The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Complex Routines Made Simple

How to Get Your Burn on With a Simple Barbell


The exercises and content expressed in this column are for illustrative purposes only. Consult your physician before trying any physical activity or nutritional plan. Recoil and its contributors are not responsible for any harm or injuries sustained while attempting these techniques.

Do you have a rigorous travel schedule? Or perhaps you work a graveyard shift that leaves you smoked when you're done? It's sometimes hard to find the intestinal fortitude to work out. Sometimes, something is better than nothing. A quick fix for me is to perform a barbell complex.

You may recall from my previous articles that I developed a program called Combat Strength Training (CST), designed to retrofit the combat chassis so that it performs with maximum efficiency at maximum capacity. Focusing on self-preservation and longevity, CST introduces the chassis and its external components to power, strength, and agility training in all planes of motion within the full muscle spectrum range. It enhances your performance and tactical effectiveness through maintenance, education, and combat-replicated movements, while following a safe, comprehensive, systematic, and progressive format.

As the chassis is upgraded it becomes a battlefield multiplier, which in turn becomes a force multiplier. CST improves rate of force production, strength, muscular development, speed, quickness, proprioception, and functional flexibility. (Check out Issues 9, 11, 12, 13, 16, and 19, as well as my new CST e-Book at, for more details.)

When I'm on the road, I don't always have the time or the equipment to adhere to all of my CST principles and guidelines for working out. I have to find a gym near my hotel, preferably on the way back from the range. Moreover, at times I have to embrace the suck and buy a visitor's pass at an L.A. Fitness or some other pseudo bastion of fitness. Frankly, I don't want to spend much time in these places because the mouth-breathing, concentration-curling, bench-pressing, calf-raising, mirror-flexing muscle heads make me hypoxic.

As I plan a scheme of maneuver, I navigate my way through the endless maze of bench presses in search of a single barbell or a set of dumbbells. If I do things right, that's all I need. Additionally, it won't take long, and it'll get me in and out quickly.

Barbell Complex Routine

A barbell complex routine utilizes a single, loaded barbell for a set of exercises done together. It builds muscle, increases strength, and burns fat. It's equipment-minimal, hits your entire body, and provides a high-intensity workout in very little time. Barbell complexes are one of the most effective training methods for anyone looking to get fitter, faster, stronger, or leaner. But, of course, there's a catch: they're a smoker…if done at maximal effort. If anyone ever tells you they were doing barbell complexes and that they're not challenging, those guys aren't loading the bar with enough weight or giving sufficient effort.

Moving at multiple joints, as you do in presses and squats, ensures that you're using the most muscle possible which, in turn, elevates metabolic and anabolic responses. Using full body movements, such as cleans and deadlifts, offers functional and athletic benefits, while also increasing caloric expenditure.

Barbell complex workouts are a great way to burn calories and fat, as well as to build strength. They're a great alternative to cardio — they get your heart rate up via consecutive movement with weight graduating from light to heavy. You'll get a total body workout, focusing on multiple muscle groups.

The idea here is to do five barbell exercises back to back without taking a break. Use a weight that you can lift for five reps for each exercise, while adding weight to each set. Finding the weights that are right for you may require some trial and error the first time through. It's a good idea to start with a 45-pound Olympic bar, then add weight gradually.

These are all Olympic-style lifts at a micro level — performing compound lifts like Olympic lifts results in greater fitness levels, increased caloric expenditure, and improved total body strength and power development.

But before you touch anything that increases resistance, make sure you warm up properly. The purpose is to increase your body temperature, helping to improve muscle and tendon flexibility and pliability in order to facilitate an improved range of motion.

The Routine

Complete five sets. After completing the set of five exercises take a two-minute break. It's very important that you rest between sets to give your muscles a break from the heavy weight — otherwise you may cause too much strain on them. As a bonus, do the barbell complex in intervals, giving yourself the same amount of rest time between each set.

After warming up, complete the first set with the bar only.

When it's time to work, use a timer to monitor your intervals. In my work out, I take two minutes to complete each set of work and rest. Each set takes me roughly 30 seconds to complete, leaving about a minute and a half to recover. Figure out times that work for you.

Today I started with 75 pounds. The set of five, five, five, five, and five took me 30 seconds. I rested a minute and a half while increasing the weight to 95 pounds. The next set started on the two-minute mark. It took 30 seconds as well, then I increased the weight to 115 pounds. This set took the same amount of time, so I was rewarded with the same break time. I boosted the weight to 135 pounds for the fourth set and to 155 pounds for the last. This quick workout took me a total of about eight-and-a-half minutes to finish — but I sure felt as though I worked a whole lot. And it got me out of the gym quickly, away from the gym troglodytes and with some sense of accomplishment.

To increase the intensity of the workout, either add more weight or reduce the amount of rest time between sets. If dumbbells are all that you have, the barbell can easily be substituted with a single or a pair of dumbbells. This increases the difficulty.

Time is typically a limiting factor — or in many cases an easy excuse to avoid working out. With this barbell complex routine, your excuses have been whittled away. It can be performed several times a week, with a barbell, dumbbells, or a canvas bag filled with raw earth. So get some work done.

Bent Over Rows

Hinge forward at the hips slightly with a slight bend in the knees, bar hanging straight down (use an overhand grip). Pull the bar to your chest in a rowing motion forcefully, bending the elbows straight back behind you. Your arms should be close to your ribs. Lower slowly and repeat, keeping a hinged position.

Dead Lifts

Hold the barbell in front of you. Bend knees slightly as you hinge forward at your hips and lower the bar toward the ground. Lift up forcefully to a standing position, squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement. Repeat.

Hang Clean

Hinge forward at the hips slightly, with a slight bend in the knee and the barbell hanging in front of your knees, with overhand grip. In a forceful motion, lift the bar up in front of your shoulders as you flip your wrists and straighten your legs, so that your palms are now facing up. Reverse the motion back to the starting position and repeat.

Front Squat

Start with the bar in front of your shoulders, wrists turned up and elbows bent. Keeping the bar steady, lower into a squat until your knees are bent 90 degrees, then forcefully lift back up to the starting position. Repeat.

Overhead Push Press

Start with the bar in front of your shoulders, wrists turned up and elbows bent. Forcefully push the bar straight up over your head, pause, return to start, and repeat. Bend your knees slightly to help press the weight up.

About the Author

Pat McNamara (Mac) has 22 years of special operations experience, 13 of which were in the U.S. Army's 1st SFOD-D (Delta). He has extensive experience in hostile fire/combat zones in the Middle East and eastern Europe. He trains individuals at basic and advanced levels of marksmanship and combat tactics. Based on his wide-ranging experience, McNamara emphasizes a continuous thought process and accountability, utilizing a training methodology that is safe, effective, and combat relevant. He retired from the Army's premier hostage-rescue unit as a sergeant major and is the author of T.A.P.S. (Tactical Application of Practical Shooting) and Sentinel.

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