Are you tired of walking on the treadmill or stair climber for hours every week trying to get in shape for hockey? Or maybe you’re a men’s leaguer with a busy schedule that doesn’t allow for long gym sessions.
Not a problem: fat loss complexes are my #1 answer for hockey players who want to get shredded but don’t have time to do extra speed, conditioning, and aerobic cardio sessions each week.
While other hockey players are grinding through their 30-minute cool down on the elliptical, this approach will have you walking past them and out of the gym a bigger, leaner, and more-time efficient trainee.
How Complexes Work
This approach to maximizing fat loss is simple: grab one implement (this can be a kettlebell, dumbbell, barbell, plate, or even bodyweight-only complex) and create a logical and progressive “complex” (a series of exercises all done back-to-back with no rest) in a way that you never need to put the implement down.
Follow these directions to create a maximum metabolic effect for conditioning and fat loss:
- Always use some form of resistance (whether it be equipment or bodyweight)
- Maximize total time under tension and vary the types of tension throughout the complex to improve overall workable volume (i.e. don’t ever “pre-exhaust” muscle groups within the complex—the goal is to perform the most amount of work possible, and you can’t do this is a fatigued state)
- Employ incomplete recovery between sets and monitor oxygen debt (heart rate monitors are fine, but I prefer subjective biofeedback here)
- Maximize the density of work you perform (hence, making it a “complex”)
Complexes have been around for awhile now, but in all honesty, a lot of hockey players screw them up. They think the goal is to get tired—but that’s not the goal, that’s just a side effect of the process.
Look, any coach can make you tired: “GO DO 200 BURPEES RIGHT NOW!”
See how easy that was?
A typical coach might put together a complex with the purpose of just doing what they might call a “finisher” at the end of a dryland training session or practice. Uninformed hockey players might think it’s a great way to “burn out” at the end of a session.
But getting hockey players tired isn’t what makes a good coach. A good coach makes you better—not just exhausted.
A complex is a series of resistance training movements performed back-to-back using the same implement and having seamless flow from one movement to the next to maximize density, work, and overall metabolic demand.
The seamless flow also helps make them easy to memorize—and then remember when you’re in a state of total body fatigue.
A complex is also ideally performed while staying in one spot, which is super helpful in crowded gyms where you have multiple people trying to use the same equipment.
The weight should be much lighter relative to your strength level during normal straight set/super set movements, because one of the main objectives here is to perform the complex at a fast pace with lots of volume while in a fatigued state.
In other words, a big portion of what we are doing here is moving a weight around at a fast pace without sacrificing technique or losing control of either our body position or the weighted implement.
When you do the complex, I want you to think that you have to move fast, but not rush. It’s not a race, but you want to still move with intentional speed (just not at the expense of technique).
Why speed? Well, there are two ways to boost the difficulty of your session: add weight or go faster.
Since complexes aren’t rooted in maximizing hockey specific strength and muscle mass (although they do help), adding weight should be reserved for your straight set and superset work.
During that work, you can add weight and move a little slower. But here, I want you to move fast and use a light weight to optimize fat loss and minimize injury risk.
Who Should Use Complexes?
I have termed a complex periodization system that I use called “Anabolic Cardio,” since you are burning fat by stimulating the muscle tissue with resistance. This means you burn fat but still send signals to your body to maintain your lean muscle tissue as you lean down.
Because of all of the benefits of complexes, it works great for men’s leaguers:
- Who want to prioritize fat loss but not lose muscle
- Who have a primary goal of improving their conditioning/work capacity
- Who have sore/beat-up joints (which is basically every men’s leaguer I’ve ever met)
- Who want functional hockey conditioning training but don’t have the time to dedicate entire sessions to it every week
- Who have a busy work life or family life and don’t have the time for the longer duration of traditional forms of cardio training
- Who want to increase their training volume in a new and fun way
Getting into Application
One thing I love about complexes is that you can’t just go through the motions and do them while on your cell phone or chatting with your buddy.
It’s just you, the piece of equipment, and a whole bag full of brutality. (If anybody has ever told you that they tried these and they were easy, they are either lying or they didn’t do them properly!)
Here’s what you want to accomplish with your movement pattern selection when designing your own complex:
- Upper body pushing movement (e.g. overhead press)
- Upper body pulling movement (e.g. rows)
- Lower body leg movement (e.g. squats)
- Lower body hip movement (e.g. good mornings)
When you perform these movement patterns, you hit all of the muscle groups in your body in the same fashion—and yes, this includes your core. The core is working everything you are maintaining in a strong and stable position, which is required to perform any of the complexes in this article.
