Level 5 Workouts: Differences Between Complexes and Chains

Level 5 Workouts: Differences Between Complexes and Chains

One of my subscribers asked me the basic differences between complexes and chains, and why you should choose one over the other, energy systems used, etc, and that I should make a video on that. 

So, here we go.

Complex: A series of compound exercises performed sequentially with the same weight (kettlebell) and without rest. All the reps for one exercise are completed before moving on to the next exercise in the sequence.

Here’s an example

Swing x 5

Clean x 5

Press x 5

A Chain is a series of compound exercises performed sequentially with the same kettlebell in which each exercise is performed once before the sequence is started again. Each time the sequence is performed is considered one repetition.

Here’s an example:

(Swing + Clean + Press) x 5

Complexes create more “local muscle fatigue” because you’re performing consecutive reps of each exercise.

Chains spare “local muscle fatigue” and spread the fatigue evenly across the body as a whole. 

Typically, because of this, you can do more “total work” – or work measured by the numbers – volume of work performed in each training session using chains compared to complexes.

However, due to the concentrated fatigue levels associated with complexes compared to chains, you could argue that it’s a different kind of work.

You can structure either with as many or as few exercises as you’d like.

The simplest example is the time-tested Clean + Press.

Perform all your cleans first, then your presses, and you’re performing a complex.

Alternate between cleans and presses, and you’re performing a chain.

The difference between the two is as follows:

The complex increases your heart rate, and your need for oxygen and energy. You’re performing your presses in a state of fatigue, and mild accumulation of lactic acid (depending on how many reps you’re doing).

This makes the Presses harder.

In the chain, you’re using each Clean to set up the following Press. A properly performed Clean creates a “force wave” which then makes the subsequent press stronger.

So, even in the face of fatigue, this makes your Presses stronger.

As far as energy systems used?

Deciding which energy systems used is simply a combination of intensity (or effort) – what percentage of maximum intensity or effort are you using multiplied by the duration of your event.

Generally speaking, most complexes and chains bias the Lactic Acid / Fast Glycolytic / Anaerobic Glycolysis system (whatever you want to call it).

But again, you could do a very simple 3 exercise complex or chain using 1 to 2 reps per exercise and train for strength and power, biasing the Phosphagen / ATP-PC / Anaerobic Alactic system, as long as you kept your sets around 15 seconds or less.

Admittedly it can become somewhat confusing if you’re trying to figure this all out yourself.

So, if you want “built for you” kettlebell complex and chain workout programs, check out the link below.


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