A fellow in great distress came to me through email and inquired as to which of my kettlebell complexes are best for the accruement of strength. I could do no less than to give him my best advice, of course, but if less could have been done, well I know myself well enough to say for certain I would have done it.
What I told him was what I’ve told all before him. Complexes are not the best investment for strength, nor is Cuba the place for a snowman, whatever that means. The return is there, sure – it is consistent, it is predictable, but it is not something one can retire on and still have the means to feed his cat.
His reply was of the argumentative sort, and quick to announce that he has long been under the firm impression that kettlebell complexes are the capital constructors of muscle and might, and that there is none better suited for the job. And so we engaged in discussion, which is the method I use for telling another person he’s wrong.
The major function of the kettlebell complex, I said to him, is to serve as a body fat reducer. That is, as a metabolic effort to boost work capacity and belabor the breath. But you mustn’t belabor a person too much all at once, else they may quit the business of breathing altogether, and then what’s the point?
This is true of my 9-Minute Workout. It is also true of my Great Destroyer, but with that, a disclaimer: do not do The Great Destroyer everyday, less you are trying to guarantee the undertaker’s salary, which would put chiropractors out of business.
For a complex to be an effective measure towards strength, it must visit upon the customer a substantial muscular encumberment and overload. And so, any “strength complex” that commands you to work a series of movements for any more than five reps at a time, it must be obvious, fails to satisfy said requirement and abandons any such notable strength efforts altogether.
Armor building is a complex I learned from Dan John, and now, when a person asks me for a strength complex, this is the product I put into their hands. Armor building, as Dan makes the distinction, is not hypertrophy, per se, but rather, a hardening and toughening of the flesh with the expected accompaniment of strength.
Two, one, and three are the reps. The double clean, the double press, and the front squat, performed in that order, are the moves. Because the reps are low, the weight can be high, and, if you want to get burly with it, should be. I would use for this nothing less than your five rep maximum effort on the military press.
Same, But Different
What follows are subtle variations on the same theme. Because I am a believer in the same but different approach, I hold the character amongst my colleagues of being the fellow who very seldom changes his routine. That is, if it works, let it work, and make only minor adjustments, as needed, to avoid staleness or stagnation.
3, 1, 2
An exhibition of my unquestionable brilliance. What I have done, and I’ll write slowly so you can keep up, is taken the first number and switched it with the last.
Two Bell Chain
Training in a chain offers you variations on speed and tempo by waving the load. The premise is very plain. Get a light set, a medium set, and a heavy set, and run right on down the line.
One Bell Chain
Here we have the single bell variation, also performed in a chain. The merit here is that one will require a little less rest between sets, as alternation is encouraged.
300 Swings Armor Building Complex
For those of you who are part of the 300 Swings a Day Challenge, here’s a special complex for you. You’ll get all your swings in for the day, plus cleans, presses, and front squats.
Putting It All Together
Programming is a matter I’d rather not get too much into right now, as I do not wish to too openly encourage that single most unpardonable sin against your neighbors of being successful. Simply suffice it to say if you work the armor building theme and variations one to two times a week, starting out, and for fifteen to twenty minutes, you will gain the most enviable of all things – your neighbors’ envy.