Circuits, Combos, and Complexes – Part 1


Circuits represent a method of exercise organization, in which multiple exercises are performed one after another with little or no rest in-between. Exercises can be compound, isolated, ballistic, and involve only upper or lower body exercises or combinations (Table 1).

Upper Body Lower Body Total Body Ballistic
Push-Ups x10 Goblet Squat x10 Back Squat x10 Step-up Jump x5
Pull-Ups x5 SLRDL x10 Bench Press x10 Explosive MB Throw x5
DB Press x10 Lateral Split Squat x10 SLRDL x10 KB Swing with band x10
Inverted Row x10 Glute Bridges x10 Inverted Row x10 Rotational MB Throw x5
High/Vertical Pulls x10 Step-Ups x10 Step-up x10
Delt flys x10 Calves Rises x10 DB Press x10
Reverse delt flys x10 Sumo deadlift x10 Hip Thrust x10
Pull-ups x10
Abs Roll-out x10

Table 1: Example of Upper Body, Lower Body, Total Body, and Ballistic Circuits

When working with strength-generalists, I am leaning towards organizing strength training sessions using mini-circuits (or mini-block; or should I call them organizational circuits?), and I am especially fond of using the explosive circuit for combat athletes (Table 2). The explosive circuit is a quality circuit with ample rest time between ballistic exercises. This rest time can be created by adding fillers or by alternating upper vs. lower body explosive movements. This type of organization is very modular and it also allows for organizing the gym flow when working with large(er) groups under equipment constraints. For example, athletes can share the main movements, but the fillers can be done individually depending on a specific need to address a problematic region that the athlete has.

Block Exercise
Warm-Up Foam Roll
Ground Mobility
Plate Complex
Explosive Block A1. Step-Up Jump
A2. Kneeling MB Throw
A3. KB Swing w/band
A4. Rotational MB Throw
Strength Block I B1. Hex bar deadlift
B2. Hip stretch (filler)
B3. Ring push-ups
B4. External shoulder rotation (filler)
Strength Block II C1. Pull-Ups
C2. Neck isoHold (filler)
C3. Speed skater
C4. Calves (filler)
Endurance Block D1. Battle Ropes 15sec
D2. Bike 15sec
D3. Ski erg 15sec
D4. Sled push 15sec
Work to Rest 15:15sec. Repeat 2×3 with 3min break
Recovery Block Stretch
Protein shake

Table 2: Session organization using mini-circuit (mini-block)

Circuits represent very broad and loose category of exercise organization. Various sub-types of circuits can be created by applying different constraints (e.g., Upper, Lower, Total, or Ballistic circuits in Table 1, or even the aforementioned organizational circuits). For example, super-sets are a special type of circuits where only two exercises are performed (please refer to the Volume One and Two of the Strength Training Manual 5) for more information about different types of super-sets). Besides super-sets, another special types of circuits are (1) complexes, (2) combos, and (3) combined exercises (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Simplistic Venn diagram of different special types of circuits


Complexes are very constrained types of circuits in which (1) a single piece of equipment is being used (e.g., barbell, dumbbell, bodyweight, kettlebell), (2) exercises are performed in the same area or will little movement around, (3) there is no rest between exercises, (4) there is no changing of the weights or letting go of the equipment, (5) exercises are performed with the same number of repetitions, (6) all repetitions of one exercise are performed before moving to another exercise, (7) one pass through all exercises is done before a designated break.

The weight of the implement used in the complex should be under 70% of the weakest exercises 1 2 (this again depends on the objectives of the complex, as well as the number of repetitions performed; but it does represent useful rule of thumb).

Table 3 contains an example of a kettlebell complex performed with a single kettlebell.

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