Barbell complexes are a type of strength training circuit where the bar does not touch the ground and you complete each exercise back to back.

A barbell complex is useful for a developing number of different areas of your fitness: strength, endurance, muscular hypertrophy, and conditioning.

They also train your mental toughness and technique. As the complex wears on, only efficient and correct form will allow you to complete sets using heavier weights.

In this article, we’ll look at what a barbell complex is, the benefits of adding them to your training, and how to create your own barbell complex workouts.

What Is A Barbell Complex?

A barbell complex strings together several resistance exercises in a row.

The athlete completes them with the prescribed amount of repetitions without putting down the bar.

Here’s an example from SEALFit:

The complex is 6 deadlifts, 6 upright rows, 6 squat cleans, 6 front squats, 6 push press, 6 back squats. They add burpees in too, but you don’t have to.

You’ll notice the ease in transition between movements. The last power clean transitions into the front squat, and the top of the 5th front squat leads right into push presses.

In this example, he puts the bar down after he’s completed 36 total  reps.

A well-programmed barbell complex makes you stronger, fitter, and forces you to be efficient. It’s also a good way to add muscle or lose body-fat, depending on your goals.

In CrossFit, a classic barbell complex workout is the Hero workout DT.

In DT, you complete:

That is 1 round, you will do a total of 5 rounds as fast as possible.

You can put the bar down, but just like a good barbell complex, the goal in DT is to dial in technique and move between exercises seamlessly.

Benefits of Barbell Complexes

Because you are lifting a heavy barbell and grinding through longer sets, barbell complexes can really develop your fitness. Depending on the structure of your complex, you can achieve different goals. For example:

  • With short, heavy complexes (3-5 reps, ~4 exercises), you can add expect to get stronger.
  • With shorter, heavy-ish complexes (5-8 reps, ~4 exercises), you can add muscle.
  • With longer, moderate weigh complexes (5-10 reps, 4-6 exercises) you can increase your metabolic conditioning level.

These are not hard and fast rules, but guidelines. Generally, heavier, shorter sets will increase your strength while longer sets will force you to breathe more, helping to increase fitness levels.

How Often Should Barbell Complexes Be Performed?

It depends on your goals, but barbell complexes can be added into your programming liberally.

Whether as accessory work, strength training, or in place of a conditioning session, they plug in well to most programs.

As long as the weight is appropriate, you can add them to your training 1-3 times per week without much trouble.

Shoot to add 2.5-5 lbs to the bar each week, slowly increasing over time.

Remember, you’re probably doing 15-30 reps per set. 5 sets could be as many as 150 repetitions. Don’t overdo it.

Barbell Complex Workouts

Here are a few keys for building a good barbell complex:

  1. Flow between exercises– The next exercise should be one swift movement away from the last. Ideally, it’s zero. For example, power cleans transition into front squats without any change in position. If you program a deadlift to a push press, however, you have to do a hang power clean in between. You’re better off just adding hang power cleans to the complex.
  2. Weight- Most people can front squat much more than they can put overhead, at least with good technique. Think 50-60% of your 1RM for heavy lifts like squats and deadlifts to start. Be mindful of going too heavy, especially to start. The increased risk of injury and lapses in technique take away the benefits of a good barbell complex.
  3. Compound Lifts– Think full body, foundational movements. Front and back squats, deadlifts, variations of the clean or snatch, push presses or jerks, and Pendlay rows.
  4. Reps-  Think about how many total reps the set is, not each exercise. Anything more than about 40 reps in a set will either suck terribly or require you to go so light it doesn’t improve your fitness.

Beginner Barbell Complex

These complexes are good for practicing movements, warming up, and getting comfortable with technique.

Warm-Up Complex- Using an empty bar or light weight:

  • 5 Deadlifts
  • 5 Hang Power Cleans
  • 5 Front Squats
  • 5 Thrusters
  • 5 back squats

Take a 30 second break and repeat 2 more times.

Snatch Barbell Complex– If you’re learning the snatch, this is a good way to practice positioning.

Again, using empty or lightweight bar. Perform:

Take a 30 second break and repeat 2 more times.

Barbell Complex For CrossFit

A good barbell complex in CrossFit incorporates moderately heavy weights with good technique. You’re improving strength, endurance, and conditioning.

AMRAP Barbell Complex

  • 8 Minute AMRAP
  • 5 Deadlifts
  • 4 Hang Power Cleans
  • 3 Front Squats
  • 2 Push Presses
  • 1 Ground To Overhead
  • Weight- 135/95 for RX, 185/115 RX+ 

5 Snatch Sets + Run, Adding Weight

  • 4 Snatch Grip Deadlifts
  • 4 Snatch Grip Shrugs
  • 4 Hang Power Snatches
  • 4 Overhead Squats
  • Run 200M, then repeat

Score = weight used on last set. Add weight after each run.

Barbell Complex For Hypertrophy

If you’re looking to add size or strength, try out one of these barbell complexes:

Compound Lifts

6 Sets:

  • 7 Deadlifts
  • 7 Pendlay Rows
  • 7 Hang Power Cleans
  • 7 Front Squats
  • 7 Push Press

Go as heavy as possible. 3 minute recovery between sets.

Upper Body Hell (with Push-Up Chaser)

3 Sets:

  •  5 Hang Power Cleans
  • 5 Strict Presses
  • 5 Push Jerks

Immediately after: Max set of push-ups to failure.

Recover 3 minutes. Score = weight used + total push-ups

Barbell Complexes- Wrap-Up

When programmed well, barbell complexes improve strength, size, and fitness.

Keep in mind that the weight should never be so high that technique drops off. Efficiency is key.

If the bar is too heavy, you won’t be able to transition smoothly between exercises.

Whatever your goal is, try adding some of these complexes to your next gym session or CrossFit workout.