The Best Way to Design Barbell Complex Exercises

Barbell complexes are an excellent way to build high amounts of volume into very short periods of time and can be a great tool to mix up and add variety to the standard training regime you might follow. They should be added with caution as they can accumulate very large amounts of fatigue, so only attempt them if you feel very competent with the exercises you’re putting into the complex.

4 min read
Sean's profile
Written by
Sean Klein
Published on
13/01/23
Last updated
13/01/23
In This Resource
  • What Is A Barbell Complex
  • Benefits of Barbell Complex Exercises
  • How To Use Barbell Complex’s
  • Rest Periods
  • Example Full Body Barbell Complex
  • Example of A Barbell Complex Structure
  • Sample 1
  • Sample 2 (as in sample above)
  • Sample 3

What Is A Barbell Complex

A barbell complex is when you take multiple barbell exercises and perform them one after the other for a specified number of repetitions. For example, you might take a barbell squatting movement, deadlifting movement and horizontal pulling movement and perform them all for 5 reps respectively. They can be a really fun way of accumulating volume if just doing sets and repetitions is getting a little mundane.

Benefits of Barbell Complex Exercises

The main benefit of barbell complexes is how much volume you can get in to a short period of time. Usually doing 5 sets of three movements can take 30+ minutes, with a barbell complex it can be done in less than 15. This is great for people who are short on time and enjoy doing full body workouts with a barbell. However they do have their negatives, performing high percentages on barbell complexes is extremely taxing and may reduce your ability to lift weights that you would otherwise be able to if they were spread out across a larger amount of time. If strength progression is your number one goal then I would not recommend putting too much emphasis on barbell complexes and sticking with high percentage lifts of the barbell exercises.

How To Use Barbell Complex’s

These should be the primary part of your session or the only segment of your session if you’re very short on time. I wouldn’t attempt to use these in cycles or put too much emphasis on progressive overload of an individual barbell complex. I would put emphasis on choosing compatible exercises that can all be done with good technique, you will be at risk of accumulating a lot of fatigue so ensure you’re able to maintain high levels of movement quality. When putting exercises together, be wary of your current condition. If you add two very difficult exercises together like the squat and the deadlift, this will create huge amounts of fatigue. If you put the back squat and bent of row together this will create less fatigue. It depends where your current conditioning is at. A barbell complex can be done with any number of exercises but I suggest keeping it between 2-5 movement maximum.

Rest Periods

Taking rests between sets of a barbell complex will be needed to maintain a high quality of movement unless your using very light weights. The rest period can be anywhere from very short (15 seconds) to very long (3’). You could use an EMOM format for a barbell complex or you could use a time and perform a complex every 3 minutes. There are so many different ways that you can play around with to create fun and interesting sessions.

Example Full Body Barbell Complex

Complete 5 rounds

1. Back Squat

Complete 10 repetitions

2. Deadlift

Complete 10 repetitions

3. Bent Over Row

Complete 10 repetitions

Example of A Barbell Complex Structure

These are a variety of different structures you can use to build barbell complexes to add to your training. Have fun here, these are just to give you an example of what different structures might look like.

Sample 1

Movement A: Upper Body

Movement B: Lower Body

Sample 2 (as in sample above)

Movement A: Squat

Movement B: Hinge

Movement C: Pull

Sample 3

Movement A: Squat

Movement B: Hinge

Movement C: Pull

Movement D: Press

If you enjoyed this resource you can find more below, or try Programme, a fitness app that plans every workout for you based on your progress, equipment and lifestyle. This resource was written by Sean Richard Klein. Sean has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.

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