Barbell Complexes

Traditional methods of performing a set, resting, and repeating are a staple among everyone’s programs.  Bodybuilders to powerlifters all use rest between sets to wait for the lactic acid to dissipate so they can continue the lifts.  Sometimes, supersets and compound sets will be thrown in for extra intensity.  If you have ever done either one of those, you know just how intense a few sets of supersets can be.  Now imagine loading a barbell up and hitting multiple muscle groups consecutively.  These complexes can be used to improve conditioning and address weaknesses in Olympic lifts.

One of the original complex gurus is Istvan Javorek.  His most well known complex was said to improve cardiovascular conditioning, yet it could still be tailored to be a strength program.

The following is his complex #1

  • Barbell Upright Row x 6
  • Barbell high pull snatch x 6
  • Behind the neck Squat and Push Press x 6
  • Barbell bent over row x 6

Depending on your current fitness level, you should start with 3 sets.  The most important aspect of this workout sequence is to keep the bar in your hands the entire duration of the set.  You only rest when you have completed the final rep of Barbell Rows.  This seemingly little detail makes all the difference.

When you look at movements such as Cleans or Snatches, they can be broken down to low speed strength exercises.  When you break it down like this, you have the ability to identify your weaknesses.  For example, I need to work on my overhead pressing and jerks.  Therefore, I focused on overhead movements at the end of my complex.

Here is what I did:

  • Hang Clean x 3
  • Front Squat x 3
  • Push Press x 3
  • Jerk x 3

Notice that I have dropped the rep count down, but the weight is enough to challenge me in all movements.  By the time I get to Jerks, my lungs are sizzling.  At this point, I have worked up to the most I can do with 3 reps on my Jerk.  I didn’t set a percentage or a certain weight to hit.  It took me about 4 sets to find the weight, but I was struggling on the final rep of the complex.

The key to effective complexes is to use big exercises such as cleans, dead lifts, rows, press, etc.  The weight does not need to be heavy for the conditioning/hypertrophy.  Take your time with rest the first time you try this and don’t let the bar go until you have finished every rep!