Life simply gets busier once November rolls around: school holidays, Thanksgiving, holiday shopping — all of which is compounded by the normal day-to-day grind.
As a result of the holiday madness, our fitness routine is usually the first thing to go on the back burner. The primary reason is usually the lack of time. However, you don’t have to dedicate hours in the gym to make your workouts worthwhile. 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 setup 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.
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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-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.
Here’s how you 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 its 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 (e.g. Overhead Press, Pushups), a pulling exercise (e.g., Dumbbell Row, TRX Pullups), and a compound leg exercise (e.g. Squats, Deadlifts, Lunges). These kinds 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. For each set, add a rep until you reach a predetermined number or 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 number reps each 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 are 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 OK. Consider your workout complete. Remember, the objective is to keep it short and sweet.
Jason Wanlass, the owner of Champion Fitness Training in Meridian, has more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or championfit.net. He writes a monthly fitness column.
A sample dumbbell strength complex to get you started
Perform 10 reps each for a 5- to 10-minute block. Complete 2-3 training blocks total.
▪ 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 your legs back underneath you and jump into the air. Repeat for the desired number 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 number of reps.
▪ Thrusters: Stand with a pair of dumbbells in each hand at shoulder level. Lower into a squat position and 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 number 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 and then alternate sides until you complete the desired number of reps.