Bodybuilder doing the lat exercise pendlay row

Throwing finishers at the end of workouts always reminds me of Mortal Kombat fatalities when they say, “Finish Him!” Essentially, for those who have never heard of finishers before, they do exactly that: finish you off with a challenging, usually highly metabolic, circuit or high-rep exercise to transform your body into a calorie-burning machine. Thanks to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC phenomenon), your body burns calories during and long after the workout.

Limited by your imagination, finishers can consist of anything from high-rep back squats to a chin-up/push-up circuit, but my personal favorite is the barbell (BB) complex. They are physically and mentally challenging and are great for GPP (general physical preparedness) development.

BB complexes have been made popular by Istvan Javorek (Javorek Complex), Randy Couture and Dan John. For those unfamiliar, a complex is a challenging combination of exercises performed with an implement (BB, dumbbells, sandbags, kegs, etc.) in succession without placing it down between reps or exercises—think of circuit training on speed.

The trainee or person performing a complex should have technical proficiency in each individual exercise before linking the exercises in succession. Remember, the first rule in the gym is to do no harm.

Randy Couture’s famous BB complex uses a 95-lb. bar (25-lb. on either side). Perform this complex for 5 rounds or 5 sets with a 60-second rest.

Bent-Over Rows – 8 reps
Upright Rows – 8 reps
Overhead Presses – 8 reps
Good Mornings – 8 reps
Split Squats – 8 reps
Back Squat to Behind the Neck Push Presses – 8 reps each
Romanian Deadlifts – 8 reps

…which equals 64 reps per set!!

The Problem: Most times, BB complexes are performed similarly to the example above. Most trainers seem to think the principles used to design complexes are set in stone.

The Solution: Think outside the box and apply these five tips to take your finishers to the next level.


Break Up the Reps

Why are all BB complexes performed by performing all the reps of one exercise before moving to the next? Why not try 1 rep of each exercise, performing the exercises quickly one after the other?

Try this: Perform 2-3 sets with 60-90 seconds rest. Perform 1 rep per exercise in succession for sets of 6-8 reps.

Bent Over Rows
Romanian Deadlifts
Reverse Lunges (alternate sides)
Overhead Presses

For those still confused, here’s how it would go down: 1 rep Row, 1 rep RDL, 1 rep Clean, 1 rep Reverse Lunge per side and 1 rep Overhead Press. Return to the Row and run through the sequence again. Repeat this sequence 6-8 times.

Incorporate Uncommon Exercises

Most often, the “basics” (Back Squat, RDL, Overhead Press, Rows, etc.) are used when making up BB complexes. How about expanding your exercise bank and performing exercises that incorporate the frontal plane or a bench? A BB Pushup is also great to throw at the end of complex – it’s technically still part of the complex because you haven’t released the bar.

Try this: Perform 2-3 sets with 60-90 seconds rest. Perform 6-8 reps per exercise before moving to the next exercise.

Bent Over Rows
Power Cleans
Alternating Bench Step Ups (perform 12/side alternating)
Push Press
Lateral Lunges (bar on back)
BB Push-Up

Alter the Reps

There will always be a limiting exercise in a BB complex, commonly the Overhead Press. Increase the number of reps for the least challenging exercises and reduce the reps for the more technical exercises or exercises that utilize smaller muscle groups.

Try this: Perform 2-3 sets with 60-90 seconds rest. Perform the allotted number of reps listed beside the exercise below.

Bent Over Rows – 10 reps
Romanian Deadlifts – 12 reps
Cleans – 5 reps
Overhead Presses – 5 reps
Good Morning – 12 reps

Barbell Grip

Use a Snatch Grip

A double overhand grip shoulder-width apart is referred to as a “clean grip” because this is the grip you would use to clean a BB. How about trying a snatch-grip BB complex? To find your snatch-grip, slide your hands out on the bar until the bar rests in your hip crease. Obviously you need to be familiar with the snatch lift and it variations to perform this complex safely and effectively.

Try this: Perform 2-3 sets with 60-90 seconds rest. Perform 6 reps per exercise before moving to the next exercise.

Snatch-grip Romanian Deadlifts
Hang Snatch High Pulls
Hang Power Snatches
Overhead Squats

Use an Angled Barbell

Who said the BB had to be held in both hands? Place a BB in a corner designated for angled BB work (or else you’ll eat up the drywall) or in a land mind. Place some weight at the end of the bar (25lbs plates work best as they are small – use more than one if needed) and position yourself holding the bar at roughly chest height with your feet shoulder width apart.

Try this: Perform 2-3 sets and take 60-90 seconds rest. Perform the number of reps listed beside each exercise below.

Angled BB Jump Squat – 5 reps
Angled BB Squat to Press – 10 reps
Angled Alternating Reverse Lunges – 8 reps/side
Angled BB Full Contact Twist – 8 reps/side