Some days I just don’t want to work out for an hour at the gym. And you know what? Sometimes workouts don’t even need to be that long. Whenever I want to be in and out of the gym but still build strength and endurance, my go-to is this challenging, make-you-gasp-for-air workout called a barbell complex.
A complex strings together typically between four to eight exercises that are done one after another, seamlessly, with little to no break in between. Since it involves only one piece of equipment (a barbell, in this instance), complexes are perfect for when you have limited space or are in a busy gym.
But it’s more than just haphazardly mixing your favourite exercises together. Born Fitness shares a crucial ingredient to making a good barbell complex:
The workout should flow. What does this mean? Think about movement patterns. Progressing from a deadlift-to-high pull-to front squat-to overhead press not only works different muscles, but also links up the movements without having to drastically change body positions. This reduces your rest time and makes the complex as efficient as possible.
Efficiency is the name of the game, but that’s no excuse to perform the complex with terrible form and an anaemic attitude. A barbell complex is advanced stuff. Before you try it, you should be very confident with the exercises you’ve chosen, making sure your form is awesome and that you’re using an appropriate weight that allows you to do 10-12 reps of every exercise. Here’s an example of a rather brutal complex being done by one of strength coach Ben Bruno’s clients:
You can try the one above or mine below. This workout takes me no longer than 20 minutes, including rest time, which lasts between a minute to a minute and a half:
- Deadlifts 8 – 12 reps
- Bent-over barbell row 8-12 reps
- Hang clean 8-12 reps
- Front squat 8-12 reps
- Push press 8-12 reps
- Back squat 8-12 reps
Note that you shouldn’t go too heavy either. Identify the exercise you’re likely weakest in and pick a weight that you can feasibly do for 10-12 reps. For most people, the push press in this complex is likely the weakest. Once you complete all of those exercises in quick succession, that’s one round. Repeat this three to five times and question the meaning of life.
Don’t get too down on yourself if you can’t go through one full round of the workout without resting a lot more. Seriously, it will kick your arse.