If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a “complex” (what are you doing when your coach is briefing the class) it is a series of movements paired together to be completed in succession without taking a break. Typically we see these done with a barbell as there are many barbell movements that ‘connect’ seamlessly from one to another. However, you can perform many complexes with dumbbells, kettlebells and even bodyweight/gymnastics movements.

A good barbell complex has a great way of not only adding strength, power and possibly even size, but also elicits one hell of a cardiovascular response as well. When done right, a barbell complex can be a serious test of your mental toughness. Everyone in the fitness world is pretty familiar with the “Bear complex” but there are literally a million different ways to skin a glute with these. Before we list the actual movements, here are some ground rules when performing the complexes.

  1. Perform all of the reps prescribed at the same movement before moving on.  Example; in the clean complex below- do all 6 RDL’s THEN all 6 Power cleans THEN front squats etc.  
  2. Once you start, you can’t rest or stop until you’ve completed all the reps/movements.
  3. These complexes can be used effectively in 2 ways;
    1. Build up to a max weight for the prescribed reps/movements- guaranteed to make you mentally and physically stronger and fitter.
    2. Go through these movements with lighter weights (35-75 lbs max) as a warmup prior to a heavy lifting session.  I do this all the time when I’m working up to a heavy Olympic lift.  It’s a great way to ensure the body is warm, your CNS is firing and a great way to “grease the groove” of the movement pattern.

Here are 3 to get you started:

Clean Based Complex

Perform 6 reps at each movement:

  • RDL’s (Romanian Deadlifts)
  • Power Cleans
  • Front Squats
  • Push Jerks
  • Back Squats

Notes: make sure you are familiar with how to perform the RDL. This is NOT just a deadlift OR a straight leg deadlift. They are different exercises so do a quick search online if you’re not sure. The power clean MUST be touch and go, no resting on the floor. Push jerks will most likely be the limiter on this one so keep that in mind when you start out.

Snatch Based Complex

Perform 3 reps at each of the following movements:

  • Snatch Grip RDL
  • Hang Snatch High Pulls
  • Hang Power Snatches
  • Behind the Neck Snatch Grip Push Press (BTN SGPP)
  • Overhead Squats
  • Snatch Balance
  • High Hang (Squat) Snatch

Notes: Use a hook grip. You should always be using it anyways, but you’ll definitely need it here. Start with light weights and slowly build your way up. This is a great complex to use for warming up for some heavy snatch work. 2-3 sets of this with just an empty barbell and you’ll be glistening and ready to hit some big weights.

The Sneaky ASSassin

Perform 10-12 reps at each of the following movements:

  • Good Mornings (GM)
  • 10 second rest/Change bar position
  • Back rack Reverse Lunges (10-12 per leg)

Notes: Do not be fooled by this one. While it may look unASSuming on the serface and surely next to the other 2 complexes it may seem short and easy, but if you do this one right you will develop quite the love/hate relationship with it.

First- again, make sure you know how to properly to a Goodmorning. Research on line. Look for Westside methods or Louie Simmons- home of the world’s strongest powerlifters, those guys know how make a strong glute. During the GM the barbell should be in the low-bar position. You want to go as heavy as possible on this one. Keep good form, hit all your reps, blah blah blah you know the deal.

As you finish your last GM rep, you will rerack the bar just for a second so that you can now switch from a low-bar position to a high-bar position. You’ll then walk it out and go directly into your reverse lunges. You should know how to do a good lunge by now, but in on this one we are really trying to focus on the glutes and posterior chain so make sure you are taking a nice big step back, keeping a vertical shin angle, driving through your heel and trying to keep your torso upright.

Barrett Danz is the owner and founder of CrossFit Big Dane– located in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. He brings experience as a strength and conditioning and power lifting coach prior to starting CrossFit. He has been an athlete and an avid fitness fanatic his whole life and he truly enjoys helping others find new confidence through fitness.

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