Forget Running, Try These Badass Barbell Complexes

“How often should I run?” is a question I get asked fairly often.  My typical response is, “Do you like running?”  What answer do I inevitably get?

“Oh God, I hate running!  I can’t stand it!”

“Well, maybe we can figure out something else you can do instead?”

Enter the barbell complex.  Done correctly, a barbell complex will jack up your heart rate, have your muscles screaming and make you question your choices in life.  And that’s just the end of the first round.  Not only are you lifting weights, which for many people is millions of times more fun than plodding away in some day-glo spandex, but you’re also lifting weights, which will promote muscle gain and fat loss.  Not to mention the lifting weights part.

Simply put, a complex is a series of free weight exercises done in a row without resting until you’ve finished the entire series.  For instance, my personal favorite complex is

  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Bent Over Row
  • Power Clean
  • Front Racked Reverse Lunge
  • Push Press
  • Back Squat

You would do all of your RDLs, then all of the rows, then the power cleans and so on until you’ve finished.  Then you put the barbell down, rest 1-2 minutes and repeat.  One thing that you may have noticed is the “flow” of the complex moves up the body; it starts with the weights hanging in my hands and moves up to the shoulders.  You wouldn’t want to do RDL’s followed by push presses followed by bent over rows; while you certainly can do whatever the hell you want, constantly switching back and forth would ruin the flow and make the complex more of a hassle than it needs to be.  You want to smoothly move from one exercise to another until you’ve finished the series.

How many exercises should I do, how many reps, how many sets, etc?

There really is no right or wrong answer to any of these questions.  There are a few rules of thumb:

  • Start lighter than you think you need.  These will very quickly kick your ass, especially if you’re keeping the rest periods honest.
  • 4-6 exercises for 4-6 reps per exercise for 4-6 rounds is about right for most people.  Too few reps or exercises won’t provide quite the stimulus we’re looking for and too many reps might cause form to break down in later exercises.  5 exercises for 5 reps each for 5 rounds is a pretty easy one to remember, especially in later rounds when math starts getting difficult.
  • That said, try experimenting with 2-4 exercises for 2-4 reps for more of a strength effect or increasing exercises and/or reps up to 8-10 if you’re a monster.
  • Base your weight on your weakest exercise in the complex; in the above example, that would probably be the push press for most people.
  • You don’t necessarily have to keep all the exercises in the same rep scheme for the same reason; you can RDL and squat  a lot more than you can push press so you might do 8 RDL’s and 8 squats while keeping everything else to 5
  • Move quickly but smoothly through the series; you want to move quickly but not so much that you’re sacrificing form and position.

Below are a few great complex ideas:

Badass Barbell Complexes from WHBC on Vimeo.

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About the Author : Chris Semick

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