Whether you are looking to maximize workout efficiency, build work capacity, or refine your weightlifting technique, weightlifting complexes are a great way to do all of those at the same time.
When choosing the best weightlifting complexes for the snatch, clean, and jerk, it is important to understand the purposes of performing a particular movement variation and how it can translate to improving the full Olympic lift.
In this article, we will outline what makes up a weightlifting complex, how to integrate them within workout programs, and offer ten of the best Olympic weightlifting complexes lifters of all levels can do to improve the snatch, clean, and jerk.
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What is a Weightlifting Complex?
A weightlifting complex is a series of weightlifting movements done in a logical progression to develop technique, strength, and improve weightlifting performance. Typically, weightlifting complexes include 2-3 various weightlifting movements or variations for a total of 2-5 repetitions per set, with at least 70% of a lifts maximum, or more.
For example, a complex geared to improve leg strength in the clean and jerk, while still training the clean and jerk, could look like…
3 front squats
In this complex, the lifter performs the reps and movements in that order without breaking.
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How to Integrate Weightlifting Complexes Into Your Training?
When performing weightlifting complexes, it is key to keep total repetitions below five if your goal is weightlifting technique, strength, and application to lifting heavy loads.
Anything higher than that is the complex becomes cardio (cardio with a barbell) and often diminishes it’s value of addressing technical issues that come out with heavy loads (since when it is lighter weights, you can get away with sloppy technique).
I recommend you select one complex from each category below, and repeat it every week for 4 weeks, using loads within the 70-85% range. Choosing weights that allow you to perform perfect reps and sets, yet are still challenging, is a must.
After that, you can swap out for new complexes, and repeat.
Note, some complexes can be trained heavier than others, while other complexes will cause you to stay on the lighter side. If you struggle with a certain complex, odds are this is something you should train more. If you struggle with a certain movement in a complex (let’s say the front squat during the front squat + jerk complex), try adding a few more reps of front squats to the mix to further the benefit.
Related Article: 7 Tips To Improve Your Overhead Press (In 3 Months or Less)
Here Are The 10 Best Weightlifting Complexes
The following are 10 weightlifting complexes that will improve strength and technique:
Power Snatch + Overhead Squat
Hang Snatch + Snatch
Snatch Pull + Low Hang Snatch
Snatch Push Press + Snatch Balance + Pause Overhead Squat
Power Clean + Front Squat
Clean Pull to Toes + Hang Clean
Clean + Front Squat + Jerk
Behind the Neck Jerk + Jerk
Pause Jerk + Jerk
Front Squat + Jerk
These weightlifting complexes are designed to not only improve weightlifting strength and technique, but also help maximize your training time investment.
There are three main categories of complexes: snatch, clean, and jerk.
Below are four snatch complexes that can be done to improve snatch technique and positional strength in the snatch.
1. Power Snatch + Overhead Squat
The power snatch + overhead squat is a great beginner complex to teach proper footwork in the snatch as well as how to meet the barbell in the turnover phases of the snatch.
By performing the power snatch, the athlete must move the feet into the overhead squat position, and then pause above parallel.
Adding an overhead squat, one that can be done without the athlete needing to reset the feet, is key.
Needing to reset the feet between the overhead squat and the power snatch suggested incorrect foot placement.
2. Hang Snatch + Snatch
The hang snatch + snatch complex can get used as a teaching progression for more advanced lifters.
Starting with a hang snatch eliminates the first pull, which often allows lifters to work on rate of speed development and aggression in the second pull.
Following this by a full snatch from the floor helps translate those properties to the full lift and can be a great way to build proper technique as well as push heavy loads.
3. Snatch Pull + Low Hang Snatch
This complex takes a snatch pull from the floor to the hip and combines it with a low hang snatch.
The snatch pull is a great movement to train technique and positional strength in the pull of the snatch, especially for lifters who struggle with proper first pull mechanics.
Following this with a low hang snatch (as opposed to a snatch from the floor) forces the lifter to stay in control during the eccentric phases of the lowering phase of the hang snatch which can increase back strength and coordination of the pull movement.
