Learning the skill of Olympic Weightlifting takes time and patience. Weightlifting complexes are one way to improve your overall understanding of how your body should feel in certain parts of each lift.
Weightlifting complexes help you understand the different positions of the lift while simultaneously developing strength specifically in Weightlifting positions. Further, complexes are great for increasing training volume and therefore, work capacity and conditioning.
And they aren’t just for beginners who are learning the different parts of each lift. They are also great for intermediate and advanced Weightlifters looking to target certain weak points or increase their training volume.
What Is A Weightlifting Complex?
A Weightlifting complex generally consists of two or more Olympic Weightlifting movements grouped together with a specific goal. The goal could be to improve certain positions in the lift, create awareness or even just purely for strength gains.
An example of some weightlifting complexes could be as basic as a power clean + clean or something more complex like a clean pull with a pause below knee + clean + jerk.
Why Should You Use Weightlifting Complexes?
As a beginner weightlifter, you would want to use complexes as a way to learn the Olympic lifts and the certain components that goes with each lift. For example, the 3-position snatch is a great way to teach the athlete the snatch from the hip, then the hang, and finally from below the knee or from the ground.
The reason for teaching it like this is that it helps you feel where the bar should be in each position. You start to understand where your back angle and leg position should be at each different position during the complex which will transfer when you put the lift together and perform it as one fluent movement from the ground.
I like coaching my athletes from the top, down method. For example, snatch push-press behind the neck + overhead squat is a great beginner complex.
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Another example could be drop snatch + overhead squat. These movements teach the Weightlifter how the bar should feel overhead in the snatch and allows the athlete to punch and drop under the bar with a drop snatch.
For the intermediate to advanced Weightlifters, complexes build specific Weightlifting strength as well as overall conditioning through increased training volume and are often used at the beginning of a training cycle.
An example of a complex to give to intermediate or advanced level athlete could be something like clean + front squat + jerk. A great way to build strength and fatigue the legs before the jerk to improve conditioning and strength for the jerk.
Another great example for building leg and core strength is the front squat + jerk.
I love this one because it really pushes the athlete to perform well under fatigue which seems to carry over well in the classical lifts.
I would normally start programming less complexes when the athlete gets close to competition and focus more on the classical lifts.
When Should You Use Weightlifting Complexes?
Weightlifting complexes should be used far from a competition or at the beginning of a training or volume cycle to build strength in specific positions and develop overall work capacity.
The reason for stopping complexes closer to competition is to taper the volume and increase the intensity of singles or double of the classical movements. This is also a great way to see how much you have gained from doing your complexes in your cycle leading up to your competition phase.
Another time you can use Weightlifting complexes any time in your training cycle is by adding them to your warm-ups as part of your barbell warm-up or primer to get you ready for your lifts.
For example, if you are performing the snatch as your primary lift, then adding some the snatch + overhead squat to your warm-up will reinforce the correct positions and warm you up specifically for the snatch.
I always add some sort of primer or barbell warm-up in my athletes’ program to get them ready for which ever movement we are working on that day as our primary movement.
How Many Times A Week Should I Perform Weightlifting Complexes?
Weightlifting complexes can be performed anywhere from twice a week to six times a week depending on what your goal is for the exercise.
At least once a week, I would focus purely on the classical lifts to get the feel of how the barbell should feel when you take the complexes away.
However, if you use a complex as part of your warm-up or as a primer for your session then you can perform these complexes every single training session.
Closer to competition, take out the complexes as primary exercises and use them purely for barbell warm-ups so that you can get used to the full lifts. You will start to feel the reward of the hard work you did during the Weightlifting complex training cycle.
My 14 Favorite Weightlifting Complexes
3 Position Snatch
Snatch from the hip, hang, and below the knee or the floor. A great way to emphasize positions in each of these movements, train to have the correct back angle, and develop strength in these positions by having to perform three reps in each set.
The 3-position snatch is also a great way to train each phase of the snatch especially in beginner Weightlifters by adding a different position each time they have mastered a position.
Snatch Pull + Snatch
The goal of the snatch pull is to emphasize the correct bar path and the triple extension of the pull. The idea is for this feeling to carry over to your snatch performed directly after the snatch pull. This is another great exercise to build strength as an advanced or intermediate athlete.
As a beginner weightlifter this is a great movement to teach bar path and how the pull should feel when they complete the snatch.
Snatch Pull With Pause At Knee + Snatch With Pause At Knee
A brutal but amazing complex for building back strength and developing overall strength with a lot of time under tension. I like to add a 2-3 second pause at the knee to emphasize correct positioning of the back.
If the athlete starts pulling with the back and pushes the knees forward during the snatch, make sure to stay over the bar by reducing the weight to get the most out of the exercise.
