While the efficacy of these claims are for another article, I think it's worth pointing out that there is a such thing that can allow you to build and maintain a respectul amount of muscle in your attempt to burn some fat off.
Meet the barbell complex.
When beach weather comes around, a photo-shoot is weeks away or if you just want to stop carrying that extra 27 around the waist the one thing that you might be tempted to do is to eat like a bird and do copious amounts of cardio. This works.
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If you want to look like a 6th grade 89 pound school boy. By slashing your intake severely and going way overboard on cardio that's the consequence. Yes you will lose weight, but at a very expensive cost. And you probably won't even like the way you look.
There's a better way.
With all of the variations of "circuit training" popping up these days often times just further confusing you, nobody questions the barbell complex in its effectiveness. In spite of the name complex, it's a fairly simple concept. A complex is two or more movements done with a barbell with the same load done consequetivley for reps without setting the weight back to the floor.
Before we get into the three complexes, lets go over some ground rules and some FAQ's.
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Olympic LiftsAll complexes use some variation of an Olympic lift. You must learn how to do the Olympic lifts first, before you attempt to do a complex. Seek out a professional Olympic lifting coach. An article or a YouTube video is helpful, but in person coaching is imperative. Don't underestimate them. Granted that you have solid Olympic lifting foundation, it's time to have some fun with some complexes.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Won't my nervous system get wrecked if I stack the required amount of reps needed in a complex?After a heavy lifting session-heavy as in using a very close maximum weight it's normal to feel exhausted. You feel wiped out, similar to a dead battery with no juice left. A wave of slothfulness and low motivation may hit. You'll experience this after attempting PRs or a huge competition.
If you train to constantly set records day in and day out you will burn out, constantly. Training at your absolute max or very close to it on a daily basis is a surefire path down to frying your nervous system. Zatsiorsky called the burn-out of constant maxing staleness'.
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But before you proudly place yourself in this category, you probably aren't training nearly hard enough to worry about such a thing. Over-training can cause a landslide of problems like low testosterone, low motivation, lack of concentration, decreased appetite, blah blah blah.
I'm not discounting it as the fact that it exists, but I think the fact that you are now aware of over-training is the exact cause you under-training. It's what you do know that is holding you back from training hard.
Lastly, when your attempting to use complexes to burn fat, it's important that you use an appropriate load to prevent from burn out and to maximize intensity. We'll get into that shortly.
2. Can a complex be used as a workout all on its on?Yes. The barbell is one of the most efficient ways to move a load quickly across large distances. This sets up an incredible environment for improved conditioning and fat loss. In fact, if fat loss is paramount, then training with complexes may be superior in comparison to doing traditional straight sets. Studies have shown that doing shorter high intensity resistance training (like a using a complex) may increase resting energy expenditure improving fat oxidation.
All complexes use some variation of an Olympic lift. You must learn how to do the Olympic lifts first, before you attempt to do a complex.
The Barbell Complex Warm UpOld habits are hard to break.
You probably grew up being taught to do some static stretches before any kind of physical activity. Tugging on your arms and legs may be your default warm up becasue that's all you know how to do. However, stretching isn't the best thing you can do before you lift. In fact static stretching has been shown to make you weaker and less coordinated during your workout.
Instead of holding a toe touch, perform a full body dynamic warm. Warming up in this manner will prepare all of your systems to ensure that you perform most efficiently for your lifts. A good warm up should affect the heart, blood vessels, nervous system, muscles and tendons, along with the joints and ligaments.
Additionally, a good warm up will sharpen your reaction time, enhance concentration, improve coordination and regulate your mental and emotional state. Use the warm up template below to make sure that your mind and body are prepared to go to war with the barbell.
- 510 minutes of aerobic activity (jog, jump rope, bike, row)
- 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretching and mobility work (arm swings, leg swings, lunges, jump squats, push ups, neck rolls, mountain climbers, foam rolling, voo doo flossing)
- 5 minute mental prep
- Be sure to have some high quality carbs pre-workout (30-45 minutes prior)
Why is this better than old school stretching?
- The aerobic activity will prepare your cardiovascular system for exercise.
- The dynamic stretching will not only prepare your joints and ligament for similar movements you'll be doing in your workout, but it will also raise and maintain body temperature as you enter your workout. (static stretching can drop your temperature).
- By practicing visualization and including mental prep in your warm up, you'll not only be laser focused for your workout, but you'll improve movement efficacy lowering your risk of injury.
- Glucose is fuel for your brain. If you haven't had anything to eat 3-4 hours prior to lifting or have been on a very low carb diet for a while, your reaction time suffers. This is not a good environment to perform a complex.
The Barbell Complexes
#1 - The Bear Complex
- Power clean 7 reps
- Front squat 7 reps
- Push press 7 reps
- Back squat 7 reps
- Push press 7 reps
#2 - The Bret Contreras Barbell ComplexThis one is from Bret Contreras. Typically the bar isn't supposed to leave your hands or touch the floor once you initiated the complex, he breaks that rule in this one. It's still an awesome complex.
- Power curls 6 reps
- Push press 6 reps
- Back squat 6 reps
- Good mornings 6 reps
- Glute bridge 6 presses
- Floor press 6 presses
#3 - The Dan John Barbell ComplexThis one comes from Dan John. This complex holds true to what he defines as a complex. The barbell only leaves your hands or touches the floor after all the lifts are completed.
- Row 5 reps
- Clean 5 reps
- Front squat 5 reps
- Press 5 reps
- Back squat 5 reps
- Good mornings 5 reps
What To ExpectEven though the reps are kept low on each movement, don't sleep on the level of intensity these complexes will bring. Get ready for some serious oxygen debt. If you hate intervals, sprints, pushing a sled, tabatas or high rep anything, then utilizing a complex for fat burning might be a perfect match for you.
You can expect a short, potent workout that torches the fat while minimizing muscle loss. And, you can escape the soul sucking, bored out of your skull activity of walking on a treadmill for cardio.
Studies have shown that doing shorter high intensity resistance training (like a using a complex) may increase resting energy expenditure improving fat oxidation.