The exercises and content expressed in this column are for illustrative purposes only. Consult a medical professional before trying any physical activity or nutritional plan.

You're holed up waiting for help to arrive, and it's taking much longer than expected. You can't just wait idly by, though. You need to maintain your physical abilities because you have no idea what's in store for you ahead. Don't worry. While your space and resources may be limited, we can still keep you physically prepared for the steep road ahead. Here's what you need to know.

What is a Complex?

A complex is a series of exercises with the same implement (dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell, bodyweight, etc.) with little to no rest in between exercises. You'll only rest at the end. That's right, you don't even get to set the weight down. Traditionally, complexes have been used for athletes who are in-season, where time is limited, as a great way to maintain strength without fatiguing athletes to the level a typical training session might. Of course, there are many other times you might want to use complexes in training.

That being said, there's one significant reason a prepper might be interested in using this type of training — it's a great choice for limited space or equipment. Outside of that, the structure also provides a significant challenge to your conditioning. So, it's perfect for anyone looking to improve in this area or to lose weight. They can even be modified to improve strength simply by increasing the weight and lowering the repetitions, which we'll discuss later in the article.

How Do You Structure a Complex?

There are many different ways to structure a complex; it really just depends on what you are looking to get out of it. For our purposes, we'll focus solely on physical preparation for the unknown.

First, you should ideally hit all major muscles or movement patterns in the complex. This means getting lower body and upper body throughout the exercises. Generally speaking, it's best to alternate between upper and lower body, or at least separate competing exercises like two consecutive pressing movements (i.e. overhead press and a horizontal press). It's also a good idea for at least one of those lower body exercises to be single-leg, such as a lunge.

Next, you should prioritize power first in the complex just as you would typically put a power exercise before a strength exercise in a program. Power is a quality that isn't as fatiguing on your muscles, but is dependent more on your nervous system. It's best to do these exercises first when the muscles and nervous system are fresh, as power production will be much more limited when you're tired. Some examples of a power exercise would be a kettlebell swing or any kind of explosive movement.

Choose the most challenging movements earlier in the complex. After fatigue sets in, these movements tend to break down. So, it's best to do these near the start of the complex to make sure you're fresher.

Repetitions will vary based on what you're looking to accomplish with the complex. The same rules that apply to traditional strength training are used for this style of training as well. If your goal is to improve strength, we'll use heavier weight for five to six repetitions per exercise. On the other hand, if you need to shed some excess body fat or work on general conditioning, bump the repetitions up to 8 to 12 per exercise and lower the weight a little bit.

Lastly, choose your weight based on the most limiting exercise in the series. So, if an overhead press is the weakest movement you'll complete, you're going to choose a weight that's appropriate for that exercise, and you'll use that for the rest of the exercises as well.

Sample Complex for the Prepper

While this should probably go without saying, make sure the exercises you use with a complex are ones that you're competent in completing. If not, doing multiple exercises with bad form and combining them with little to no rest is a recipe for disaster. The below exercises are suggested to provide an idea of how the flow of a complex would go. Feel free to substitute your own exercises for the ones listed.

One-Arm Dumbbell Push Press

Six repetitions on each side



  1. Begin with the dumbbell in one hand and resting on your shoulder.
  2. Quickly bend your hips and knees slightly and explode up as you press the weight overhead.
  3. Slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position, using your other hand to assist if need be.
  4. Repeat for six repetitions on each side.

Dumbbell Split Squat

Six repetitions per side



  1. Begin in a lunge position with one leg forward and the other back.
  2. Hold the dumbbell with one hand in front of your back leg.
  3. Slowly descend straight down keeping the weight in your front foot. Make sure to feel the whole front foot in contact with the ground.
  4. After gently tapping your back knee to the floor, press your front foot through the floor, and return to the starting position.
  5. Complete six repetitions per side.

Three-Point Dumbbell Row

Six repetitions on each side



  1. Begin with one arm supporting you on a bench or other sturdy surface roughly knee height.
  2. Sit your hips back with your back flat, and grab a dumbbell in the free hand.
  3. Drive your shoulder blade and elbow back, stopping just before your elbow is about to pass your torso.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position.
  5. Complete for six repetitions per side.

Dumbbell Lateral Lunge

Six repetitions on each side



  1. Begin by standing with a dumbbell in front of your left thigh.
  2. Take a large step out to the right. Make sure your toes are facing straight ahead.
  3. Sit your hips back as you squat down on your right side. Your left knee should be straight, and you should feel a stretch in your left inner thigh.
  4. Explosively push your right foot into the floor and return to the starting position.
  5. Complete six repetitions on each side.


Hold this position for 30 to 40 seconds


  1. Set the dumbbell down and get on the floor on your toes and elbows.
  2. Reach your elbows through the floor, lock your knees, squeeze your butt, and look at your hands.
  3. Hold this position for 30 to 40 seconds.


While you're using a structure called a complex, it's anything but that. Keeping the movements simple, focusing on good technique, and progressing slowly are surefire ways to see some great gains. After all, if you're holed up for a while, this is a great way to both pass the time and keep yourself healthy and prepared.

About the author

Ryne Gioviano is the owner of Achieve Personal Training & Lifestyle Design located in Aurora, Illinois. He earned his master's degree in exercise physiology and is a certified personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. You can find more information at www.Achieve-PersonalTraining.com or reach him on Facebook or on Twitter and Instagram at @rgioviano.

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