A Dumbbell Complex Workout to Build Muscle and Quickly Shed Fat

The Dumbbell Complex Hybrid Workout from STACK Expert Tim Hanway is one of the most effective tools for strength training for fat loss and conditioning.

It happens all too often: You arrive at the gym, foam roller in hand, with your favorite tunes blasting through your headphones, ready to conquer your own "Mount Everest" by hitting new personal records with your Squat or Bench Press—only to find the place packed full of people!

Maybe it happens to be a peak time of day, or perhaps everyone in town finally got the memo about the superior benefits of strength training for fat loss compared to cardio.

RELATED: Deadlift Complexes: The Secret Exercise for Insane Strength

One thing is for certain, however: Your best-laid workout plans just went out the window. What next?

Do you (a) cut your losses and pack it in to "live and fight another day," or do you (b) shrug it off, crank up the volume on your iPod, start rolling out and prepare yourself for one of the most effective workout sessions imaginable?

If your answer is (b), then I present you with the Dumbbell Complex Hybrid Workout, one of the most effective tools for strength training for fat loss and conditioning.


  1. A pair of dumbbells
  2. A spin or Airdyne bike
  3. 4 square feet of space
  4. Willpower and determination!


The session itself is rather simple, but like my Triple Squat Challenge Workout, what it lacks in complexity, it more than makes up for in difficulty and effectiveness. The workout is essentially a combination of Javorek Complexes and High-Intensity Interval Training, where you alternate performing a series of strength training movements for 8 repetitions in rapid succession, with 30 seconds of maximal effort bike sprints for a combined total of 8 sets.

A1. DB Push Press x 8 reps

A2. DB Front Squat x 8 reps

A3. DB Romanian Deadlifts x 8 reps

A4. DB Bent-Over-Row x 8 reps

A5. DB Elevated Push-Ups x 8 reps

Rest 30 Seconds

A6. Airdyne/Spin Bike Sprints (Max Effort) for 30 seconds

Rest 45 Seconds

Repeat for a total of 6-8 sets!

Note, due to the highly taxing nature of this workout, an optional "half-time" can be instituted after set 3 or 4, where you rest for 2-4 minutes before resuming the remaining sets.

RELATED: 3 Barbell/Dumbbell Complexes For Strength and Maximal Fat Burn

The Science Behind the Workout

As described above, what makes this workout a hybrid is the fact that it combines two well-known training systems (Javorek Complexes and High-Intensity Interval Training) into a single highly effective workout!

Javorek Complexes are the brainchild of Istavan "Steve" Javorek, a Hungarian strength coach with an extensive background in weightlifting, who trained many national-level weightlifters in Romania before moving to the U.S. and serving as a strength coach at Texas A&M.

Described by coach Robert "Dos" Remedios as a form of "Combination Lifts," complexes are characterized by a series of barbell, dumbbell or bodyweight compound movements performed sequentially, without changing either the weight or implement used.

For example, when performing the above complex sequence, you would grab one single pair of dumbbells and perform 8 repetitions of the Dumbbell Push Press before immediately transitioning into 8 reps of Dumbbell Front Squats, followed immediately again by 8 reps of Romanian Deadlifts, etc.

The "secret sauce" in this formula is that the exercises follow a logical order and flow. The weights travel in a progressive sequence, in this case starting in an overhead position (A1- DB Push Press) and ultimately finishing  with the weights on the ground (A5-DB Elevated Push-Ups). It is important to note that because the weights do not change for any of the exercises, the "weakest" exercise in the complex sequence is what ultimately dictates the resistance level of the dumbbells.

RELATED: Loaded Carry Workout Complexes

For example, athletes will always be able to lift more with their legs than they would be able to in an overhead position. This means that a weight that challenges an athlete for 8 reps on the Front Squat will invariably be too heavy to press overhead, so it is in fact the first exercise, the DB Push Press, that dictates the adopted training load for the entire complex sequence. Thus, as a general rule, you should pick a weight that you can perform for 2 more reps than prescribed in order to account for accumulated fatigue. In the above program, you would pick a weight that you can perform for 10 reps on the DB Push Press and use the same load for the entire complex series.

What makes complexes so effective, according to Coach Dos, is that their structure is conducive to metabolic conditioning. First, because all the major muscle groups are being engaged in rapid succession, the body's neuro-muscular and cardiovascular systems are both heavily taxed, leading to gains not only in strength, but in fat loss as well!

In the case of the Dumbbell Complex Hybrid Workout, fat loss is even higher within the workout as a consequence of the bike sprints that accompany the complexes. Interval training is widely accepted as having a significant training effect on the body's aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, due to the incomplete recovery periods associated with bouts of high-intensity physical activity. This fact, and the fact that the reps within the Dumbbell Complexes fall within the classic hypertrophy rep range (i.e., 8-12 reps), means that the Dumbbell Complex Hybrid workout is conducive to increasing lean muscle mass, while also promoting fat loss due to the anabolic environment created from both the weight training and interval work. Hence, the athlete achieves the benefits of weight training and intense cardio training in a single workout.


In summary, the Dumbbell Complex Hybrid Workout is a great go-to session to have in your back pocket whenever time and space are at a premium. It requires minimal equipment and set-up and can essentially be performed in 20 to 30 minutes. However, do not be fooled! This workout is tough, but you will be amazed at how effective it is in building muscle and stripping body fat, while also enhancing overall conditioning levels. Give it a try!

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