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The Effect of Complex Training in the Strength Phase: College Football Players Jamie Nelson and Donna J. Terbizan, FACSM North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND. Abstract The Effect of Complex Training in the Strength Phase: College Football Players

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The Effect of Complex Training in the Strength Phase: College Football PlayersJamie Nelson and Donna J. Terbizan, FACSMNorth Dakota State University, Fargo, ND


The Effect of Complex Training in the Strength Phase: College Football Players

Jamie Nelson, Donna Terbizan, FACSM. North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND.

Complex training has been developed to encompass two different training mechanisms for the body, utilizing muscular contractions against large resistances at relatively slow velocities of movement, followed by contractions with relatively small resistances at fast velocities of movement.

PURPOSE:The purpose of the present study compared the effects of complex training to non complex training on college football players.

METHODS:A total of 45 subjects ranging in age of 18-26 years completed the study. Subjects were divided into two groups: a complex training group and a non-complex training group. Each group completed a two week base phase to establish some base strength as well as hone techniques for power clean, parallel squat, and bench press. During the strength phase the complex (treatment) group supplemented the workout with plyometric exercises while the non-complex (control) group had an extra set added to maintain an equal training volume. The complex group performed the plyometric exercises after each high intensity (>80% 1RM) lifting set with minimal recovery, while the non-complex group completed the extra set after all the high intensity sets were completed.

RESULTS:There were no significant effects of training group in power clean, parallel squat, bench press, or vertical jump. Significant increases were seen in the average parallel squat (p<0.05) and power clean (p<0.01) over time for both training groups.

CONCLUSIONS:The data show that both training methods are capable of increasing strength. Further research is needed to determine if complex training can provide greater strength and power gains over non-complex training methods.


The purpose of this study was to compare a complex training group (treatment) with a non-complex training group (control) in the areas of body weight, body composition, bench press, parallel squat, power clean, and vertical jump, attempting to answer the following research question:

1. Does complex training provide a significant increase in strength for bench press and parallel squat while improving power outputs for power clean, and vertical jump when compared to non-complex training in football players?


The groups’ responses to the different training programs did not differ significantly. The only significant change was seen in time for the parallel squat and power clean. Table 1 helped to depict the significant difference with the use of averages. The complex group and non-complex group each made significant gains from their pre-test and post-test averages for power clean and parallel squat. Other non-significant changes were a decreased body composition for both groups, and the non-complex group gained weight while the complex group lost weight.

Table 1. Pre-Test and Post-Test Averages

Non-Complex Complex P-Value

Pre Post Pre Post Time Group Inter

Body weight (lb) 216.60 219.60 222.00 217.24 0.8590 0.9082 0.8516

Body comp (% fat) 0.18 0.19 0.19 0.18 0.4356 0.9262 0.9545

Power clean (lb) 242.50 256.94 233.60 251.00 0.0036 0.1977 0.7861

Parallel squat (lb) 356.25 388.06 368.60 392.20 0.0420 0.4951 0.7579

Bench press (lb) 247.75 257.63 263.00 277.00 0.1958 0.0678 0.8276

Vertical jump (in) 25.37 25.90 24.90 25.70 0.4441 0.6350 0.9185

Time - Difference from pre-test to post-test

Group - Difference between complex group and non-complex group

Inter (Interaction) - difference in response over time between treatment groups


45 total subjects: 20 control and 25 complex training

Age range 18-26 y


Training groups were formed by a lifting group of three people for predetermined lifting times. The lifting times were at 6:00 a.m., 3:05 p.m., and 4:35 p.m. The 6:00 a.m. group consisted of 12 subjects; the 3:05 group had 23 subjects, while the 4:35 group had 24 subjects. Each group was then randomly assigned as a non-complex group or complex group by drawing the predetermined lifting times from a hat. The 3:05 group was drawn as the non-complex group while the 6:00 a.m. and 4:35 p.m. were drawn as the complex group.

Participants signed approved informed consent form before beginning training.

Each group was pre-tested and post-tested for body weight, body composition, vertical jump and strength levels for bench press, parallel squat and power cleans.

Complex group performed prescribed sets/repetitions for weight lifting exercises, followed by plyometric exercises. Non-complex group performed same weight lifting program, with an additional set of specific exercises to compensate for difference in the work volume between groups.

Complex group utilized three different plyometric movements consisting of the squat jump, vertical jump, and Jammer punch. The squat jump was paired with parallel squats because it used a similar movement pattern. The vertical jump was paired with power cleans because it also uses similar body movements. The Jammer punch was paired with bench press to compensate for the subject’s inability to propel their entire body off the ground with upper body strength.

