starting position then alternate sides until you complete the desired amount of reps.