Fat loss and conditioning are of course essential in any serious training program, but most athletes demand power, strength, speed, athleticism, and proper timing and balance as well. Combos do all these things, and if you're a bodybuilder who's new to them, they'll also shock your body into new growth.
The benefits for training with hybrids/complexes/combos, in addition to fat loss and athletic development, go on and on. They can provide a great way to warm-up, improve mobility by exercising through a greater ROM, help teach technique and form in difficult lifts, as well as provide more time efficient workouts, especially when training larger groups of athletes.
One does combos and one doesn't.
No matter what you use them for, this style of lifting is no joke. It requires mental focus, determination, and stamina to finish a series correctly. I'm sure most athletes and gym rats would much rather bang out a set of curls or flies (unfortunately for our athletes, we ban flies in our facility), but the benefits of using these lifts are indisputable.
This article will show you some of the variations of Combos, Complexes, and Hybrids that our facility has used successfully for athletic development. The majority of our hybrid/complex movements involve Olympic style lifts and basic multi-joint exercises using both barbells and dumbbells.
[Editor's Note: If you consider yourself a weightlifter and you've never done O lifts before, why the hell not? That's like being a wedding singer who doesn't know any Celine Dion songs...or something like that. Anyhow, here's your chance to start to learn them – Jeremy's provided plenty of great videos below.]
We separate our combo's and complexes into two categories: total body Olympic and total body non-explosive. The total body Olympic group will, of course, be comprised of Olympic lift variations like power cleans, hang cleans, push presses, split jerks and snatches as well as front squats and presses.
These exercises are used to improve starting strength, supporting strength and the rate of force development while hitting all major muscle groups from head to toe.
The total body-non explosive combo's will consist of exercises like lunges, RDLs, high pulls, squats and rows. Although these combo's do not require a high amount of bar speed to complete the lift, we try and emphasize the importance of completing the concentric portion of each rep as fast as possible.
The non-explosive combos work great to promote the development of strength, strength endurance, hypertrophy, mobility, conditioning, and in some cases, regeneration. I could sit here all day and spew boring descriptions of these exercises, but where's the fun in that? If you're anything like me you'd rather watch a few videos, so here are a few.
This first video demonstrates one of our favorite complexes we use with our advanced athletes. After we teach the exercises individually, and the athlete shows a sufficient knowledge of each lift, we challenge the athlete by combining the lifts into a very demanding Combo.
This is where the combination lift's versatility really is proven. Not only does it demand great total body strength and power through a full range of motion, it also requires the mental focus and physical sharpness to complete the lifts in a coordinated series. I wish the jerk at the end of this next video was a little faster and cleaner, but I guess I'll just have to work on my overhead training a bit more to remedy that deficiency.
Your author doing: Power Clean/Hang Clean-Front Squat/Spilt Jerk (press)
This next Combo is very difficult, especially for any athlete with mobility issues. It combines the speed and athleticism required for snatches with the pure mobility, balance and supporting strength necessary to complete a full overhead squat.
With snatches and overhead squats, speed and proper form are most important, not load. Start light and do them correctly to maximize the benefits. We've found that many athletes do not need to use a lot of weight on this combo. Some younger athletes can get benefits using only an empty barbell. The bar speed stays high and they can really concentrate on dropping into that overhead squat.
Hang Split Snatch x 2/ Hang Snatch/Overhead Squat
This next combination focuses a little more on power and later brings in the strength-endurance needed to complete the set. This particular combination has a much broader range of applicability than the last example we discussed.
It can be used as a way of hammering home technique in three separate movements for our beginner athletes, and also as a tool for developing necessary power and strength within our more advanced trainees. I like this sequence because the athlete can first complete two explosive reps with the clean and jerk while they're fresh, and then rely more on strength and endurance to finish the set of front squats.
With a high enough load, the first two clean and jerk movements should wear enough on the athlete that the front squats should become very difficult in the later sets. These truly demand a form of mental preparation to push through 4-6 sets with a high intensity.
Hang Clean & Jerk x 2/Front Squat x 3
The next example is the first of our non-explosive total body combinations. This sequence, with proper form and a decent amount of weight, will crush the posterior chain very efficiently by effectively working every muscle from your calves to your traps.
The glutes, hamstring, and erectors really have to work, first getting a slow eccentric contraction while lowering the weight, added to an isometric hold in the stretch position, followed by a semi-explosive concentric repetition. These qualities combine to create a rather valuable strength movement.
A rep usually consists of 1 RDL/2 bent over rows/1 Shrug pull and we often have our athletes do 3-4 sets of 3 reps. The video shows this movement being performed using a barbell but it works well using dumbbells as well, if that's what you prefer.
RDL/Bent Over Row x 2/Shrug Pull
The next two videos are identical in movements, though they differ in the sequence in which they're performed. They both consist of RDL/High Pull-clean/Squat-press. Whether you choose to complete the required reps of each individual movement before moving onto the next, or complete 1 rep of each movement and then repeat, is up to you (or up to me in the case of our athletes!). The videos should clear up any confusion.
RDL x 5/High Pull-Clean x 5/Squat-Press x 5
RDL/Clean/Squat-Press x 5
You can use either barbells or dumbbells for the previous movement, but realize that the use of dumbbells will require more coordination, body control, and balance, so switch it up now and then. It really doesn't matter how you choose to perform this combo, but I guarantee you'll notice how effective it is in developing total body strength while providing a great tool for conditioning an athlete.
Our last example is the answer for any athlete desiring a "Big Finish" to a hard workout or great training week. Sometimes a "good" week just isn't satisfying enough for many of our athletes. They want to be slumped on the turf in a pool of sweat, convinced they've pushed themselves to great gains.
The only thing left in the tank is just enough strength to shake up their Surge post workout protein drink. If you're one of those sick bastards who craves a little pain, this hybrid usually does the trick. It not only works almost every major muscle in the body, it also crushes your cardiovascular system to boot.
The Full Body Finisher: DB RDL/Bent Over Row/High Pull/Alternating Lunge and Press
Hopefully the benefits of this method of training for athletic development are now apparent. Understand that the examples I've shown are just a few of my favorites. Over the past year or so I've come to realize that the possible variations of these lifts are limited only to one's imagination.
We all know how important variation and change is throughout long term training programs so the ability to adjust and modify these combinations merely adds to their overall worth. Whether you like the examples I've shown or you have favorites of your own, try them, adjust them, and add to them to take your training to new levels.
If you use any variations that the readers and I can benefit from, please share the wealth!