During the first two-and-a-half weeks (ten workouts) each group performed identical workouts to help reinforce technique and establish a better strength base for the next lifting phase. During that time, data for calculating workloads was collected to allow for a more thorough and equal design of the strength phase.

Two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to evaluate effects of treatment group, time, and a group:time interaction on body weight, body composition, bench press, parallel squat, power clean, and vertical jump. A p < 0.05 was considered significant.

It should be noted that four outcome variables were measured, and therefore, the issue of multiple comparisons arises. Using the very conservative Bonferroni adjustment for multiple comparisons, the alpha for the entire experiment was divided by the number of comparisons. Thus, in order to achieve an alpha of 0.2 for the entire experiment, the level of significance for each comparison had to be p < 0.05.


Collegiate football is a very demanding sport both mentally and physically. The athletes are faced with the demands of budgeting their time to ensure their academic and athletic success. The NCAA has helped ensure student athletes have enough time to pursue their studies by setting a 20 hour/week limitation for each athlete during the in-season. This means that each athlete can only be in practice, meetings and weight training for 20 hours during the week. In the off-season this is reduced to 8 hours/week.

Daily time demands are felt by the football coaching staff, as well as the strength and conditioning staff. Since a football season usually lasts for about three months, the other nine months are spent conditioning and lifting weights. Much like the in-season, the strength and conditioning coach must make sure all time is utilized properly so that the athletes are prepared for the upcoming season. During this time the athletes must become stronger, bigger, faster, more explosive and agile. To allow for each athlete to maximize their individual potential, the strength coach must design a program that encompasses all required areas but do it in a one-and-half to two-hour time frame.

This has led strength professionals to develop and research different ways of training. “Complex Training” was initially started by a Soviet coach named Dr. Yuri Verhoshansky in the 1960’s, utilizing muscular contractions against large resistances at relatively slow velocities of movement, followed by contractions with relatively small resistances at fast velocities of movement. This essentially combined strength training with plyometric training.

Plyometrics is actual exercise that consists of any jumping, skipping, throwing or explosive movement. The union of the two exercises is also hypothesized to enhance performance. The slow controlled movement of the heavy strength exercise should recruit more motor units, but will diminish power production over time. Furthermore, when coordinated with explosive plyometric exercise that also recruits more high-threshold motor units, there is no loss of power. When the athlete is able to recruit a larger number of motor units faster and efficiently there should be an improvement in performance.

For sports that require high strength and power outputs, like football, this training mode is believed to offers dual benefits. The high force strength training will not only elicit the hypertrophy of muscle fibers and in turn increase the cross-sectional area, but it will also stimulate the central nervous system to activate the postactivation potentiation (PAP). Once that is established, high power output plyometrics will take advantage of the hypersensitive muscle by establishing proper motor recruitment, rate coding and synchronization that will enhance both strength and power outputs. The increased effectiveness and efficiency will then allow for better performance on the field of competition.


A common recommendation found in the literature is the use of high intensity strength programs (>80% 1RM) to stimulate PAP. The proposed response is an elevated recruitment or a more synchronized recruitment of motor neurons. The hypersensitive state promotes an environment in which the body could be trained to be even more explosive and powerful. Since plyometrics have been documented for producing positive results for power they seemed to be the ideal mechanism to follow the high intensity strength exercise. Both the complex and non-complex training groups had significant positive changes over time, however, this study found no significant differences between the complex group and the non-complex group.

In this study, the data does not demonstrate complex training as a more effective training method. The training methods are very comparable as far as strength evaluations are concerned. The vertical jump was the one true indicator of power output in this study and the lack of a significant difference does not help support the PAP theory and the potential training results from PAP.

The research did not produce a significant difference between groups but it did demonstrate another form of training that will produce significant results from pre-test to post-test. The only significant difference was seen in time(pre vs. post-testing) for parallel squat and power clean for each group. The mean calculations in Table 1 helped to confirm the ANOVA findings and indicated a positive gain from pre-test to post-test. Different forms of training are essential to add variety and keep the body from acclimating and creating plateaus that slow the athletes’ physical progress. The research may also provide additional support for the need of adequate recovery time between the strength set and the plyometric set.

In future studies the researcher may want a larger population to evaluate and hopefully achieve a higher rate of compliance. Other variables would be to monitor the exact time periods between the strength set and the plyometric set. The use of vertical jumps should also have a specified target so the subjects can continue to monitor and increase jump height as they get stronger and more explosive. Finally, the Jammer punch could have weight increases that would continue to stress the muscular and nervous system as the strength levels increase.