Complex Training by Roger White

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Article compliments of Personal Training on the Net. In the world of athletic performance enhancement, strength coaches and athletes alike are looking for new ways and methods that are superior to “modern” methods. One method used today is called “complex training.” First published in United States literature in 1986 by Dr. Steve Fleck and Ken Mentor after a trip to the Soviet Union, complex training’s theory can be described as anticipating that a certain load is heavy when it really is not. The result is an explosive movement.

Complex training revolves around performing two movements related biomechanically, one with a slow heavy load followed by one with a related explosive movement with little or no load. An example would be a barbell squat with approximately 90 percent 1RM followed by a series of countermovement jumps.

Complex training’s theory revolves around what is termed post-activation potentiation (PAP). During the slow heavy movement, neural mechanisms are hypothesized to be partly responsible for this phenomenon. The heavy weight increases activation in the involved muscles, leading to higher rate of force development (RFD). This activation is greatest in those with a high mix of type II fibers because these fibers undergo greater phosphorylation of myosin regulatory light chains (MRLC) in response to conditioning activity. Performing a series of contractions is likely to induce a cumulative effect of PAP. It is also suggested that there is a relationship between strength and PAP. Stronger, better trained athletes may be the best candidates for complex type training.

It was reported that Ben Johnson squatted 600 pounds minutes before running one of his best 100 meter times (this was later rejected by his coach Charlie Francis in an online forum discussion). Another example took place in bobsleigh, where a team underwent some type of PAP stimulus before their initial push. The team won, but their winning as a result of PAP is hard to accept with so many other factors that may have come into play.

Since the first publication was released about complex training, numerous studies have since focused on the effects of complex training and muscular power. Many studies have found positive acute effects using complex training while others have not. The limitation in the studies usually involves protocol. In Fleck and Kontor’s paper, they originally reported, “not observing rest periods will seriously compromise the goals of the training.” In a review of PAP research, Hodgson, Docherty and Robbins reported that some studies used rest intervals of one to four minutes. This conflicts with the recommendations from the Soviet Coach Dr. Verhoshansky as presented by Fleck and Kontor, where rest periods between complexes ranged eight to 10 minutes. Also of note, only two studies to date have actually documented potentiation of the involved muscles, whereas the rest of the studies have assumed potentiation. 

Two studies have looked at the effectiveness of complex training. Verkhoshansky and Tatyan found complex training to be superior to resistance training and plyometric training alone while Adams et al found that complex training was better than resistance training or plyometric training alone for increasing power.

For trainers with limited equipment, or with beginning lifters who are not ready for 90 percent plus of maximum loads, research has pointed toward another alternative method using isometric contractions. French, Kraemer and Cooke found that performing three sets of three second isometric holds increased subsequent jump height (+5.03 percent), maximal force (+4.94 percent) and acceleration impulse (+9.49 percent) during a depth jump. The results from increasing time to five second holds were not as favorable.

If you don’t use isometrics in your program, you may be missing the boat. Babault et al found that isometric contractions of the quadriceps activated nearly all of the muscle fibers (95.2 percent), whereas eccentric and concentric muscle actions were 88.3 percent and 89.7 percent respectively.

Kubo, et al found that isometric squat training over 12 weeks increased squat jump height (1.6 cm/ +4.9 percent) but saw no difference in countermovement jump (CMJ). This suggests that isometric training enhances jump performance but does not improve the elastic power of muscles needed in most explosive sports. However, the authors of the study did not look at the muscle fiber composition of the subjects. The subjects also were untrained.

Many strength coaches use complex training in their programming. For those die hard research-based trainers, stay tuned until a complex training study is released. For those trainers looking to experiment, be sure to check out the original article on complex training.

