Staying fit in a pandemic: Vol. 11

When coaches or athletes ask me what is a quick way to maintain or improve total body strength for your sport before or during a season, I answer Dumbbell Complex. The Dumbbell Complex in the video below is one I learned from coach Vern Gambetta.

The principle behind any complex is a set of exercises performed in a series without rest. This complex is four lifts: the High Pull, Alternate Dumbbell Press, the Squat and the Alternate Dumbbell Row. These exercises strengthen four different types of movements – pull, press, squat, row. You can substitute other lifts for these and still keep the principle the same.

Do 6 repetitions of each exercise and start with 3 sets of the complex. Over a couple of weeks of doing the complex two to three days a week, work up to 6 sets. I start with very light weight in each hand – for me usually 10-12 pounds in each hand. Once you get to 6 sets, you can start increasing weight and eventually get to 10-15% percent of body weight in each hand. Although some high school athletes like to try more than 25 pounds in each hand, I have usually seen either a loss of quality of movement or a significant slow down in reps at higher weights – which you don’t want either as pace is important. Vern once told me about an athlete who was training for the NFL combine do this complex with 35 pounds in each hand. Even that athlete found it challenging. So the idea here is not to lift the heaviest possible, but focus on quality movement and pace with a weight that is challenging.

Rest between sets is typically the length of time it takes your partner to complete a set of the complex. This is a great partner workout. But since many will be working out solo in this time, give yourself a minute of rest between sets. Do not skimp on rest just to get it done!

Dumbbell Complexes are simple, endlessly adjustable, can be done anywhere – I do mine in a snow storm in front of my garage – and use minimal equipment. In fact you don’t have to use dumbbells. You can use cans of food, gallon containers filled with water or sand. You can get endlessly creative.