Full-body workouts don’t have to all be light weight, calisthenics-style routines intended for general populations at trendy boutique gyms.

You can actually do an advanced-level, fast-tempo workout that hits all major muscle groups and build real muscle and strength, while also getting some in some anaerobic conditioning. All it takes is a barbell, a few weight plates, and a willingness to work.

We’re talking about a training technique called the complex. (In this case, a barbell complex, though complexes can also be done with dumbbells to achieve the same purpose.) Barbell complexes are nothing new; serious lifters have been doing them for decades, with the vaunted “Bear Complex” being the most often cited.

If you’re unfamiliar with complexes, you’re in for a treat. Below is a five-exercise barbell complex designed by longtime M&F contributor Jim Ryno, a personal trainer and owner of Iron House home gym design in Alpine, New Jersey. A few rounds of his complex (or five if you’re up for it) and you’ll have yourself one hell of a power-pack, strength-building workout.

Barbell Complex Overview

A complex is multiple exercises performed in sequence with a single barbell, where the bar is not set down on the floor or a rack until a full set is over. Exercises programmed into a complex are intended to “flow” together, one rep of an exercise followed immediately by a rep of the next move.

Let’s take Ryno’s complex to illustrate how it works. The five exercises are as follows (all with the same barbell): Snatch-Grip Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift, Bent-Over Row, Hang Clean, and Thruster (front squat + overhead press).

One “round” (or rep) of this complex is as follows:

  1. Starting with a loaded barbell on the floor, perform 1 rep of a snatch-grip (wide-grip) deadlift.
  2. From the top of that movement (bar down in front of your thighs at arms length), perform a complete rep of a Romanian deadlift.
  3. After coming back up, bend over at the waist and do a bent-over row – from arms extended, to bar touching your midsection, then lower the bar back down to arms extended and stand back up.
  4. Perform one hang clean.
  5. With the bar in front of your shoulders, elbows bent, perform one thruster – lowering to a full squat (quads at least parallel with the floor), then exploding back up to pressing the bar overhead at the top.
  6. Lower the bar back to your shoulders, then down to the floor. That’s 1 complete rep of the complex. Go right into the next rep, starting again with the snatch-grip deadlift.

Don’t rush through these reps. You should be doing your rep of each exercise at the same tempo as you normally would. Since you’ll be doing 5-10 complete reps per complex, each set will take a while – probably 2 minutes at least.

When to do the Barbell Complex

The below complex can be done a couple different ways – either as a relatively quick stand-alone workout, or in addition to other lifts.

“This type of workout is generally used as accessory work in strength training, a finisher at the end of a session or in place of conditioning,” says Ryno. “I like to refer to complex workouts as ‘strength-training cardio.’ The goal is to dial in good technique and move with seamless transition from one exercise to the next. A well-designed complex workout makes you stronger, boosts endurance, and forces you to be efficient. Due to the lighter load used, complexes also offer a chance to work on your technique.”

 Jim Ryno’s Barbell Circuit Workout


  • Perform the five exercises listed, in order, one rep at a time – 1 rep of snatch-grip deadlift, 1 rep of Romanian deadlift, 1 rep of bent-row, 1 rep of hang clean, and 1 rep of thruster. Don’t set the barbell down between reps.
  • Do 5-10 rounds of this (5-10 reps per exercise) – that’s 1 set.
  • Perform 3-5 sets total, resting as little as possible between sets. Beginners, do 3 sets. Intermediates, do 4-5 sets. Advanced individuals, do 5 sets.
  • Select a weight to put on the barbell that you can normally get at least 5 reps with on your weakest of the five lifts. If you get 10 reps on the first set and it feels fairly easy, increase weight 10%-20% for the next set. If you get fewer than 10 reps (but at least 5) on the first round, stick with that weight. If on any set you fail to get at least 5 reps, go lighter the next set.

Barbell Complex Exercises:

  1. Snatch-Grip Deadlift
  2. Romanian Deadlift
  3. Bentover Row
  4. Hang Clean
  5. Thruster

Do 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps/rounds of the complex.