Doing a routine cardio workout—any exercise that raises your heart rate—is passé. Agreed that cardio exercise is a great way to get a strong ticker and lose body fat. However, a lesser-known, darker side of excessive cardio routines is that they force you to lose a lot of muscle and reduce your body’s natural metabolism by releasing a catabolic hormone, cortisol, in the blood. Cortisol is released as a response to stress on the cardiovascular system over prolonged periods, and destroys muscle tissues.

A better way to get the same benefits of cardio exercise without losing any muscle, in fact adding muscle and hence, enhancing metabolism, is to do a series of compound strength-training exercises, or complexes. A 2011 study published in the Strength And Conditioning Journal claimed that the study group achieved the same cardiovascular benefits from doing complexes as they did from the same amount of moderate cardio exercise. But the people who did complexes had the added benefits of more muscle and increased metabolism.

So, what is a complex? A complex is very much like a circuit, except it is done with dumb-bells or a barbell and they don’t leave your hands till all the repetitions of all the exercises are completed. So you may choose four-five exercises of eight-10 repetitions and keep moving from one to the other without releasing the weight from your grip. By the end of the 40-50 repetitions, the pulse could climb up to near 160-180 beats per minute (bpm) and the muscles would be burning, simultaneously delivering the multiple benefits of fat burn, a strong heart and strong and toned muscles.

Doing cardio will make you “skinny fat", while complexes will get you lean, ripped and strong. Take your pick.

The complex that I think works best is a combination of high pulls, muscle cleans, barbell rows and lunges. Perform 10 repetitions of each exercise back to back for 50 repetitions in all (the lunges are a bilateral movement and so need 20 repetitions). Rest a minute or so; then repeat for four sets.

High pull

Stand with knees soft and grab a barbell at arm’s length in front of your thigh (palms facing your thigh with a locked grip). Hinge from your hips and lower the barbell to the floor in a dead-lifting pattern. As soon as the plates hit the ground, shrug your shoulders and drive the bar up to your neck, extending the hips, knees and ankles at the same time. The elbows should flare out to the ear level. Rise up to your toes at the top of the lift.

Muscle clean

Start in the same manner as the high pull. Shrug the weight all the way up to your neck, then internally rotate your shoulders explosively and “catch" the barbell in front of your sternum (breastbone).

Barbell row

Hold the barbell with palms facing inwards, bend your knees slightly and hinge your hips so that the back is flat and angled at 45 degrees to the floor. Pull the weight all the way into your umbilicus, flaring the elbows out and wide so that they achieve a 90-degree angle at finish.

Barbell lunges

Hold the barbell, shelved on your shoulders with an underneath grip, palms facing the ceiling. Step out with your right feet and perform 10 lunges before stepping back and doing the same with the other leg.

Ranadeep Moitra is a certified coach from the National Strength and Conditioning Association of America and has worked with the Indian cricket team, the Bengal cricket team and the East Bengal Football Club. He currently coaches the Indian golf team.