Use complex training to increase sprint speed, vertical jump height, and power output. Complex training is a time efficient way to improve performance, while not compromising strength gains according to a new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Complex training alternates a heavy resistance exercise such as a 5RM squat with a biomechanically similar explosive plyometric movement such as the jump squat. The benefit is increased power output and faster force production, both of which are essential for contact sports such as football and rugby, but also ideal for strength and power sports such as basketball, baseball, wrestling, and hockey.
The new study compared the strength and power gains from performing a traditional strength program, a plyometric program, and a complex training program. The strength program included back squats, standing calf raises, and deadlifts, whereas the plyometric program included lateral double leg hops, drop jumps off a 12-inch box, and box jumps onto a 12-inch box. The complex training program paired those exercises as follows: back squat with lateral jumps, deadlift with drop jumps, and standing calf raise with box jumps.
Both the traditional strength and the complex training protocols produced substantial, comparable gains in lower body strength. The plyometric protocol also produced significant gains in strength in all three exercises, but they were not nearly as dramatic as those in the other two groups. There was a small increase in the size of the quadriceps and calf muscle in the traditional strength and complex training groups, indicating muscle hypertrophy.
Take away from this study the understanding that complex training is a viable alternative to programs that only include strength training with no plyos, or to one that separates plyo and strength training into separate sessions. Strength gains and neuromuscular adaptations won’t be compromised by complex training, and they may be enhanced more than strength training alone.
Previous research into complex training has been done from two perspectives: the acute, immediate benefits of performing a heavy strength exercise as a warm-up prior to a maximal power or speed performance such as a 50-meter dash or vertical jump test, and the long-term training adaptations that can be developed from a periodized complex training program, as done in this study.
Long-term complex training (six to eight weeks) won’t produce as dramatic immediate performance gains as the acute complex training warm-up, which is carefully programmed to optimally enhance neural drive and boost immediate power output, but it can enhance athletes’ abilities more effectively than resistance or plyometrics alone. Complex training improves neuromuscular efficiency with a post-activation potentiation effect in which the muscle force is greater after performing the initial strength exercise because the signal from the central nervous system to the muscle has been optimally activated. Neural drive increases, allowing for greater power output in the ballistic exercise. There is also evidence that better energy production in the muscles contributes to the enhanced performance because nutrient levels are more available so the muscle works better.
In contrast to the long-term strength and power gains seen in this study, it’s possible to use complex training as a warm-up before competition when maximal performance is necessary. In this case rest intervals between the strength and power lifts need to be carefully programmed so as not to cause fatigue but also not lose the muscular activation. To read more about rest intervals and complex training, check out the tip Improve Upper Body Power with Complex Training: What You MUST Know About Rest Intervals.
MacDonald, C., Lamont, H., et al. A Comparison of the Effects of Six Weeks of Traditional Resistance training, Plyometric Training, and Complex Training on Measures of Strength and Anthropometrics. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012. 26(2), 422-431.