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Randy Couture Is A Complex Fighter

By Matt “Wiggy” Wiggins

(Article re-published with permission from

It seems as if I’ve seen a lot (by emails I’ve received, and posts on various message boards) about complex training. And invariably, when complex training is brought up, Randy Couture’s circuit is also mentioned.

In case you don’t know, “complex” training (which can also be called “circuit training”) is a method of exercise in which you move from one exercise to the next without rest. It can be done on machines, or with different implements, but the more popular methods involve just one weight – a single barbell, a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells, a sandbag, etc.

As far as Randy’s complex, it goes like this (all exercises done for medium-high reps):

  • Bent Row
  • Upright Row
  • Military Press
  • Good Morning
  • Split Squat (left/right)
  • Thruster
  • Straight-Legged Deadlift

Now Randy isn’t the only out there who uses complexes, has had success with them, or has designed very good complex-based workouts. Martin Rooney has trained a bunch of guys up at Renzo Gracie’s gym, strength coach Itsvan Javorek has been using complexes for years, “Renegade Training” Coach John Davies made great use with variations of a complex he calls the “Bear,” and I’ve even used them in my training programs.

Now, is using complexes good S&C (strength & conditioning) training for fighters?


Complexes are great for a variety of reasons. First, they are an exercise that you get the most “bang for your buck.” Using one simple method, you can train cardiovascular conditioning, muscular endurance and conditioning, strength and strength-endurance (depending on how heavy you train), as well as the intangible factor of mental toughness. Besides – they’re quick! A good complex workout can kick your tail and have you in & out of the gym inside of 20-25 minutes.

There are multiple ways you can implement complexes into your overall S&C program. What I like to do (and did in Program #1 of “Working Class Fitness – The Programs”) is to do some basic full-body strength work first – no more than 2-4 compound exercises. Either then (or at a later part in the day), come back and do your complexes. The compound exercises will help you build your strength and power, while the complexes can be used to target muscular endurance and conditioning, as well as overall GPP (General Physical Preparedness).

To illustrate Program #1, I rotate a basic set/rep scheme over 3 exercises – an upper body push, and upper body pull, and a squat/deadlift variant. I then utilized the following complex:

  • Thruster x 5
  • Curl/Back Shrug x 5
  • Power Snatch x 6
  • Curl/Back Shrug x 5
  • Thruster x 5

Another way to implement complexes would be to setup two different workouts – one with higher reps and lower (relatively speaking) weight to target the aforementioned muscular endurance and conditioning. Then setup another workout, only this time, utilize heavier weight and lower reps. If possible, even have multiple weights (i.e. – barbells, pairs of dumbbells, etc.) at your disposal, so that you can tax each exercise as much as possible. Alternate days of complex training, 3x/week, doing each 3x over two weeks. On the first week, you’d do your endurance complex on Mon, strength complex on Wed, endurance complex on Fri. Then, on the second week, strength complex on Mon, endurance complex on Wed, and strength complex again on Fri.

One drawback with complexes is that you have to choose a load in which is doable for the exercise in which you are the weakest. For example, take a look Randy’s complex above. There is no way that a weight that you can do Upright Rows with will be heavy for Squats. On the other hand, if you Squat heavy, you’ll never be able to do Upright Rows with that same weight. Having multiple barbells at your disposal will solve this problem. However, this isn’t quite always doable in a gym or weight room.

Another option when designing your complexes would be to go for a cross between endurance and strength. Utilize a heavy weight, and choose exercises that allow you to use heavier weights. For those exercises that you’re stronger on, just do a few more reps. Then, with some movements that you are very strong on, do a highly explosive/powerful bodyweight exercise.

For example, here is a dumbbell (DB) complex I used years back with a lot of good results:

  • DB Press x 6
  • Chins (weighted if need be) x 6-8
  • DB Bent Raise/Rows x 6
  • DB Snatch x 8 (each side)
  • DB Swing x 12-15 (each side)
  • Explosive Push-Up x 5-8
  • Jump Squat x 10

*Repeat 3-6x. Rest 45-90 secs between complexes.

When utilized right, complexes can be used to accomplish a wide variety of goals – all you have to do is use your imagination!

About the Author

Matt “Wiggy” Wiggins is a strength coach and author living in Cameron, NC. Having trained 15+ years, Wiggy is a strength moderator at, columnist for MMA Weekly, and an avid fan of Mixed Martial Arts Training. His site, Working Class, is dedicated to designing low-tech, high-result Workout Programs for fighters, athletes, and “regular joes.”


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