Workout Routines

One Barbell, Four Muscle-Building Workouts

Use complexes to your advantage to build new muscle and turn your body into a fight-scorching machine.

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front squat barbell

They build muscle. They increase strength. They torch fat. They are equipment-minimal. They hit your entire body. They provide a high-intensity workout in very little time. Barbell complexes – several exercises done consecutively with the use of a single, loaded barbell – are one of the most effective training methods for anyone looking to get fitter, faster, stronger or leaner. But, of course, there’s a catch: they are hell on earth (if done with a maximum effort). 

If anyone ever tells you they were doing barbell complexes and they are not challenging, they are not loading the bar with enough weight or giving a sufficient effort. To make a complex, you may do 10 squats, followed by 10 squats to presses, followed by 10 power cleans, followed by 10 hang cleans. Sound tough? It will be if done correctly.

Keys to getting the most out of your complex workout

Use compound movements: Moving at multiple joints, as you do in presses and squats, will ensure that you are using the most muscle possible which, in turn, elevates metabolic and anabolic responses.

Use full body movements: Total-body moves like cleans and deadlifts offer functional and athletic benefits while also increasing caloric expenditure.

Perform exercises fast: Keeping your effort high throughout the set will increase the intensity and therefore, the payoff.

Do not rest between exercises: Limited rest has the obvious benefit of increasing the cardiovascular demand of the workout. But studies show that limiting rest between sets of heavy weight training can also boost post-workout burn.

Try your best not to drop the bar: This is more of a mental tip but holding on to the bar throughout the set forces you to stay within the construct of the complex. Setting the bar down can infuse gains-diminishing rest and change the nature of the complex. Of course, do it if you must – but you’d be better served adjusting the weight load the next time through instead.

Start with an empty bar add weights in increments of 10 pounds: This is a way to gradually test your threshold for the high-intensity nature of complexes without compromising safety. Increasing the weight as you adapt to complex training ensures that the gains will continue.

Rest 1-3 minutes between sets but do not exceed four sets: Adequate rest is important to maintain energy levels and max effort through each grueling journey through the complex. Since complexes are so demanding, you can expect muscle-wasting cortisol and havoc-wreaking free radicals to be on the march, so limiting yourself to four sets is plenty, especially since most complexes hit the entire body.


Exercise - Reps

Barbell Squat 7-10

Thruster 7-10

Good Morning 7-10

Front Squat 7-10

Romanian Deadlift 7-10

Barbell Row 7-10

Hang Clean 7-10

This complex is geared toward the strength purist. Make sure that you set your weight loads appropriately. You shouldn’t be reaching failure on your first go with the squats – keep in mind you have thrusters immediately after.



Exercise - Reps

Power Snatch 7-10

Clean and Jerk 7-10

High Pull 7-10

Push Press 7-10

Snatch Squat 7-10

Deadlift 7-10

This complex requires at least a basic familiarity with the various components of weightlifting moves like the snatch and clean and jerk. These are highly technical, speed-based movements, which, at this rep range, will leave you sucking wind.