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This Met-Con Barbell Complex Builds Strength and Size

A group of CrossFit athletes completing a barbell complex.

If you’re looking for a whole-body functional strength workout, this barbell complex ticks both boxes – and a few more besides.

Based on the big Olympic weightlifting movement clean and press, this barbell complex is comprised of five compound exercises.

The clean and press, which is split into its three individual components, forms the core of the complex. To expand the range of muscles targeted, two other compound exercises – squats and bent-over rows – have been enlisted.

Thus, this barbell complex will build strength and size in all the major muscle groups.

Barbell complex benefits

In addition to building functional strength and promoting whole-body growth, you can adapt this barbell complex to enhance muscle endurance.

In the video demonstration I use a comparatively light barbell – just 50kgs. This enabled me to transition through all five compound exercises without pause.

Using a lighter barbell promotes muscle endurance while also getting your heart rate up. With a lighter barbell you are able to progress through the complex much quicker.

And you’ll be surprised at how much you can get done in a short space of time. In a little over 15-minutes I managed to complete ten sets of three reps of each of the five exercises.

This doesn’t sound like much but accumulatively it equates to 150 reps total. If you multiple the reps by the weight lifted, I shifted 7500kg – or 7.5 tons – in 15-minutes.

That’s not bad going considering I completed the complex after a 25-mile bike ride.

Related: Discover the 5 Best Olympic Barbells

How this barbell complex works

At its simplest, you’re completing the five compound exercises in the order laid out below. Your objective is to progress through the complex without stopping. Aim to rest on completion of all five exercises.

There’s no fixed rule regarding the number of repetitions or complex cycles you can complete. As I said above, I stuck to 3 reps per exercise and completed 10 full complexes. This only took me 15-minutes.

However, I completed this workout as part of a larger training session. If you are going to use this barbell complex as your main workout, you can expand the reps and sets.

Below are a couple of other suggested ways of approaching this barbell complex.

AMRAP your barbell complex

For those who want a tough physical challenge, you could apply the AMRAP (as many reps as possible) training method to this barbell complex.

Set a 10, 20, or 30-minute countdown timer and see how many complex cycles you can complete. Before attempting an AMRAP, you need to decide how many reps you are going to perform on each exercise (between 3 and 5 is optimal). Also, it would be wise to select a light bar to avoid fatiguing too early.

Ensure to make a note of each completed cycle so that, when the time elapses, you can calculate the number of reps you achieved.

Related: learn more about AMRAP training with our complete guide

barbell complex EMOM

This barbell workout would also suit the EMOM (every minute on the minute) training method. There’s a couple of ways you could make this complex into an EMOM.

First, proceed through the five exercises without pause as per the initial explanation. To get through the barbell complex with enough time in the minute for recovery, you must keep the rep range very short – between 1 to 3 reps per exercise.

Second, set a higher rep range – 10 plus – and focus on each exercise for 1-minute. Once the minute elapses progress to the next exercise in the complex. Follow this system until you have completed all five exercises then go back to the start.

Related: learn more about EMOM training with our complete guide

Barbell complex

Before attempting this barbell complex ensure to warm-up thoroughly first! As we discuss in our article The Importance of Warmups and Cooldowns, warming up properly prior to exercise improves performance while decreasing injury risk.

If you’re out of warm-up ideas, we’ve created one specifically tailored to this training session.

10-minute warmup

Begin by with 5-minutes on either the rower or cross-trainer. Maintain a low pace initially but marginally raise the intensity after each minute.

Concluding the first warmup phase, complete the following 10 high-intensity intervals. Remember, after each interval, you are to perform 10 very controlled reps of each of the barbell exercises below. Use a light weight and focus on technique.

100-metres row/cross-trainer
10 reps barbell deadlift
100-metres row/cross-trainer
10 reps barbell row

Complete eight more times through.

barbell deadlift

  • Start with your feet under the Olympic barbell adopting a stance slightly over shoulder-width.

  • Bending at the knee and ensuring to keep the back perfectly straight grasp the bar: the palms should face toward you and your hands should be spaced slightly wider than your feet so as to prevent your arms and knees clashing.

  • Before executing the lift take the slack out of the bar by applying force against the resistance.

  • Looking forward and slightly up fire through the quads and glutes pushing the hips forwards as you stand.

  • Once you are fully erect there should be a slight bend in the knees – not locked out. Also, from a side angle, a vertical line could be drawn from your shoulders down to your heels. A common mistake is to lean back. DO NOT do this! All you will succeed in doing is compressing the intervertebral discs in the lumbar region.

  • To conclude the exercise simply return the bar to the start position making sure to retrace your steps.

bentover barbell row

  • Adopt a neutral stance: feet shoulder-width, knees slightly bent, eyes fixed forward.

  • The barbell should be resting in front of your quadriceps, your hands spaced shoulder-width, palms facing inwards.

  • Hinging at the hips only, lower down until the barbell is in line with your knees.

  • Your back should be perfectly straight, and you should still be looking forward.

  • In one smooth movement row the barbell level with your lower chest.

  • The elbows, when rowing, should not protrude to the side. Also, avoid ‘cocking’ the writs.

Hang clean

  • On completion of the bentover row, compose yourself before executing the hang clean. Your feet should be shoulder-width, knees slightly bent, bar resting against your upper thigh. The hands remain in the same position as when rowing: shoulder-width and spaced evenly across the bar.

  • Hinging forward at the hips slightly, you’re using the muscles of the lower back to get the bar moving. It is helpful to spring the bar off the quads during the initial phase of the exercise.

  • Assist with your arms and trapezius – you’re kind of performing a shrug.

  • Be mindful to pull the bar up ensuring to keep it close to the body. You are not swinging the bar out.

  • As the bar comes level with your chest, quickly dip at the knee and ‘catch’ it in the front squat position

  • Stand up out of the shallow squat.

  • Under control return the bar to the start position and repeat.

barbell push press

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent, with an Olympic barbell suspended level with your shoulders.

  • The bar should be slightly below your chin or just above your shoulders

  • Maintaining control press the barbell above your head.

  • At ‘full extension’ there should still be a slight bend at the elbow joints.

  • To conclude the press, lower the barbell back to the start position.

barbell squat

  • With an Olympic barbell resting across your trapezius, adopt a slightly wider stance – just over shoulder-width.

  • Your knees are bent a little and you are looking forward.

  • Slowly and under control squat down until a 90-degree angle forms behind the knee.

  • Again, maintaining strict form stand up out of the squat.

  • Remember to apply equal force through both quadriceps.

  • Also, do not hinge at the hips or round the back at any point throughout the movement.

Watch the video of this barbell complex!

Enjoyed this barbell complex?

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Circuit training is one of the best forms of physical exercise for maintaining and increasing overall fitness. A well-designed circuit will provide a great cardiovascular workout, strengthening the heart and lungs in the process, whilst also improving muscle endurance and developing functional strength. This unique combination, of fat burning and muscle building, which singular exercises, such as running, cycling, swimming or weights cannot give, will help to sculpt a lean defined physique.


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