What is a Barbell Complex?

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  • Written By: D. Messmer
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 30 January 2020
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A barbell complex is a sequence of exercises, all of which use a barbell, that an athlete performs successively, without any breaks between each type of exercise. The term "barbell complex" does not necessarily describe a specific set of exercises but is instead a term that encompasses all exercise sets that involve a variety of barbell workouts in sequence. Regardless of the sequence of exercises, a barbell complex almost always requires an athlete to perform a specific motion that enables him or her to get a loaded barbell onto the shoulders without using a squat rack.

The benefit of a barbell complex is that it provides a short and intense cardiovascular workout while enabling the athlete to engage a wide array of muscle groups. For instance, an athlete might perform a barbell complex that begins with dead lifts, then moves to overhead presses, followed by squats, then barbell rows before finishing with front squats. Such a workout would engage most of the body's major muscle groups, some of them more than once, all without requiring the athlete to stop and change weight loads or equipment. At the same time, the continuous nature of the workout also would provide the heart and lungs with a thorough workout.


No matter what sequence of exercises an athlete chooses to include in a barbell complex, he or she must be able to move the barbell into the various starting positions for each exercise without the aid of a squat rack. This is particularly challenging when an athlete performs various types of squats and presses, because these exercises require the athlete to raise the barbell to the level of the shoulders, either in front of or behind the head. The action required to get the weights into these positions can be quite strenuous, so it is important that an athlete does not overload the weight when performing a barbell complex.

In order to get the barbell into this position, the athlete must begin by gripping the barbell with a grip that is slightly wider than the hips and must stand with the knees slightly bent. It is crucial that the athlete's shoulders are in line with the barbell and that the athlete keeps his or her back straight and chest out. Then, by driving the feet into the floor, the athlete pulls the bar into up with enough force for it to raise into the air. When the bar is at the peak of its ascent, the athlete ducks underneath the bar and positions it either on the top of the chest or on the shoulders. After the bar is stable on the athlete's upper body, he or she can straighten his or her body and, from there, perform the exercise that is part of the barbell complex sequence.


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