Your neuromuscular system is the first thing to react when you've tried, say, a kettlebell swing a few times. Even if it feels foreign at first, your body quickly gets the hang of it. But do the same swing too often—or, even worse, the same workout too often—and that mind-body connection that helped you out initially will go into cruise control. Now you're asking your muscles to do less or to put in less effort for the same amount of work—and it can. Soon you've either found yourself at best bored or in a full-blown gains rut. Complex moves are the answer to both of those issues, and can shed light on just how in sync your body is with your brain.
Complex moves are, well, complex—and for good reason. They ask your neuromuscular system to work overtime by adjusting, and readjusting very quickly to new movement patterns. A standard bicep curl (though effective) is a single-plane movement. The curl happens in the sagittal plane and stays there. After a few reps, your body gets the hang of the pattern and becomes more efficient at the movement. Good if you're trying to remember how to ride a bike. Not so great when you're looking to progress your overall fitness. (Check out these Plateau-Busting Strategies to Start Seeing Results at the Gym.)
Julia Falamas, program director and coach at Epic Hybrid Training, incorporates complex movement into many of the gym's classes, saying it's all about getting the most bang for your workout buck. "You can get a lot more accomplished in less time," she says. And if you're not seeing a lot of progress anymore, "complex moves will give you twice the volume of effort."
Complex moves can also increase your overall caloric burn, says Falamas, as they get more large muscle groups working at the same time. "Your overall metabolism will increase," she says "You'll burn more calories during the workout, and there will be a carry-over effect as you continue to burn more calories after training." (Want more circuit training? Try this workout to Blast Lower-Belly Fat.)
You challenge your strength by increasing the weight for your squat press. You challenge your endurance by upping the incline or adding on a few extra miles to your run. Challenging your neuromuscular system is essential to your fitness longevity. "You're not a robot, and if you only do three types of exercise, your body will become really efficient at those exercises and pretty terrible at everything else," says Falamas. "Complex moves are fast, efficient, and effective ways to be a healthy and more mobile human."
How it works: Move through the following sequence by completing the appropriate reps for each move. Repeat the entire circuit four times through with one minute of rest between rounds.
Total Time: up to 30 minutes
1. Reverse Lunge Into Single Leg Dead Lift
Hold one dumbbell in each hand and step right leg back into a reverse lunge. B. As you stand back up, extend right leg straight back and hinge forward at the hips into a single leg deadlift. Repeat with left leg. That's one rep.
2. Overhead Squat Into Step-Ups with Lateral Drop
With a box (of whatever height you choose) directly in front of you, hold one dumbbell in each hand and extend both arms overhead while lowering into a squat. B. Step up on the box with right foot (left hovering behind you) and lower arms down laterally to form a T position. C. Bring arms back up overhead as you lower left foot, then step right foot back to starting position. Repeat entire sequence, this time using opposite leg to step up. That's one rep.
3. Twisting Kick-Outs Into Donkey Kick
Start on all fours with knees hovering just about the floor. (Make sure shoulders are stacked on top of wrists and hips are stacked on top of knees.) B. Take left leg and reach it underneath your body towards the right at a diagonal, allowing the hips to turn out and the right heel to drop, as you lift your right arm off the floor. C. Return to starting position on all fours, and repeat the movement on the other side, crossing right leg under torso, turning hips out, and releasing left hand off the floor. D. Return to center once more, then hop both feet off the floor sending them up over shoulders, pressing your body weight into your a palms. That's one rep.
4. Dumbbell Man Makers
Get into plank position with one dumbbell in each hand. Perform a renegade row by squeezing right shoulder blade back and up, making sure hips stay aligned and parallel to the floor. B. Bring dumbbell back to the floor, perform a push-up, then repeat row on left side. C. Next, jump both feet in and lift your chest coming into a squat position while lifting dumbbells up to shoulder height. D. Press dumbbells up overhead as you stand. That's one rep.
5. Lateral Squat with Triceps Extension
Lift one dumbbell lifted overhead, arms straight and legs in an exaggerated wide stance. B. Shift weight to the right and perform a side squat while bending elbows to a 90-degree angle behind your head. Left leg should be extended straight out to the side, right thigh parallel to the floor with hip, knee and ankle aligned. C. Push through your right heel, and come to a standing position as you straighten arms back up to complete a triceps extension. Repeat on opposite side. That's one rep.