Complex training is the use of a strength-based exercise, followed by the use of a plyometrics-based exercise. The technical name is Post-Activation Potentiation but it is also known more commonly as Heavy Suitcase/Light Suitcase.
Anyone who has struggled to carry a heavy suitcase on holiday will have noticed that if they then have to handle a lighter suitcase, it seems a lot easier to pick up. This is because lifting a heavy load will recruit your nervous system so that it’s prepared to lift another heavy load. However, if the stimulus it then experiences is lower than what is expected, the involuntary muscle contraction produces a higher amount of force than what is needed resulting in producing a high power output than a voluntary contraction.
Before a personal trainer progresses a client into complex training, they would expect them to have some experience in basic and advanced plyometrics, so that they understand, for example, how to land and take off safely. They will also need experience of strength training.
How complex training is delivered
If training the lower body, the fitness instructor might ask the client to lift a heavy load, such as 100kg, in a back squat for a maximum of three reps, then rest for two or three minutes to allow the muscles to recover, before carrying out, for example, four hurdle jumps in a row. The benefits would be that the heavy back squat would recruit the nervous system, the rest would allow the client to replenish their energy stores and then when they go into the plyometric exercise of jumping over the hurdles the amount of involuntary force produced by the body will be higher than that needed to lift their bodyweight over the hurdles.
Another complex training exercise would start with a bench press. Again the client would lift a heavy weight for one to three reps, have a suitable recovery period of around two to three minutes and then follow that up with between four to 10 clap press ups.
Finally, to train the upper body, the client could carry out a three-rep max lateral pull down, working the latissimus dorsi, followed by two to three minutes recovery and then a medicine ball slam, which will again work the latissimus dorsi but with a lesser weight.
Guidelines on variables
The variables that a personal trainer will need to consider include how many reps a client should do for each part of the exercise and how long the rest should be. General guidelines are one to three reps for the strength part of the exercise and four to 10 for the power part of the exercise, although this can vary for different sports, as a sprinter will need to harness a different kind of power compared to a shot putter. Research suggests there should be two to three minutes rest in between the strength and power exercises; although this can be varied to suit each individual client’s ability to recover. If a client takes too long to recover, the stimulus from the strength training may wear off.
One other theory for complex training is that the strength exercise will fatigue the muscles that are being worked and so when the client begins the power exercise, the body will use the tendons to help produce the force. This means that rather than using the muscles to power the jump, the body will use the musculotendinous units of each joint.
Either way, this method of training has been proved to increase not only an individual’s strength but also their power output. Employed over a period of time, for example, around four to six weeks, a sports trainer should therefore see an improvement in their client’s strength and power.