Barbell Complexes: The Best Bang for Your Buck

Photo courtesy of Nick Pecori from the SPSC Classic (2015)

Photo courtesy of Nick Pecori from the SPSC Classic (2015)

There are so many methods out there to get stronger and fitter. Which should you pick? Surely, you need access to lots of expensive equipment and machines, right? Nope! Well, then you at least need an hour and a half to workout. Wrong again!  I kinda set you up for that one.

You can accomplish a hell of a lot with just a barbell, some moderate weights, and 15 minutes of your time. Get familiar with barbell complexes. They are an excellent way to accomplish a number of goals, whether it is to increase strength, muscle mass, improve conditioning, or address weaknesses in your lifting.

What is a complex?

A complex is just a series of movements with the barbell (or any implement) that are completed in succession without losing tension (i.e. setting the weight down between reps).  

The key here is that you are increasing your time under tension, thus demanding more from your body to get the given amount of work done quickly. You'll notice that a good complex leaves you breathing hard and doesn't take a lot of sets to get the job done.

Now, the type of complex depends on your goal. If you need to get stronger in a certain position for a lift, then you'll hammer that position. If you want to get generally stronger, incorporate the entire body with a squat, pull, press type of sequence. If you want to increase mass, you'll increase the rep range of the complex. The possibilities truly are endless.

5 Great Complexes to Try

Here are some complexes you can get started on right away. Again, you can tweak the rep range and challenge yourself on the weights to change up the intensity. A good complex will flow from one movement to the next to avoid unnecessary effort. Set a desired number of rounds to complete (not just one time through and done)!

1) Full Body Classic

5xBent Over Row + 5xHang Power Clean + 5xFront Squat + 5xStrict or Push Press + 5xBack Squat

2) Bear Complex

*Complete the 5 movements in order and repeat the cycle 7 times before resting (35 total reps per set). The Bear Complex workout consists of 5 Rounds of those 7 cycles.

Power Clean + Front Squat + Push Press + Back Squat + Push Press

3) Clean Complex

Clean Pull + Hang (squat) Clean + Front Squat + Split Jerk

4) Snatch Complex

Snatch Pull + Hang Power Snatch + Overhead Squat + Hang (squat) Snatch

5) The DT-ish Complex

8xDeadlift + 8xHang Power Clean + 8xPush Jerks/Presses


Get the hang of these and create some complexes of your own! You can do it with dumbbells and kettlebells too. Happy complexing!

Subscribe to our newsletter for informative emails and to receive the 3 Most Important Things You Need To Get Fit!

-Taylor Race, owner and trainer at St. Pete Strength and Conditioning, Home of SPSC CrossFit