Complex Training: Pairing Strength and Power For Explosive Results

When it comes to sport science research, I'm a huge nerd. There's nothing I love more than to sit back with a cup of coffee, delve into sports performance and physiology journals, and break a mental sweat. And what I really love is research that sheds light on a theory or application of a principle off which we base our Volt training programs. This particular theory is called complex training, a method we use in Volt programs to help athletes develop athletic explosiveness.

Strength + Plyometrics = The Power Athlete

Strength training and plyometric training are both effective measures for increasing athletic performance independent of each other, but a true program designed for power-based athletes needs to incorporate both disciplines.  A study done in 2000 in the NSCA's Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research measured three different training protocols: strength training, plyometric training, and a combination of both. The group that used combined methods was the only group that showed significant increases in BOTH strength and and power (2). What this shows is that even though you can develop strength and power separately, developing them both together can complement and provide benefits across both measures. While conventional methods suggest alternating plyometric and strength training to mitigate the intensity that is present in both methods, there is another method, deemed "Complex Training" that pairs both methods together and has been shown to further enhance muscle power (1,4,5).

What is Complex Training?

Complex training challenges a motor pattern against heavy resistance (strength focus) and then pairs it with a plyometric movement of the same basic pattern (power focus).  The secret sauce of complex training lies in the phenomenon known as Post-Activation Potentiation, or PAP for short. After a muscle fiber contracts under heavy load (and before fatigue sets in), the inner workings of the muscle fiber are left in a state of potentiation, making a subsequent contraction stronger due to its previously excited state and increased nervous activity (4). Put into words that humans use, the force initiated by a heavy strength move can be easily recruited into a plyometric movement, thus making it a more explosive and powerful action.

Complex Training in Practice

Here at Volt, we implement complex training within our programs for many power-based sports requiring maximal force produced quickly. A common complex pairing are deadlifts and box jumps. Deadlifts load the posterior chain and challenge the athletes to recruit large muscle groups bring the hips to extension. Pairing them with box jumps allows those same muscle groups that were previously tasked with a strength movement to then be recruited QUICKLY, thus increasing the efficiency in developing explosive hip extension. The same theory can be implemented with heavy bench press and medicine ball chest throws, allowing the upper body to be more explosive and produce more force at a quicker rate. These methods are often implemented within POWER phases, usually following a hard STRENGTH phase to promote a better progression between loading. This progression allows for better carry-over of strength gains into more explosive power movements. 

Closing Thoughts

Both heavy resistance training and plyometrics are intense on their own, so always use caution when implementing complex training and be sure to rest enough between pairings and limit the number of pairings done in a day (it is at most once per day in Volt programming). Recovery time has been shown to be a key factor in increasing power output during the plyometric movement. Rest times of 1 minute were shown to produce significantly less power output than rest times of 3, 5, and even 7 minutes (3). You don't want to be fatigued to the point you can't produce a maximal effort in the plyometric portion of the pairing. Optimal performance occurs when fatigue has diminished, but the potentiation still exists (4).  It also helps to have decent experience in both strength and plyometric movements. Don't rush into complex training without having a sound base of fundamental movement mechanics first and foremost. 



1. Chu, D. A. (1996). Explosive power & strength: complex training for maximum results. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

2. Fatouros, I. G., Jamurtas, A. Z., Leontsini, D., Taxildaris, K., Aggelousis, N., Kostopoulos, N., & Buckenmeyer, P.  (2000). Evaluation of plyometric exercise training, weight training, and their combination on vertical jumping performance and leg strength. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 14(4), 470-476.

3. Ferreira, S. L., Panissa, V. L., Miarka, B., & Franchini, E. (2012). Postactivation potentiation: effect of various recovery intervals on bench press power performanceJournal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26 (3), 739.

4. Hodgson, M., Docherty, D., & Robbins, D. (2005). Post-activation potentiation. Sports Medicine, 35(7), 585-595.

5. MacDonald, C., Lamont, H., et al. (2012). A comparison of the effects of six weeks of traditional resistance training, plyometric training, and complex training on measures of strength and anthropometricsThe Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(2), 422-431.

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Jace Derwin is one of the regular contributors to the Volt blog. He is a CSCS-certified strength coach, the lead Sports Performance Specialist at Volt and a Lift Big Eat Big athlete.
Learn more about Jace and read his other posts | @VoltCoachJace