Weightlifters and functional fitness athletes are required to have some level of barbell mastery in the snatch, clean, and jerk movements to maximize their performance at higher levels. Increase strength, power, and proficiency in those movements will often result in an increased ability to perform other tasks that fall within other fitness domains. In beginner level lifters, weightlifting complexes are a suitable training exercise to help coaches and lifters train specific movements, build out their “toolboxes”, and increase training volume specific to a snatch, clean, or jerk. More advanced lifters can implement various complexes to increase conditioning and add variety to their routines.

It is important to note that more advanced lifters may not have a the same technical benefit that beginner level lifters may receive from performing complexes, which is why complexes may best be used by more advanced lifters for conditioning purposes. Nonetheless, weightlifting complexes, when programmed with a clear intended outcome, can be a beneficial and creative way to add variety to training sessions.

What Is a Complex?

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A weightlifting complex is a series of barbell movements (derivatives of any aspect of the snatch, clean, or jerk) performed in one large and continuous set. Both weightlifters and fitness/sport athletes can benefit from performing complexes (a series of movements performed in one large and continuous set) in that they can improve technique, assist in increasing training volume, and can be a great way to build strength and explosiveness without the negative effects of training at the highest of intensities.

Below are four complexes that we see commonly used by formal weightlifters, CrossFitters, and other fitness/sport athletes to develop technique, positional strength and power, boost confidence, and add training volume during specific phases of the year.

Snatch + Snatch Balance + Overhead Squat 

This complex, aka Torokhtiy Complex, is great for increasing overhead positioning and confidence under the barbell. Named after 105kg Ukrainian Gold Medalist weightlifter (London 2012) Aleksey Torokhtiy, this snatch complex has been widely seen across CrossFit boxes and weightlifting platforms. The addition of the snatch balance and overhead squat further reinforces sound footwork mechanics in the catch (snatch balance) and additional training volume (overhead squat).

Behind the Neck Jerk + Pause Jerk + Jerk

This jerk complex can be performed with the power jerk and/or split jerk variations. The behind the neck (BTN) jerk ingrains vertical barbell patterning to allow a lifter to groove an optimal bar path. Following the BTN jerk, the barbell is brought down to the front rack position. The pause jerk helps the lifter solidify a vertical dip movement, countered with an aggressive and explosive leg drive to accelerate the barbell concentrically (due to the pause) overhead. The final jerk is a great way to then wrap up the two movements and teach/reinforce the lifter’s vertical bar patterning and catch.

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3-Position Clean/Snatch

These complexes (clean or snatch variation) work to develop balanced and technically sound first and second pulls, as well as increase training volume with the additional pulls and squats. The barbell complex can be performed from the top-down (hang clean at thigh/hip, hang clean at knee, clean) or the floor-up (clean, hang clean at knee, hang clean at thigh/hip) depending on coach/lifter preference and/or limitations. Both variations will help a lifter to understand proper barbell patterning and foot balance throughout the pulls, as well as powerful seconds and third pulls.

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Snatch High Pull + Snatch High Pull + Snatch + Snatch

This complex is all about the snatch. The snatch high pulls will develop sound balance and bar patterning throughout the first and second pulls. The addition of two snatches at the end will challenge the lifters ability to stay tight and pull themselves aggressively under the barbell, since the high pulls have used up some the pulling capacities. This is a great snatch complex to also add additionally training volume in the pulls and upper body to further enhance the snatch.

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Final Words

Barbell complexes come in all variations which make them an amazing method to challenge lifters. Coaches and lifters should play around with different complex movements, exercise repetitions, and the order of the movements to better individualize a lifters training while using complexes. Remember, there are no right ways to do complexes, only the wrong ways. Make sure that technique, bar speed, and safety of the lifters are never compromised, and keep loading withing a manageable intensity to promote progress.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured Image: @mikejdewar on Instagram

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.