How Barbell Complexes Allow You To Achieve The Benefits Of Cardio Without Having To Do Cardio
Cardio isn’t the devil, and it doesn’t destroy all of your gains. That doesn’t mean that everyone enjoys it, or that you’ve got to start working it into a program though. Traditional cardio can be boring if that’s not your jam, and if you’re goal is to look like a badass athlete with a kickass physique, it may not always be your thing.
So how do you incorporate cardio, without boring yourself to death?
Insert barbell complexes.
Complexes are some of the greatest training and conditioning tools known in the strength world. Done right, they can help someone build lean muscle, and shed massive amounts of body fat. The burn through massive amounts of calories, are highly metabolic, and can be downright brutal.
Barbell complexes burn a ton of calories during the workout, but especially after thanks to a phenomenon known as EPOC. EPOC basically means your body is in an oxygen debt, and unlike the responsible American most of us are, it begins paying that debt immediately. Which means you burn through more calories for hours after your workout.
What exactly are barbell complexes?
Alwyn Cosgrove, training genius and strength badass, defines them this way: “A complex is a circuit using one piece of equipment, one load, and one space.”
Put another way, you pick up the barbell and perform every movement you’re supposed to, without putting it down. No changing weights, no running, and no breaks until you’re done.
Complexes aren’t just done for a couple of rounds, with only 2-3 exercises, either. A good complex workout involves about 4-6 different exercises, and at least 4-5 rounds.
Pretty damn simple. Just not easy.
Cardio is the major reason to do complexes. It’s an excellent way to prepare athletes for in season needs, help the average bro with general cardiovascular capacity, build strength, proficiency with complex movements, and burn calories.
For most bro’s who lift, going into the cardio section of the gym is outright torture. Complexes mask the feeling of cardio thanks to the weight lifting aspect, and are a hell of a lot more stimulating than watching The View on your treadmill TV.
If you’ve never gone through a proper complex workout, consider yourself lucky. Wanting to die, seeing black spots, questioning your testicular fortitude, and wanting to stop after 2 rounds are all familiar feelings. Complexes are soul sucking workouts that will leave you winded. In a sadistically awesome way.
Cardio isn’t the only reason to do a complex.
Complexes are a damn good way to refine your technique. They should be done fast, but not so fast that your technique goes to shit. Use these as a way to make sure that you’re squatting properly, deadlifting well, and pressing with good form.
Complexes also mean extra training volume and frequency. This is paramount to building muscle. Thanks to the compound lifts, even if the weight is lighter, your muscles are getting extra work to provide stimulus. This means more adaptations. Which in non-boring speak means more gains.
A few rules to follow when creating complexes:
- Complexes shouldn’t be something that takes more than 20 minutes. They’re best done at the end of a workout, on an off day when you want extra lifting in, or when you’re pressed for time. Not for an hour straight.
- Choose exercises that flow well together. A barbell row into a back squat doesn’t flow quite like a barbell row into a deadlift, or a front squat into an overhead press.
- Use appropriate weight. If you have an overhead press and a back squat in the same workout, use weight that you know you can get for the overhead press, and use that same weight for the back squat. Complexes are about cardio, technique, and building work capacity. Not making a fool of yourself.
- Give yourself enough rest time. This is a metabolic workout. Shoot for about 90-120 seconds of rest to make sure it sucks, but doesn’t get dangerous because you’re so fatigued.
- Complexes are NOT an everyday activity. I don’t care how hardcore you are, doing these every single day is just dumb. Shoot to perform complexes about 2 days a week. Ideally on your easier lifting days, or off days.
The bear complex.
Some fucking sick bastard made up the bear complex, and it’s awesome. It’s my favorite barbell complex to do, and you might enjoy it as well. The bear complex involves 5 kickass exercises to hit your entire body:
- Power clean
- Front squat
- Push press
- Back squat
- Push press
How to do it:
- Clean the barbell off the ground.
- Perform a front squat.
- Push the barbell overhead.
- Bring it down into back squat position, back squat.
- Press the barbell and bring it down back in front of you.
Repeat that entire process 7 times, and that’s one round. Do 5 rounds in total, and you’ve got yourself a bear complex. If you want to see a video of it, check out Jen Sinkler here. She’s a badass lady who lifts, and goes over the bear complex to a Ratatat soundtrack. Major lady bro points in my book.