Snatch Pull With Pause At Knee + Snatch
Very similar to the previous complex with the goal of transferring the feeling of staying over the bar during the pull to the snatch. Pressure should be kept through the full foot throughout the whole movement until you reach triple extension in the pull. By adding the snatch after the pull, it will help you feel if you are doing a similar pull in your snatch.
Snatch Deadlift Shrug + Hang Snatch
The snatch deadlift shrug + hang snatch is a great exercise to build back strength for the snatch. The snatch deadlift shrug reinforces the correct bar path while the hang snatch forces the Weightlifter to get under the bar quickly when fatigued.
Snatch Pull + Power Snatch + Overhead Squat
The snatch pull + power snatch + overhead squat can be done as primer or bar warm-up to get ready for your snatch session or as the primary movement.
It’s great for teaching bar path with the pull, explosive power and completion of the pull with power snatch and builds strength in the shoulders and core with an added overhead squat.
This is also a great exercise to introduce to beginner athletes to prepare them for the snatch by breaking down each movement.
Power Clean + Hang Clean
Combining the power clean + the hang clean is a great way to focus on speed and power under the bar with the catch. The hang clean then reinforces the correct back angle and position over the bar while driving the feet into the ground, pushing with the legs, and getting a fast turn-over with the elbows.
Clean Pull With Pause Below Knee + Clean With Pause Below Knee
Clean pull with pause below the knee + clean with a pause below knee is another brutal complex that will make you ridiculously strong if done correctly. The emphasis here is to keep the back angle the same as the starting position by staying over the bar as long as possible.
The pause at the knees will create extra tension with a 2-3 second pause.
Clean Deadlift + Hang Clean + Front Squat + Jerk
Athletes who are more advanced can even do this complex close to 90-95% of their 1RM!
The goal of this complex includes reinforcing bar path making sure you deadlift the bar the way you would do a clean and not a conventional deadlift. With the hang clean added, you are working back strength and positions, a big triple extension and fast turn-over with the elbows in the clean.
The front squat adds an extra strength component to strengthen the legs and adding fatigue going into the jerk forcing you to place extra emphasis on the drive and block with a solid overhead position.
Clean + Front Squat + Jerk
Clean + front squat + jerk is a great complex to teach the athlete how to work under fatigue. By the time they get to the jerk, their legs will be very tired and therefore, the athlete has to explosively drive the bar up and make sure they block the bar solidly overhead.
Power Clean + Front Squat + Jerk
The power clean + front squat + jerk is very similar to the clean + front squat + jerk complex. The only difference would be that you won’t go as heavy in the power clean as what you would in the clean.
This is a great complex to do on the days you don’t do extra strength work like squats and instead, get extra leg strength training with the front squat which is added to the complex.
The goal of this complex is to teach the athlete to get under the bar fast with high elbows in the power clean and then fatiguing the legs before the jerk forcing extra effort in the drive.
This is also a great combination to teach beginner Weightlifters the clean components before doing the classical clean. It reinforces the completion of the pull, getting the elbows through fast, teaches the squat with the barbell in the front rack position, and finishes with the split jerk.
Push Press + Jerk
Push-press + jerk is a great exercise to do as a primer before the jerk or to teach the athlete the bar path of the jerk. The push press specifically reinforces the push of the legs and the arms which should transfer to the jerk.
Pause Jerk + Jerk
The pause jerk + jerk is a great complex which forces you to rely on leg strength and power as you cannot use momentum when you pause. You can pause for 2-3 seconds to get the best out of the complex.
It’s also a great way to teach yourself to dip straight down and drive the bar straight up. If you dip forward onto your toes, you will immediately feel it in the pause position and will most likely fail the jerk. Make sure to work on correct positions with the pause jerk to have the best carry over to the split jerk.
Front Squat + Jerk
Front squat + jerk is a great strength building exercise to get the athlete strong for the jerk and be able to work under fatigue. The squat will build strength but it also works the entire body and gets the Weightlifter strong for when they do a clean and jerk.
This movement is also great to teach a beginner Weightlifter the squat movement and adding the jerk as an extra component to the lift. It reinforces the Weightlifter to keep their chest up and their elbows as high as possible with the front squat and to brace the core before getting themselves ready for the jerk.
Should You Use Straps With Weightlifting Complexes?
Using straps is a great way to give the hands a rest when Weightlifting. I would however, never recommend using straps for any clean and jerk movement or complex.
Although it’s okay to use straps when you do the snatch complexes, I would try use straps as little as possible to also condition your hands for when you lift. It’s important to note that some Weightlifters may slightly alter their technique when lifting with straps compared to hook grip.
If this is the case, proper cueing must be given or the use of straps must be limited.