3 Barbell Complexes For Rapid Fat Loss

3 Barbell Complexes For Rapid Fat Loss

There are fewer cliches more popular than the "bang for your buck" one that is tossed around in the fitness world. The reason being is that everyone wants a potent dose of training that delivers results, fast. Also, it's a great selling point for any training program. Who doesn't want to get shredded in 8 minutes?

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.

Related: The 18 Minute Minimalist Superset Workout Routine

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 consecutively for reps without setting the weight back to the floor.

Before we get into the three complexes, let's go over some ground rules and some FAQ's.
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Olympic Lifts

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. 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."

Related: Find the Best Workout Split For You: A Complete Analysis

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 you're 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 it's 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.
Olympic Barbells
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 Up

Old 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 because 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.
  • 5-10 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

Woman Performing a Barbell Complex#1 - The Bear Complex

  • Power clean 7 reps
  • Front squat 7 reps
  • Push press 7 reps
  • Back squat 7 reps
  • Push press 7 reps
Complete 3-5 rounds. Rest 2-4 minutes between sets.

#2 - The Bret Contreras Barbell Complex

This 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
Complete 3-5 rounds. Rest 2-4 minutes between sets.

#3 - The Dan John Barbell Complex

This 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
Complete 3-5 rounds. Rest 2-4 minutes between sets.

What To Expect

Even 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.
Man Performing a Barbell Complex
Studies have shown that doing shorter high intensity resistance training (like a using a complex) may increase resting energy expenditure improving fat oxidation.

Barbell Complex Re-cap

1. Load properly

You'll be using the same load for movements in each complex, so don't load up your 3RM and attempt to do 20+ reps with it. A general approach is to load the barbell at a weight that allows to barely complete the required reps on your weakest exercise in the complex. This movement is typically anything that goes overhead (press, push press, push jerk).

2. Flow

Each movement in a complex should flow right into the next. This explains why most complexes start from the floor with some type of deadlift variation and end in a pressing movement or the bar passes overhead into a back squat or good morning.

3. Warm up properly

You'll have a better experience with your complex if you warm up properly. I'm not saying it'll be easier, but you'll get a lot more out of your workout.

4. Use them as a workout, as a finisher, or to feed your OCD

Five rounds of a complex can be a workout all on its own. But you can also use them as a finisher to a traditional straight set strength workout. You can also use them as an 'extra' day at the gym, when your OCD kicks in and you can't take a rest day. If you aren't using the complex as your main workout, use a lighter load.

5. Keep it in check

First, get coached on how to do the Olympic lifts. Second, when you're able to perform complexes, don't go crazy. They aren't meant to be performed 5-6 times a week. 2-3 complexes per week done with the right load and intensity is plenty.


1) Fry AC, Kraemer WJ. Resistance exercise overtraining and overreaching. Neuroendocrine responses. Sports Med. 1997;23(2):106-29.
2) Zatsiorsky, Vladimir M. Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1995. Print.
3) Paoli, Antonio, Tatiana Moro, Giuseppe Marcolin, Marco Neri, Antonino Bianco, Antonio Palma, and Keith Grimaldi. "High-Intensity Interval Resistance Training (HIRT) Influences Resting Energy Expenditure and Respiratory Ratio in Non-dieting Individuals." Journal of Translational Medicine. BioMed Central, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
4) Gergley, JC. "Acute Effect of Passive Static Stretching on Lower-body Strength in Moderately Trained Men." Acute Effect of Passive Static Stretching on Lower-body Strength in Moderately Trained Men (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
5) "No-Carb Diets May Impair Memory." WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
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