4. Snatch Push Press + Snatch Balance + Pause Overhead Squat
This complex is a great way to include three powerful snatch accessory movements in one time-efficient and effective compex.
The snatch push press is a foundational strengthening exercise to develop upper back, shoulder, and trap strength needed for overhead positioning in the snatch.
The snatch balance is an exercise to help develop the timing and confidence needed to aggressively push oneself under a heavy snatch.
Adding a pause overhead squat at the end of the complex can further enhance a lifter’s overhead stability and control in a deep receiving position.
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Below are three clean complexes that can be done to improve clean technique and positional strength in the clean.
5. Power Clean + Front Squat
Similar to the power snatch + overhead squat complex, the power clean + front squat is a good complex to teach meeting the bar in the clean and reinforcing proper footwork.
This can also be a good teaching progression for individuals who struggle with full squats in the clean, and can help build confidence and add front squat training volume to programs.
6. Clean Pull to Toes + Hang Clean
Performing a clean pull to the toes forces a lifter to find balance and extend upwards in the clean.
The lifter should be able to briefly (1-2 seconds) pause on the toes without falling forward or backwards, as this suggests proper foot pressure and equal amounts of knee and hip extension.
Following the movement with a hang clean allows the lifter to translate that vertical extension into the main lift (clean).
This is a good complex for someone who creates too much contact at the hip or fails to fully finish their pull.
7. Clean + Front Squat + Jerk
This complex is a great way to add additional leg training and positional work into a program with lifters who suffer from weak legs.
By adding in 1-3 front squats after a clean, you force a lifter to assume strong positions and build leg strength and mass.
Following it with a jerk will further force a lifter to assume a strong vertical torso and proper front rack positioning.
Below are three jerk complexes that can be done to improve jerk technique, timing, and overall strength jerk. Coaches and athletes can use these complexes with split, power, push, or squat jerks.
8. Behind the Neck Jerk + Jerk
By starting with a behind the neck jerk you allow an athlete to focus 100% on leg drive and minimize the need for overhead placement of the bar, since it is already behind the head.
This is a great way to also reinforce proper bar placement for lifters looking to overload the jerk movement.
By following the behind the neck (BTN) jerk with a jerk from the front rack, you take this powerful jerk variation and make it even more powerful by helping a lifter engrain vertical positioning, aggressive leg drive, and proper overhead barbell placement in the jerk.
9. Pause Jerk + Jerk
The pause jerk is often when a lifter dips in the jerk roughly 4-6 inches, and pauses with the legs loaded for a few seconds before aggressively using the legs to drive upwards into the jerk.
This is ideal for lifters who drift forwards in the deep/drive, miss jerks out front, or tend to collapse in the jerk.
This is also a great jerk complex to teach lifters to aggressively use the legs to drive heavy jerks upwards.
By adding a regular (no pause) jerk afterwards, you can help transfer those new skills to the actual jerk movement used in competition.
10. Front Squat + Jerk
Arguably one of the best jerk complexes out there, the front squat + jerk complex is a benchmark complex to help lifers and coaches become more comfortable with heavy jerks.
By performing 1-3 front squats prior to a jerk, you can mimic the strength and stressful demands of a heavy clean and jerk, without having to have a lifter clean the weight.
This is also a great way to train the jerk while also adding in quality leg work in programs where lifters may be limited by their lack of leg strength.
Weightlifting complexes are great for increasing strength, weightlifting technique, and building work capacity for all level lifters. Coaches can get creative and develop complexes to meet the needs of their athletes, however should limit overall movements working a complex to 3 to keep the emphasis on a few things at once (don’t do too many).
For total repetitions within a complex, limit that number to a max of five reps, as anything higher can often result in technique breakdown due to fatigue or grip strength rather than actual mechanical faults. Most loading with complexes should be 70% of max or greater, with the exception for movements that are more accessory based (muscle snatches, snatch push presses, etc)
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.
Mike has published over 500+ articles on premiere online media outlets like BarBend, BreakingMuscle, Men’s Health, and FitBob, covering his expertise of strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, fitness, and sports nutrition. In Mike’s spare time, he enjoys the outdoors, traveling the world, coaching, whiskey and craft beer, and spending time with his family and friends.