In a barbell complex, you do several moves back to back without putting the bar down, and it’s a fast and effective way to shift body fat while simultaneously building strength. “It is great for perfecting technique because you generally use a lighter weight than if you were simply doing one of the lifts on their own, so you can focus on improving the movement pattern,” says performance coach Tom Eastham (@EasthamsFitness). “As a result it’s great to do a barbell complex as a warm-up before a big lifting session or paired with some short cardiovascular work as a metabolic conditioning circuit. The complex enables you to use your entire body in one set and is harder than it looks, so it’s great to spice up the end of a training session.”
- Bent-over row
- Front squat
- Overhead press
- Back squat
Do ten reps of each exercise in the order stated and move on to the next without putting the bar down. Your aim should be to complete all the moves without resting. Rest for two minutes between rounds and do five rounds in total.
- Lose fat Doing heavy circuits will get your heart rate soaring and your muscles working, which will result in a huge calorie expenditure both during and after the session as your body recovers.
- Save time The whole session will only take about 20-25 minutes to complete, making it an efficient as well as effective way of training.
- Improve grip strength That might not sound like a big win but you’re only as strong as your weakest link, and that’s likely to be a weak grip. The better your grip, the more you can lift and the more gains you’ll see.
Start with your feet hip-width apart (for the ideal foot position, read the tip below) and grip the bar just outside your knees. Pull your shoulders back to engage your back muscles and protect your spine. The aim is to load your hamstrings, so straighten your legs as you start the move by pulling the weight off the floor, then straighten up and engage your glutes. Reverse the movement back to the start.
Expert tip “After your warm-up perform five tuck jumps,” says Eastham. “Pay attention to where your feet land after the final one – they should be roughly hip-width apart. Everyone is slightly different in their start position, but one thing is ever-present: the need to develop power by pushing your feet ‘through’ the floor. Wherever your feet land is generally close to the stance you should use.”
2 Bent-over row
Once you’ve completed your last deadlift, hinge at the hips to lower the barbell down the front of your thighs to knee height. From there, row the barbell up to your bellybutton by drawing your elbows back. Try to squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the move, and lower slowly under control.
Expert tip “This one targets the middle of your back,” says Eastham. “Pull your shoulders back and down so your traps (the muscles at the top of your back) are relaxed. This should target your lower traps and rhomboids (the muscles in the centre of your back), which are two common areas of weakness.”
3 Front squat
After the rows, flip the bar up onto the front of your shoulders with your palms facing upwards and your elbows high. Simultaneously bend at the knees and the hips to squat down while making sure you keep your elbows high and your torso upright. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, or as low as you can with good form, then stand back up to return to the start.
Expert tip “This targets the quads because of the position of the load,” says Eastham. “However, if you truly want to maximise your athletic potential, focus on the position of the bar and don’t allow it to rest on your fingertips. Stretch your pecs and your lats (the big back muscles) then, during the movement, keep your elbows up and use a full grip throughout. This is the first step on the path to a decent clean and jerk – a true marker of any serious lifter.”
4 Overhead press
After your final front squat, drop your elbows so they are below the bar and press the weight overhead. Avoid locking your elbows at the top of the move, so you keep the tension in your muscles as opposed to loading your joints. Reverse the movement back to the start.
Expert tip “When the bar is overhead and your arms are fully extended, try shrugging your shoulders up towards your ears,” says Eastham. “This forces your traps to fire and in turn creates space for your rotator cuffs – the small muscles that stabilise your shoulder joint – to move around it without causing impingement.”
5 Back squat
Once you have completed the overhead press reps, lower the barbell onto your shoulders. Try to push your elbows forwards to engage your lats. Bend at the knees and hips simultaneously to lower into a squat. Try to lower until your thighs are parallel to the floor, or as low as you can with good form, and stand back up to return to the start.
Expert tip “Before you perform the first lift, imagine you are trying to screw your feet into the ground,” says Eastham. “Imagine you’re trying to turn your feet out, but don’t let your toes move. You should feel your glutes contracting, giving you more muscle activation when you lift. Try to keep this feeling throughout each rep.’