• Jon Reid

Barbell Complex: Build Muscle and Burn Fat in Minutes

Updated: Sep 4, 2018

Barbell (or dumbbell) complexes are one of the most time efficient ways to improve conditioning, blast fat and stimulate muscle.

What is a Barbell Complex? A complex (in this context!) is several exercises performed one after the other with one piece of equipment (a barbell or dumbbells) with no rest between exercises.

Basically, you’ll do x number of reps of one exercise followed by x number of reps of the next exercise and so on until you’ve completed all of your exercises. The bar stays in your hands all the time and you don't rest until you've completed all the exercises.

Why are Barbell Complexes so Good?

They're time efficient, require minimal kit (only a loaded barbell) and you don't even have to change the weight.

Not only that, barbell complexes bring together numerous aspects of training that are touted as being important for burning fat, building muscle and improving general health…


Barbell complexes place your whole system (body) under tension for several minutes at a time. Time under tension and mechanical tension are key factors in building muscle and strength.

Cardiovascular Conditioning

Barbell complexes will elevate your heart rate and make you breathe pretty hard, thus challenging your heart and lungs. Anyone who has done a barbell complex will attest to the huffing and puffing during and after a barbell complex.

Multiple Muscles, Joints and Movement Patterns

Complexes utilise compound exercises and, generally, a combination of upper, lower and whole body exercises are used within one complex.

Thus, the whole body and multiple movement patterns (squat, hinge, push, pull) can be trained all in one go. This is super useful for building muscle and burning fat, and also makes very efficient use of…


Complexes don't take up much time; you can get through one in a couple of minutes. A style of training that uses weights, builds muscle, burns fat and improves cardiovascular function in a short period of time provides pretty good ‘bang for your buck.’


Barbell complexes are really challenging and force you to dig down deep to keep going. You’ll want to quit halfway through, you won’t quit and you’ll feel great for it after.

How to do a Barbell Complex

1. Select the exercises and reps you’re going to use. For this guide we’ll use 6 reps of:

  1. High pull

  2. Front squat

  3. Push press

  4. Back squat.

2. Grab a barbell (start conservatively with the load)

3. Perform 6 high pulls, then straight into 6 front squats, then 6 push presses then 6 back squats…

4. Rest, you’ve just completed one round.

5. Repeat

What Exercises Should I Use?

Barbell complexes are best done with compound movements and in a sequential manner so that the final repetition allows for a quick and smooth transition into the next exercise.

For example, going from a deadlift to a back squat would involved an awkward transition, but going from a deadlift to an upright row or bent over row would allow for a seamless transition.

Examples Barbell Complex 1

  1. Deadlift

  2. Bent over row

  3. Hang clean

  4. Front squat

Barbell Complex 2

  1. High pull

  2. Front squat

  3. Push press

  4. Back squat

Dumbbell Complex 1

  1. Reverse lunges

  2. Stiff leg deadlift

  3. Bent over rows

  4. Dumbbell hang clean

  5. Squat to press

How Many Repetitions?

That is up to you.

The lighter the weight, the more repetitions you’ll be able to handle.

It will also depend how many exercises are in the complex; the reps will soon add up, so start conservatively!

You can also alter the reps and weight of each ‘round’ to increase/decrease the load. Five reps of each exercise is a good starting point.

Varying the Repetitions and Load

Barbell complexes usually use relatively light weights, this is because the weight is limited by the heaviest weight you can handle on your weakest exercise. Play around with the reps and weight and adjust accordingly.

Some examples of what you can do...

  • Keep the same weight for every round

  • Increase or decrease the weight in each round

  • Same reps in each round

  • More or less reps in each round

  • More or less reps in each round with increased or decreased weight


Performing barbell exercises under metabolic demand (breathing hard) and fatigue (I'm tired) is tough...

Whatever exercises you are doing, the most important part of barbell complexes is the technique. Load and fatigue challenge your ability to hold good technique and thus poor starting technique will only be exacerbated.

If your technique gets sloppy, it doesn't matter whether you've just started or have one repetition to go, the complex stops there. Grinding your way through any exercise with poor form just to get it done is a bad choice; if your form is gone and you can’t recover it: stop, rest and decrease the weight.


Barbell complexes are a quick and effective way to burn fat and build muscle. They can be used as an entire session or as a finisher. Give them a try!

Finally, if you enjoyed the article it would be much appreciated if you could share it, thanks!



  • White Facebook Icon
  • White Twitter Icon
  • White Instagram Icon
  • White LinkedIn Icon

Disclaimer. Site Map. Privacy Policy
©2020 by Jonathon Reid