Lift To Burn: 4 Barbell Complexes To Scorch Fat And Increase Strength

Elite athletes have long used barbell complexes to burn fat and increase conditioning. You've never done cardio like this!

You want to get big. You also want to get ripped. Unfortunately, the training required by these two goals is often contradictory or, at best, just not synergistic. It's like saying "Get bigger and get smaller."

As countless people have discovered, it's tough to have both. Packing on muscle requires a surplus of calories, while burning off fat requires your body to burn extra calories. To make this situation even tougher, no red-blooded lifter wants to be chained to a treadmill or elliptical. It's boring. It sucks. It's ... cardio. Luckily, it's not your only option.

There is a way for you to hit heavy weights, build muscle, and fire up your metabolism to burn off fat. To make this even more appealing, you'll do it while throwing around a loaded barbell. By including barbell complexes regularly in your program, whether at the end of your training or as a separate workout, you'll be able to watch body fat disappear and build a world-class conditioning level at the same time.

Complexes: Not That Complex ///

A barbell complex is nothing more than a series of exercises performed seamlessly, one after the other, using a single barbell. You use the same weight throughout the routine and never take your hands off of the barbell. Typically a complex is composed of 4-6 movements that transition easily.

Think of a clean and press. You perform one and are immediately in position to do the other. If you add a deadlift first and front squat after the clean, you're on your way to having a fully developed barbell complex.

Barbell complexes were the brainchild of strength coach Istvan Javorek. Javorek originally developed them for Romanian athletes in order to "find an efficient and aggressive method of performance enhancement that saves time and makes the program more enjoyable." He moved from Romania to the United States in the early 1980s, and his six barbell routines quickly became a standby in high-level training for all manner of athletics.

Here's his classic Barbell Complex No. 1, which he considered a strength workout. Complex No. 2 is the same exercises, but only three reps per movement. Javorek considered that an endurance-building routine.

Perform all reps of one exercise before moving to the next. Build up to four cycles.

Barbell Complex No. 1

The idea is simple enough, but there's no doubt that Javorek created something amazing. Think about it: Would you rather run on the treadmill or play with the barbell for 15 minutes? You don't have to use much weight for complexes to work, either. It's best if you keep the weight light, because it has to work for your weakest lift in the series in addition to your strongest. Even if you go light, you find that barbell complexes get your heart racing like nothing else.

How to Use Complexes ///

You can use complexes either as a finisher at the end of your regular strength training workout, or as a fast-paced, separate conditioning workout. Lifters use them differently, so experiment to see what works for you. If you're of the opinion that recovery days are strictly for recovery, stick the complex in at the end of your workout. It should only add 10-15 minutes.

The only thing limiting what you can do in a complex is your imagination. You can perform a set number of rounds, go for as many rounds as possible in a given time, or you can even compete against a friend to see who can perform the goal number of rounds fastest. Just remember to keep the essence of complexes alive. The movements should flow easily from one into the other without ever having to put the bar down.

Now that you know the background, let's take a look at a few more example complexes of my own. I recommend beginners start off using 45-55 pounds, intermediate lifters use 65-85 pounds, and advanced use 95-135 pounds. Be conservative with the weight; you don't need much to get an effect. This isn't about maxing out. It's about incinerating body fat.

Complex 1


Complex 2


Complex 3




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