The Importance of Lactate
One of the latest things in sports science is known as “lactate threshold training.”
Traditionally, all metabolic work had to do with lower body intervals only. Yet, it is obvious that all muscles can suffer from lactate-induced fatigue (especially since hockey is a total body sport, not just a lower body sport).
Training not only to systemic but also to local muscular systems will enhance training performance by increasing body composition transformation and metabolism. And using a velocity component approach to specific areas will help us gain better hockey-specific performance results at the same time.
Yes, power is force x velocity. But, specifically metabolic power is a training protocol designed to repeat bouts of velocity training to enhance power-based endurance.
This takes a lot of training fortitude but will add to the metabolic demands on a systemic level and improve your overall gas tank out on the ice.
So, training for power-endurance, or metabolic power or effect, is about training fast while also circumventing recovery, just like in lactate threshold training.
The key here is to not only perform movements for speed and power but to repeat such demands without full recovery between bouts of exertion, resulting in an enhanced metabolic effect and making your training demanding enough to produce real and fast results.
When Should I Do This?
Keep it simple:
1. Use it as a replacement for cardio during fat loss phases.
2. Use it as a conditioning tool for hockey.
3. Use it as its own complete workout on days where you have less than 20 minutes to get a workout in.
4. Use it as a post-workout finisher (my preferred method for men’s leaguers).
From both personal experience and professional coaching experience, I don’t recommend using complexes more than twice per week. They generate a lot of fatigue—and once you do them, I think you’ll agree that 1–2 times per week is more than enough to take your physique to the next level but not tap too far into your recovery reserves.
All in all, you cannot go wrong with adding these complexes into your overall training once in a while to help build up work capacity while destroying body fat.
Example Barbell Complex
A1: Deadlifts x 10
A2: Bent over rows x 10
A3: Hang cleans x 10
A4: Push press x 10
A5: Back squats x 10
Repeat each exercise in this complex without resting between movements or putting the barbell down. Rest 90–120 seconds in between rounds and repeat 2–4x based on your conditioning level.
Example Dumbbell Complex
A1: Front squat x 8
A2: DB swing x 8
A3: Two-arm DB curl and press x 8
A4: Squat jumps x 8
A5: Bent over two-arm DB row x 8
Repeat each exercise in this complex without resting between movements or putting the dumbbells down. Rest 90–120 seconds in between rounds and repeat 2–4x based on your conditioning level.
Example Kettlebell Complex
A1: KB swing x 8
A2: KB swing clean x 8
A3: KB front squat x 8
A4: KB overhead press x 8
Repeat each exercise in this complex without resting between movements or putting the kettlebells down. Rest 90–120 seconds in between rounds and repeat 2–4x based on your conditioning level.
Example Bodyweight Complex
A1: Push-ups x 15
A2: Inverted row x 15
A3: Single leg hip thrusts x 8/side
A4: Speed squats x 15
A5: Military burpees x 15
Repeat each exercise in this complex without resting between movements. Rest 90–120 seconds in between rounds and repeat 2–4x based on your conditioning level.
Example Plate Complex
A1: Overhead squat with press x 8
A2: Plate swings x 8
A3: Bent over row x 8
A4: Overhead forward alternating lunges x 8/side
A5: Diagonal chops x 8/side
Repeat each exercise in this complex without resting between movements or putting the plate down. Rest 90–120 seconds in between rounds and repeat 2–4x based on your conditioning level.
For the first few weeks, you’re going to want to print these out and keep them in front of you during your workouts—not because you’ll forget, but because you will pretend to forget as you become exhausted.
Now, can you make up your own complexes? Absolutely!
The ones I provided above are examples that I have frequently used in my coaching and wanted to provide in this article to give you a wide variety of options to work with.
But, the options are truly endless here. Just remember to pick exercises that flow seamlessly into one another.
And, don’t be afraid to get creative. I have used complexes many times with clients to bring up weak body parts.
For example, a bodyweight only “Quad Finisher” could look something like this:
A1: BW Prisoner speed squats x 25
A2: BW Alternating reverse lunges x 12/side
A3: BW Alternating split squat jumps x 12/side
A4: BW Russian step ups x 12/side
Repeat all exercises back-to-back with no rest, and rest two minutes once the circuit has been completed. Repeat for 2–3 rounds at the end of a leg day or on its own day entirely to add more quad volume in.
Complexes for the total body (as discussed in this entire article) have a phenomenal effect on the body, but don’t be afraid to segment them to one muscle group at certain times of the year to give lagging muscle groups a boost. The options are endless.
I hope this article gave you some new tools in your program design arsenal. Try them out and let me know how it goes!