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Complex Training

Strength work has been shown to improve sports performance particularly for sprinters, jumpers and throwers but it is not beneficial in developing rate of force - the speed with which force is achieved in a movement. It takes around 400 msec to develop maximum force during a squat exercise, but the foot-ground contact time in sprinting is around 90 msec so there is not enough time to produce maximum force and therefore it is the rate of force development that is important.

Rate of force development

To develop the rate of force the Type IIb muscle fibres need to be targeted, as these are ones that produce force most explosively allowing for maximum power. The types of exercises that develop the Type IIb fibres are:

  • Speed strength exercises e.g. weighted squats jumps
  • Plyometric exercises e.g. bounding.

Many athletes include plyometric exercises in their training programs and are well aware of the benefits. However, it is slightly less well known that the combination of traditional strength and plyometric exercises together (complex training) results in greater Type IIb recruitment and consequently greater improvements in power and rate of force development.

What is complex training?

Complex training is a workout comprising of a resistance exercise followed by a matched plyometric exercise e.g.:

  • squats followed by squat jumps
  • bench press followed by plyometric press up

The logic behind these matched pair of exercises is that the resistance work gets the central nervous system (CNS) into full action so that more Type IIb fibres are available for the explosive exercise, hence a better training benefit.

Quality not Quantity

To get the best from these training workouts you need to be physically fresh and motivated. Type IIb fibres are not magically recruited by just doing the workout, you have to be focused on the exercises and perform them as explosively as possible. Try to avoid hard aerobic or anaerobic sessions for at least 48 hours before a complex session. Once a complex session has started, do not perform any static stretching exercises as this will relax the muscles and reduce force production potential. It is the quality of execution of each exercise that is important, not the quantity. To ensure quality is maintained have the correct rest periods.

Complex Training Programs

A complex training program can be used in the general, specific and competition phases of training. The following are example workouts for each phase (Brandon 1999)[1]:

General Phase

In this phase the athlete should complete all sets of the weights exercise with a recovery of 60 seconds/set. This is followed by a three minute rest before performing all sets of the matched plyometric exercise with a recovery of 90 second/set

Exercise Reps Rest/Set
Squats 3 × 12RM 60 seconds
Bench Press 3 × 12RM 60 seconds
Barbell Lunge 3 × 12RM 60 seconds
Lat Pull down 3 × 12RM 60 seconds
Abdominal crunches 3 × 20 60 seconds
3 minutes rest    
Vertical Jumps 3 × 10 90 seconds
Medicine ball chest pass 3 × 10 90 seconds
Step Jumps 3 × 10 90 seconds
Medicine ball overhead pass 3 × 10 90 seconds
Medicine ball sit up and throw 3 × 10 90 seconds

Note: 12RM - a weight which only allows you to complete a maximum of 12 repetitions of the exercise before you are fatigued

Specific Phase

The plyometric exercises in the specific phase must be specific to your sport/event. The athlete conducts one set of the weights exercise followed immediately by one set of the Plyometric exercise e.g. 6 squats, 6 drop jumps, 3 minutes rest, 6 squats, 6 drop jumps (with minimal recovery between the squats and drop jumps).

3 × 6 (12RM) means 3 sets of 6 repetitions using a load that would produce 12 repetitions max (RM)

Exercise Reps Rest/Exercise
Squats
Drop Jumps
3 × 6 (12RM)
3 × 6
3 minutes
Barbell step ups
Hops (each leg)
3 × 6 (12RM)
3 × 5
3 minutes
Bench Press
Plyometric press up
3 × 6 (12RM)
3 × 5
3 minutes
Barbell Lunge
Box Jumps
3 × 6 (12RM)
3 × 10
3 minutes

Competition Phase

The plyometric exercises in the competition phase must be specific to your sport/event. As in the specific phase of training, the athlete conducts one set of the weights exercise followed immediately by one set of the plyometric exercise.

2 × 4 (8RM) means 2 sets of 4 repetitions using a load that would produce 8 repetitions max (RM)

Exercise Reps Rest/Exercise
Squats
Hops (each leg)
2 × 4 (8RM)
2 × 6
5 minutes
Bench Press
Plyo press up
2 × 4 (8RM)
2 × 5
5 minutes
Barbell Lunge
Speed bounds
2 × 4 (8RM)
2 × 10
5 minutes

Training program for speed improvement

The following program was devised by Barry Ross a USA track and field coach with 25 years experience to increase the running speed of his athletes.

Speed is considered to be the combination of two factors - stride rate and stride length. Greater forces increase the stride length and decrease the contact time so stride rate increases. To improve these factors coaches have focused on developing leg strength that in turn has resulted in an increase in body weight. What we ideally require in our runner is a high power to weight ratio. The objective of Barry's program is to increase strength with minimal gain in bulk thereby achieving a high power to weight ratio.

  1. Warm up and dynamic stretching
  2. Deadlift - 2 to 3 sets of 2 to 3 reps @ 85 to 95% 1RM - each set followed by 6 depth jumps and then a 5 minute recovery (depth jumps must be conducted within one minute of completing the set of deadlifts)
  3. Bench Press - 2 to 3 sets of 2 to 3 reps @ 85 to 95% 1RM with a 5 minute recovery between each set
  4. Power Clean - 2 to 3 sets of 2 to 3 reps @ 85 to 95% 1RM with a 5 minute recovery between each set
  5. Abdominal exercises - 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps @ 85 to 95% 1RM with a 5 minute recovery between each set
  6. Cool down and static stretching

3 and 4 above could be replaced with Clean and Jerk - 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps @ 85 to 95% 1RM with a 5 minute recovery between each set.

The program is conducted on 3 consecutive days each week.

Referenced Material

  1. BRANDON, R. (1999) Jumpers, Throwers and sprinters can improve their results by using the Complex system. Peak Performance, 114, p. 2-5

Associated References

  • JENSEN, R. and EBBEN, W. (2003) Kinetic analysis of complex training rest interval effect on vertical jump performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 17 (2), p. 345-349
  • BAKER, D. (2003) Acute effect of alternating heavy and light resistances on power output during upper-body complex power training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 17 (3), p. 493-497
  • EBBEN, W. and WATTS, P. (1998) A review of combined weight training and plyometric training modes: Complex training. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 20 (5), p. 18-27
  • EBBEN, W. (2002). Complex training: A brief review. Journal of sports science & medicine, 1 (2), p. 42

Page Reference

The reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2000) Complex Training [WWW] Available from: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/complex.htm [Accessed

Associated Pages

The following Sports Coach pages should be read in conjunction with this page: