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The most intricate program in the world won’t do jack for your physique if you approach it with half-assed intensity and focus. To improve your training efficiency and keep your intensity level high, select basic exercises that give you the highest return on investment in terms of muscle recruitment and efficiency of movement, and limit your rest time to keep your heart rate elevated and increase your fat-burning potential. Employing a barbell complex-training method will cover all of that.
Made popular by strength coaches Istvan Javorek and Dan John and UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, a complex—done with one piece of equipment, usually a barbell, a dumbbell, or a kettlebell—is a style of circuit training where several exercises are performed in succession without resting. For example, you can perform eight reps of barbell rows, followed by eight front squats and eight overhead presses. Not only will this flood all your major muscles with nutrient-rich blood, but you’ll also be gasping for air.
Since you’re using only one piece of equipment, you won’t have to worry about another trainee interfering with your circuit. They’re also diverse: If you don’t have access to or don’t want to use a barbell, you can use dumbbells, sandbags, kettlebells, and medicine balls. Finally, complexes can be tailored toward different goals, since they’re more of a template for how to lift. Not sure where to start? No problem. In Part 1 of this two-part feature, we provide you with a road map for structuring your own complexes and then outline three to try depending on your training goals.
Follow these simple rules to put together your own complex
Be sure to arrange exercises in an order that allows a smooth flow from move to move. For example, the back squat flows nicely after an overhead press but not so much if it’s performed after a bentover row. For a full-body workout, include an upper-body push, an upper-body pull, a lower-body push or a lunge variation, and a lower-body pull. And be sure to order them wisely.
A good place to start is 6–8 reps, but go higher (12–15) for endurance and lower (3–6) for strength. Start with 3–5 rounds, resting 90 seconds between.
Add weight slowly to the bar until the weakest exercise feels challenging. Then begin your working sets. Leave your ego at the door: Complexes are about not how much you can lift but the consistent flow from exercise to exercise and total work performed in each workout.
Once you’re comfortable with your form and can stick to the 90-second rest interval more easily, add 5–10 pounds to the bar, 1–2 reps per exercise, or add 1–2 sets to each workout. Choose only one mode of progression every three to four weeks.
Complete 4-6 rounds. For complexes one and two, rest 90 seconds between rounds. For complex three, rest 60 seconds between rounds.