Advanced Trainer Techniques – Combination Movements – Part 1

Like most guys I started out training with the basics. Squats, biceps curls, dumbbell chest presses and lat pulldowns. Those kicked my ass enough at that time. Given the right load, tempo, set & rep scheme, these exercises still do.

The “basics” will always be a staple of my programming. But things have changed since the days of Arnold. And things have become extremely confusing at the same rate of change as the exercise and exercise equipment has evolved.

On the other side of the weight training spectrum we have olympic lifting which is essentially very large, heavy movements done with low reps. A prime example is a barbell snatch. You’re taking a loaded barbell from a dead position on the ground, tossing it into the air, catching it with locked out arms above the head and finally proceeding to overhead squat with it. Like holy sh*t!

But it’s funny because if I had to take a heavy box and move it from the ground in the garage to the top shelf  almost out of reach, there would be a great deal in common between those olympic movements and real life.

What I’m trying to say, is that combination movements, where I take one “basic” movement pattern (such as a squat) and follow it directly into another movement pattern (such as a shoulder press), this now becomes a totally different movement with a different purpose, full of unique benefits and challenges.

So let me help you cut through the difficulties of understanding some of the combination movements, including a video demonstration of 10 of my favorites I use.

Complex, Combination and Hybrid Movements

Say what?! You’ll hear fancy terms for all kinds of things in the fitness industry. “Okay, Bill, today I’m going to have you do a metabolic conditioning quadplex followed by very difficult energy systems work afterward.” Well, smarty pants, Bill is looking at you like “so does that mean I have to do those damn burpee things I hate again?”


Complex: Generally, a complex is referred to a sequence of exercises performed using one piece of equipment without rest from one movement to the next. I’ve seen these best done with barbells but you could use kettlebells or other pieces of equipment as well. Dan John really has the best complexes I’ve played around with.

Hybrid: Hybrid movements are when a certain movement pattern begins to look a little like another, on purpose I might add. I’m not condoning how some people “back squat” but yet it looks a lot more like a good morning with too much knee bend. That’s just poor form.

So if this is a reverse lunge:

 And this is a 1 leg romanian deadlift:

Then this is???

A hybrid (technically we call the above exercise a “runner’s lunge”). Hybrids are awesome, they have a unique ways of ironing out the weaknesses certain basic exercises may have. They also help up better target specific force production, sport-specific power production and/or muscle group emphasis (eg. more glutes, less quads) when the time comes for that in a program’s goals.

Want some more ideas on great hybrid training exercises or methodologies, go visit the expert: Nick Tumminello’s siteYouTube channel and pick up some of his DVD’s like Strength Training For Fat Loss & Conditioning.

Combination: The definition of a combination movement is rather simple: Take one exercise, follow it directly into a second exercise. Perfect example is a “Thruster” which is essentially a squat directly followed by a shoulder press. You can use dumbbells, a barbell, kettlebells or your wife!

Just PLEASE use more than a freaking 5lb dumbbell as shown above. What a travesty!

 Why use combination movements? There’s really three reasons:

1) Energy cost. Obviously a squat costs more energy than a bicep curl. It’s harder to do, involves more coordination, more muscles are being used and you can generally load it a great deal more. Most combination movements involve a larger and a smaller movement pattern teamed together so the energy cost can be equal to both combined.

2) Multiple muscle targeting. Related to energy cost, what if I’m pressed for time or what to bump up the volume of my workouts but keep to the same time? Supersets, circuit training, etc all help as does cutting rest periods. But the ultimate efficiency boost is combination movements. I can work more muscle groups, even still in an overload fashion (if strength or hypertrophy is what I’m after) and I can improve my conditioning all at the same time.

3) Life skills. Like most things in life, we don’t just bend over to pick something up. We bend over, pick it up to our center of gravity (navel area) and then perform some other task (such as rotation, overhead press, walk, etc). Teach granny to properly dumbbell clean and press and all of a sudden she’ll remark at how well she moves around the house. I’ve seen it time and again.

The Problem With Combinations

I have a few rules when it comes to combinations: have a purpose in programming it, explanation of usage and try to put holes in your own “theory” as to why you’re using a combination exercise versus simply using it’s broken up counterparts and obey your responsibility (as a trainer or regular joe in a gym) to be SAFE in the exercises you perform!

Here are some great examples of what not to do using the most wildly misused piece of equipment out there, the BOSU:

Why? What is this guy trying to achieve?

Even more insane is putting a relatively heavy weight over your head on a VERY unstable balance product. WHY?!

One thing’s for certain: she’ll never get too “bulky” looking. Poor ladies are so misled into thinking crap like this is going to make you “toned” or whatever weird verb-of-the-week you’re trying to accomplish.

At least this trainer has it right: he’s combining stupidity with a sexual misconduct lawsuit in waiting. Or maybe she signed up for extra personal attention. I can tell you that her 3lb dumbbell bicep curls are not giving her what she’s paying this ape for.


Here’s the thing, I use the BOSU, I use other training toys, I combine things in ways others would disagree with, I like some exercise combinations quite simply because they are hard to do, etc. I still follow my own rules: #1, is the safety there, #2 is there a purpose for why I put it in the program and where I put it in the program, #3 can I punch holes in my own theory for if I can punch too many into it, it’s a garbage exercise, #4 does the combination make the exercise at least as good as it’s broken up counter parts? If I’ve satisfied my own “rules” then the exercise gets used by myself or in exercise prescription for my clients.

Curious what combinations are my favorites? Check the 26 minute video here where I demonstrate and explain some unique combinations:

2 comments on “Advanced Trainer Techniques – Combination Movements – Part 1

  1. […] Shoulders Back – Todd Bumgardner Moving On Up: The Jefferson Deadlift – Jen Sinkler Advanced Trainer Techniques – Part 1 – Adrian Crowe The Truth About Meal Frequency – Eric Cressey If You Read Nothing Else Today, Read this […]

  2. […] Shoulders Back – Todd Bumgardner Moving On Up: The Jefferson Deadlift – Jen Sinkler Advanced Trainer Techniques – Part 1 – Adrian Crowe The Truth About Meal Frequency – Eric Cressey If You Read Nothing Else Today, Read this […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s