What are Barbell Complexes?

Everything You Need to Know Barbell Complexes

Overhead Barbell Woman
Hitting a plateau can drive you insane. Some people take months just to bump their bench press up by five pounds. A plateau is a good indicator that there’s something about your routine that just isn’t working for you anymore, and it means that it’s time for a change. Adding barbell complexes to your routine is a great technique for breaking plateaus. Barbell complexes are difficult, requiring you to perform several barbell exercises in a row as one set with no rest in between sets.

Benefits of Barbell Complexes

As a form of cardio, barbell complexes have several benefits over traditional cardio workouts. Barbell complexes burn a ton of calories but do not release cortisol the same way traditional cardio does. Cortisol is a stress hormone partly responsible for inducing fat storage in the body. However, barbell complexes release anabolic hormones that help you cut fat, making barbell complexes a great tool for cutting fat while you get out of your plateau.

The time required for traditional cardio can also be a bit of a drag, clocking in at thirty minutes or more. Barbell complexes are very fast-paced, and depending on how many sets you do, you may finish in ten to fifteen minutes – half the time of traditional cardio.


Barbell complexes also keep your metabolism kicking for longer than traditional cardio workouts. Within a few weeks of adding regular barbell complexes to your routine, you’ll be able to handle more weight and your recovery time will begin to decrease.

Rules for Effective Barbell Complexes

However, you can’t just do a bunch of barbell exercises in a sequence and expect to get these kinds of results. There are a few rules to keep in mind when choosing and doing these exercises. Keeping these rules in mind when designing your barbell complexes will help you achieve all those benefits listed above but prevents you from overworking yourself. Working your body too hard won’t get you anywhere except maybe laid up with an injury.

1. Keep it simple!

A lot of bodybuilders and weightlifters have the impression that complex is a good thing, and they incorporate this flawed principle when choosing their barbell complex exercises, especially if they’ve been in a plateau for a while and are desperate to break it. In reality, it’s easy to design a program that’s too complicated and won’t be all that easy to remember when you’re in the weight room unless you have a partner or trainer reminding you which exercise comes next.

You should be able to perform your barbell complexes alone without someone telling you what to do every step of the way. Try to keep the number of reps for each exercise the same number, and don’t incorporate too many exercises into your complex.

2. Let it flow!

Part of keeping it simple means choosing exercises that progress naturally from one to the other. This makes it easy to switch movements. If you’re trying to switch from deadlifts to back squats to rows to reverse lunges, you’ll have to deal with a lot of switching the bar from front to back, back to front, several times in the course of one complex. This will slow you down and make your exercise much less efficient than if you did the exercises in a more logical order.

3. Know your limits!

When you’re in a plateau, it’s important to avoid injury, burnout and overworking yourself so you can keep hitting the gym and get yourself out of your slump. Barbell complexes can kick your butt if you aren’t careful, so try to limit yourself to one all-out hard complex day and keep it at a lower intensity the rest of the week.

A Well-Designed Barbell Complex

Remember to keep it simple! Not only is a simple complex easier to remember when you’re on the floor, limiting the reps to around five per exercise will allow you to keep good form, preventing injury and letting you get the most out of your workout. Fewer reps also allows you to use more weight, which will burn more calories and work your muscles more efficiently than more reps and less weight would.

Keeping yourself to about 75 to 100 total reps is also a good idea. If your complex involves five exercises of four reps each. Five sets will get you to 100 reps. Mess around with the math a little to incorporate 75 to 100 total reps into this routine.

Pick between three and six compound exercises for your complex. Make sure they flow well together and do them in an order that allows you to keep it flowing. Do the same number of reps for each exercise to keep it simple.

Rest For One To Two Minutes Between Sets.

A barbell complex that incorporates all these guidelines is five reps each of the high pull, hang clean, military press, front squat and push press. Three sets will get you to 75 total reps. This is just one example but it’s a good start. One great thing about barbell complexes is that they’re easily customized.

Barbell complexes are hard work and will test you but they’re almost a surefire way to get out of a plateau and put you back on track to meeting your goals and getting ripped.

These type of techniques are followed by the likes of Jeff Seid and Josef Rakich

Interview with Jeff Seid
Interview with Josef Rakich

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