Marta Montenegro: Complex Exercises Done Easy

  • Barbell Squat

    Barbell Squat  (Andrew Meade Photography)

  • Jump Squat

    Jump Squat  (Andrew Meade Photography)

  • Deadlift to an upright-row (L-R)

    Deadlift to an upright-row (L-R)  (Andrew Meade Photography)

Everyone has his or her favorite exercises. Either because you perform them like a pro, or you think they are the best exercise to work a trouble zone. Nothing wrong with this; however, your muscles eventually will get so used to them if you never change the routine.

It is always good to shake up your exercises and add some new ones. I have found that people tend shy away from leg workouts because they are more interested in “mirror muscles,” but working the legs has far-reaching benefits for both men and women. Yet, not just any leg exercises will do. To maximize your lower body you need to incorporate a few “complex” exercises.

The Men’s Case

Why? From cleaning up the garage to sprints to first base, men need powerful legs. Plyometric training can help build up your lower body. Plyometrics are explosive moves that make your muscles work as a spring: loading the muscles when they are on the floor to quick-release the energy to push off the floor. Think of split jumps, squat jumps, box jumps, among others. These have been shown to produce a positive adaptation to create force at the highest speed possible.

Sure you want to be strong, but you also have a need for speed. This is why you should combine strength training and plyometrics.

“Strength exercises and plyometrics are usually combined because complex training—as they are named when doing together—have been shown to lead to greater improvements in sports performance when compared to strength training or plyometric training alone,” according to a recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

What to do? Studies show that performing a strength exercise before the plyometric move will enhance your power output. One study showed that a heavy back squat performed before a vertical jump and/or sprint will improve performance.

Complex training exercise: A barbell squat followed immediately by a jump squat. Equally, studies suggest that to maximize the power outcome, the strength move and the plyometric exercise should have similar movement patterns. Want to try another mix? Lunges followed by split jumps. You need to go heavy to maximize the power effect. For the strength exercise perform 8 to 10 reps. Complete 3 sets.

The Women’s Case

Why? It is no secret that the two most problematic areas for women are the glutes and abdominals. Nature doesn’t help either. Before menopause, body fat tends to accumulate around the hips to prepare women for motherhood, and after the menopause estrogen decreases and fat deposits more around the waist.

Performing exercises that work the lower and upper body simultaneously are best to tackle both the derriere and the abdominals. In a Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research study isolated core exercises were compared to exercises that require the activation of glute and shoulder muscles. The findings: the glute/shoulder moves produced greater activation of the abdominal, lumbar, thoracic, gluteus maximus, and anterior part of the shoulder compared to isolated exercises.

What to do? Perform an exercise that stresses the glutes muscle while transferring energy all the way up to the shoulders by engaging the core to stabilize your trunk throughout the movement.

Integration leg-core exercise: Squats and lunges are a must to target the gluteus while the upright-row and overhead extension maximize the abdominals work. This exercise is a power move with some variations. Even though it is one smooth move it can be split into sections to accommodate your fitness level without missing the goal. Complete 12 reps and 2 to 4 sets.

Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website,, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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