By Joshua Levesque, Certified Trainer

Combination lifts are a great way to shed pounds and induce a conditioning effect to your¬†resistance training routine. Combination lifts utilize¬†two or more free weight exercises in a¬†series with no rest or change in load between exercises (1). Typically multi-joint exercises that¬†recruit a large amount of muscle mass are prescribed for combination lifts. In recent times¬†combination lifts have been referred to as a complex with the implement being used, for example “Barbell Complex.”¬†

Utilizing barbell complexes is the most advanced way to utilize combination lifts. In Table 1 there is a list of barbell complexes that are in order from top to bottom. The exercise that is the lightest dictates how much load is on the bar, the load remains unchanged. For example in Complex A, the lightest exercise, is the upright row. If you can only upright row 115 lbs. for the prescribed repetitions then that is the load you will use for the following exercises.

Each exercise will be completed in a series (non-stop) without rest in between exercises. Once each exercise is completed and the entire barbell complex is completed, you may rest.

Table 1

Barbell Complexes Example
Complex A Complex B Complex C Complex D
Upright Row Deadlift (Snatch Grip) Clean Deadlift
Clean Snatch High Pull Press High Pull
Power Snatch (Clean grip) Power Snatch Front squat Power Clean
Back Squat Snatch Neck Push Press Push press Push Press
Neck Push Press Overhead Squat Back Squat Back Squat
Bent Over Row Good Morning Bent over row Good Morning

Each exercise should be done with a maximum of 5 repetitions and each complex should be completed for 3-5 sets. All repetitions for each exercise are to be completed before moving on to the next exercise in the complex. Rest anywhere in between 2-5 minutes in between sets.

Each exercise should be completed with little rest in between and without losing grasp of the barbell. Each Complex is designed to move from exercise to exercise with non-restrictive flow to the series. For Example, in Complex C after the final rep of the overhead press the bar will be brought behind the neck to initiate the back squat exercise. Strive to complete the entire complex without putting the barbell down with exception to the exercises that begin from the floor. Exercise descriptions are listed below.

Combination lifting can be used as a metabolic finisher to your regular resistance training, or as a resistance training plan on its own. 1-2 sets are adequate for a post workout metabolic finisher. A complete workout should be 3-5 sets. This style of training is quite time efficient, workouts can be completed anywhere in between 30-45 minutes. A Sample 12 week program is available in Table 2. Combining several multi-joint lifts in a series will enhance the cardiac benefit of the resistance training program. This style of resistance training can increase excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). Research has shown that EPOC may be the result of energy restoration processes that maintain homeostasis such as restoration of adenosine triphosphate, (ATP) creatine phosphate (CP), and increased ventilation, heart rate, body temperature, substrate utilization, and fatty acid utilization (2). Research has shown that multi-joint exercises that recruit a large amount of muscle elicit a greater acute metabolic response than single joint isolation exercises (3).

Here is a list defining each of the exercises found in barbell complex A-D.

Upright Row- utilizing the same grip that you would for the clean exercise (just outside shoulder width) pull the bar with the elbows pointing straight up until the bar reaches at minimum the level of the xyphoid process.

Clean- The Clean or Squat Clean consists of moving the bar from the floor to the shoulder level in the rack position with elbows high out in front of the chest. The object is to catch the bar in the bottom full squat position if the bar is caught in the power (quarter squat) position squat all the way down. The power Clean in Complex C will be caught high in the quarter squat position without adding a full squat.Power Snatch- The Power Snatch consists of moving the bar from the floor to an overhead position in one movement the catch will be overhead in a quarter squat position without squatting all the way down. This exercise is typically done with a wide grip extending close to the bars collars; however, it can be done with a clean grip as described in complex A.

Back Squat- the Back Squat is a full squat with the bar placed behind the neck supported by the trapezius in a high bar position. Neck Push Press- The Neck Push Press begins with the bar placed behind the neck just like the back squat position the hips will dip and drive with a forceful triple extension to aid the bar in being pressed overhead. This can also be done with a snatch grip option as seen in complex B.

Bent-Over Row- with the bar held in the hang position just below the hips the trunk is bent forward until the torso parallel with the floor the bar will be pulled into the abdomen if the torso is 90 degrees. If the torso is held above 90 degrees than pull the bar just below the xyphoid process.

Deadlift- The Deadlift consists of pulling the bar from the floor to the hang position just below the hips. This exercise can be done with a wide snatch grip as described in barbell complex B.   

Snatch High pull- With a Snatch grip the bar is pulled from the floor to the point at or above the chest much like the upright row.

Overhead Squat- the Overhead Squat is a Squat with the bar held overhead typically with a wide snatch grip.

Overhead Press- the Overhead Press exercise will be done from the front rack position to pressing overhead.

Good Morning- the Good Morning exercise will be done with bar held behind the neck just like the back squat position. Flex the trunk forward until the trunk is approximately 90 degrees parallel from the ground.

RDL- the Romanian Deadlift or RDL is a deadlift variation with the bar held in the hang position flex the trunk forward until the trunk is about 90 degrees parallel with the floor. Try not to touch the bar to he floor or bounce off the floor.

Table 2:

12 week Barbell Complex Program
Week 1-2
Monday Tuesday Thursday Friday
Complex A 5X3 Complex B 5X3 Complex C 5X3 Complex D 5X3
Week 3-4
Monday Tuesday Thursday Friday
Complex A 5X4 Complex B 5X4 Complex C 5X4 Complex D 5X4
Week 5-6
Monday Tuesday Thursday Friday
Complex A 5X5 Complex B 5X5 Complex C 5X5 Complex D 5X5
Increase Load
Week 7-8
Monday Tuesday Thursday Friday
Complex A 3X5 Complex B 3X5 Complex C 3X5 Complex D 3X5
Week 9-10
Monday Tuesday Thursday Friday
Complex A 4X5 Complex B 4X5 Complex C 4X5 Complex D 4X5
Week 11-12
Monday Tuesday Thursday Friday
Complex A 5X5 Complex B 5X5 Complex C 5X5 Complex D 5X5
*Each exercise is written with Reps X Sets. After increasing load 5 wave sets will be completed, increasing each exercise by 1 rep every week. In a wave set one rep is completed with each exercise before moving on to the next exercise in the complex.


  • Javorek, I., S. (1998). The benefits of combination lifts.¬†Strength and Conditioning Journal, 20(3),¬†53-57
  • Abboud, G.J., Greer, B.K., Campbell, S.C. & Panton, L.B. (2013). Effects of load-volume on EPOC after acute bouts of resistance training in resistance trained men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 27(7),¬†1936-1941
  • Kraemer, W.J., & Ratamess, N.A. (2004) Fundamentals of resistance training: Progression and exercise prescription.¬†Medicine & Science in Sport and Exercise 36(4)¬†674-688

About Author:
Joshua is a highly educated trainer with multiple advanced level certifications. With a Master's degree in Human Movement Studies, he has been working in the fitness field, specifically strength and conditioning for 7 years. Keep up with Joshua at

Experience: MS, CSCS, USAW-2

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