“Dude, I want to get seriously jacked! Let’s do some bench presses and then some biceps.”
That was the conversation I overheard recently at the gym but it is one I think I have heard regularly for many years almost verbatim. Although bench presses are a good exercise, if someone wants to get jacked and kick start their muscle growing they should experiment with a barbell complex as it also burn fat at the same time.
What Is A Barbell Complex?
As the name implies a barbell complex consists of doing a workout with a barbell. Common exercises using barbells include: bench press, squats, deadlifts, cleans, barbell row, barbell shrugs, shoulder press. The exercises that are performed are basically power movements or multi joint movements using a barbell.
Although you may be familiar with a power movement or Olympic lift, these only require doing one exercise at a time, resting and then continuing with the same exercise or moving on to the next after completing the sets of one exercise.
Barbell complexes however, require performing a series of power movements continuously without stopping and without letting go of the barbell. Consider this a superset of Olympic lifts strung together in circuit training style workouts.
Build Mass In A Shorter Period Of Time
A common misconception when it comes to getting muscle or with bulking up is that all you have to is lift heavy weight and the results will come. Week after week you may workout doing bench presses, biceps curls, triceps extensions and get some results but not the serious gains you were expecting. The key to building mass and gaining muscle is performing exercises that will boost the body’s growth hormone abilities using multi joint movements.
Although single joint movements like biceps curls, triceps extensions, leg extensions and lateral raises have a purpose in muscle development, they won’t give you gains in your entire body. In order to see total body gains you need to do exercises that will work all of the body’s major muscle groups together.
Barbell Complexes For Conditioning
(Craig Ballantyne of Turbulence Training demonstrating a workout)
One of the disadvantages with traditional strength training is they typically only help with building muscle. A typical muscle building workout will not help with conditioning unless you perform movements that are explosive and help develop fast twitch muscles.
Think about the last time you were at the gym and you stood there doing some curls. You probably didn’t feel your heart rate pumping or feel like you were getting an explosive type of workout. That’s because a single joint movement does not help you with conditioning. Conditioning type workouts will help you look lean and athletic by building muscle and burning fat at the same time.
A Barbell Complex Workout
As mentioned earlier, these types of workouts are different as they require you to hold on to a barbell during the entire duration of the exercises. Although these types of workouts are tempting to do using heavy weight I would recommend that beginners start with only a barbell. You can add weight as you become stronger or more accustomed to these workouts.
The goal is to work on different muscle groups, combining upper body and lower body exercises throughout the entire exercise sequence. Here is the sequence you will use:
- Power Clean
- Front Squat
- Shoulder Press/ Overhead Press
- Barbell Row
Do not let go of the bar as you move from one exercise to the next
Rest for one to two minutes after you finish the series of exercises
Do 6-8 repetitions of 4 to 5 sets
The workout can be done twice a week allowing 2 to 3 days in between
You can substitute some exercises with variations of the same. For example, Romanian deadlifts instead of regular deadlifts, power clean with clean and jerk or hang cleans, barbell shrugs can be used in the series.
You will find these workouts challenging as it will require you to use your strength and cardio abilities. It is common to experience an elevated heart rate much like running sprints or intervals.
Although I highly recommend these workouts I have to stress that you have to perform them with good form. If you have not learned the proper form to these individual exercises begin with that part of the process. Learn the form first before you attempt these workouts.
For a beginner at strength training learn each individual movement then start by using just the barbell. You can then add weight with each week as you get stronger. Increasing the weight over time, also called progressive overload training, is one of the factors that will help you gain muscle over time.
How To Combine It In Your Current Workouts
Although I mentioned earlier that exercises like bicep curl and triceps exercises were not beneficial to increasing muscle mass to its maximum abilities, you can still include them in your workouts. These exercises can be done on days you are not doing barbell complexes perhaps with some ab work, maybe once or twice in a week.
Some trainers add complexes along with interval training or other types of cardio. I find that very difficult for anyone who is not used to doing these types of workouts. Instead I would do cardio/ interval training on days you are not working with the barbell. You can eventually combine both once you have improved with your conditioning.
Chest workouts can still be a part of the routine, in fact I would suggest doing them but placing an emphasis on bench presses. Many guys like to do cable flys or dumbbell flys but if you want to get serious chest development bench presses are the way to go. You can include them on days you do a complex, or on different days, just don’t spend hours on your chest exercises.
Next time someone tells you to get jacked with some curls instead ask them to join you for a barbell complex workout like the one I have outlined for you here and watch as you gain some muscle and look more athletic along the way.
Feel free to comment below and join in the discussion.