There are many different sets-and-reps schemes that work when looking to build muscle. Heavy straight sets, drop sets and supersets are all useful tools that should be utilized the majority of the time. But the mind and body can get stagnant and muscle growth can come to a halt. This is where a barbell complex can come in handy to to generate more muscle growth and add variety to your routine.

Let’s face it…most of us human types hit the gym wanting to building muscle and improve conditioning. It’s not that complicated. Implementing various complexes into your workout regimen is a great way to accomplish this. As described by coach Dan John, “A complex is a series of lifts performed back-to-back where you finish the reps of one lift before moving onto the next lift. The bar only leaves your hands or touches the floor after all of the lifts are completed.”

It’s understood that you need to use progressively heavier loads when lifting for size but with a complex we will be looking to optimize another muscle-building variable: time under tension. Time under tension is critical to create structural damage to the muscle tissue in order to produce muscle growth. This barbell complex will create a large amount of time under tension to up-regulate anabolic hormones and increase protein synthesis that is sure to produce some muscle growth. As a bonus, your heart rate will be high, causing an increase in conditioning and decrease in body fat.

Muscle Building Barbell Complex

This workout hits every major muscle group. It takes muscles to the breaking point and taxes your stamina, making for an all-over body-shredding blitz.

You will be performing five exercises in a row without putting the bar down. Each trip through the five moves constitutes one complex. You will be doing three total complexes. Do not sacrifice form for speed but try to keep the pace brisk.

Bent-Over Row

Hang Clean OR Hang High Pull

Front Squat

Push Press

Romanian Deadlift

You will start Week 1 with three sets of five reps for each exercise, resting no more than two minutes in between sets. You will add one rep each week until you reach eight reps for each exercise using the same weight for all sets. Once you reach three sets of eight reps with that weight, you will increase the weight and go back to three sets of five reps. You will perform this workout 2-3 times a week. If you’re more advanced, you can use this as a metabolic finisher 2-3 times per week, after your normal lifting session but you will have to adjust your weights down accordingly.

Here is an example of how it could break down.

Week 1: 3 sets of 5 reps each using 95 pounds

Week 2: 3 sets of 6 reps each using 95 pounds

Week 3: 3 sets of 7 reps each using 95 pounds

Week 4: 3 sets of 8 reps each using 95 pounds

Week 5: 3 sets of 5 reps each using 105 pounds


For more training info from Justin Grinnell, CSCS, you can go to, or visit his gym’s website at, his Facebook page, or check him out on Twitter or Instagram. He is the author of The Grinnell Lifestyle: My Nutritional Doctrine, available on Amazon.