For those looking to try complex training, here is a sample complex outlined by Fleck and Kontor’s original paper:

Complex 1

  • A1. Back squats: 2 x 2-3 rep at 90 percent 1RM
    • Rest 3-4 minutes
  • A2. Depth jumps: 2 x 10
    • Rest 3-4 minutes
    • Repeat complex
    • Rest 8-10 minutes following completion of complexes

Complex 2

  • A1. Back squats: 2 x 2-3 repetitions at 90 percent 1RM
    • Rest 3-4 minutes
  • A2. Standing long jump sequence. 2 x 6 repetitions
    • Rest 3-4 minutes
    • Repeat complex
    • Rest 8-10 minutes following completion of complex

Complex 3

  • A1. Kettlebell jumps: 2 x 10 jumps (10-35 pound KB)
    • Rest 3-4 minutes
  • A2. Standing long jumps: 2 x 6 repetitions
    • Rest 3-4 minutes
    • Repeat complex
    • Rest 8-10 minutes following completion of complex

Complex 4

  • A1. Back squats: 1 x 2-3 repetitions at 90 percent 1RM
    • Rest 4-6 minutes
  • B1. Back squats: 2 x 6-8 repetitions at 30 percent 1RM
    • Rest 3-4 minutes
  • B2. Alternate leg bounds (5 jumps off each leg) 2 x 5 repetitions
    • Rest 1 minute between repetitions
    • Rest 3-4 minutes between sets
  • B3: Acceleration sprints: 3-4 x 50-60 meters
    • Rest 10-15 seconds between sprints
    • Repeat complex B1-3
    • Rest 6-8 minutes
    • Play basketball for 5-10 minutes at low intensity

Now that a few examples have been presented, you may be asking what types of complexes are good for your sport. Read on...

Long Jump/Triple Jump Events
? Back Squats paired with standing long jumps
? Single leg split squats paired with alternate leg bounds
? Front squats paired with box jumps
? Front squats paired with depth landings

Basketball
? Back squats paired with vertical jumps
? Single leg split squats paired with alternate leg bounds
? Single leg split squats paired with alternate leg split jumps
? Clean/Snatch paired with medball squat and throw

Sprints
? Single leg split squats paired with alternate leg bounds
? Front squats paired with acceleration sprints (10-20 meters)
? Single leg split squats paired with alternate leg split jumps

Football (Linemen)
? Bench press paired with supine medball bench press throws
? Clean/Snatch paired with sprints (5-10 yards)
? Clean/Snatch paired with medball squat and throw

Shot Put/Discus Throwers
? Bench press paired with standing medball wall toss
? DB flyes paired with standing medball wall toss
? Front squat paired with standing long jumps
? Clean/Snatch paired with medball squat and throw

These are sample complex pairs. Think about the individual’s movements in sport and which strength and power exercises compliment that movement and then pair them together. It is important to spend time progressing through a strength program before adding complex training as the stress from the jumps may cause injury. Always stay toward the conservative side and play it safe when using complex training.

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References:

  1. Adams, K., O’Shea, J., O’Shea, K., and Climstein. The effect of six weeks of squat, plyometric, and squat-plyometric training on power production. J Appl. Sport Sci. Res. 6(1): 36-41.
  2. Babault, N., Pousson, M., Ballay, Y., Van Hoecke, J. (2001). Activation of human quadriceps femoris during isometric, concentric and eccentric contractions. J Appl. Physiol. 91: 2628-2634.
  3. Fleck, S. & Kontor, K. (1986). Complex Training. Nat’l Strength Cond. Assoc. J., 8(5), 66-69.
  4. French, D.H., Kraemer, W.J., Cooke, C.B. (2003). Changes in dynamic exercise performance following a sequence of preconditioning isometric muscle actions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 17(4), 678-685.
  5. Hodgson, M, Docherty, D, Robbins, D. (2005). Post-Activation Potentiation: Underlying Physiology and Implications for Motor Performance. Sports Med. 35(7), 585-595.
  6. Kubo, K., Yata, H., Kanehisa, H. & Fukunaga, T. (2006). Effects of isometric squat training on the tendon stiffness and jump performance. Eur J Appl Physiol 96:305-314.
  7. Robbins, D.W. (2005) Postactivation potentiation and its practical applicability: A brief review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(2) 453-458.
  8. Sale, D. (2004). Postactivation potentiation: role in performance. Br. J. Sports Med. 38:386-387.
  9. Verkhoshansky, Y., Tatyan, V. (1973) Sped-strength preparation of future champions. Legkaya Atleika, 2:12-13.

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Submitted by DMorgan on Mon, 08/06/2007 - 9:53pm.

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