Metabolic Conditioning: The Bear Barbell Complex Workout

20 minute Workouts, Quick Tips

“The Bear” Barbell Complex is as close to flowing barbell training with a barbell that you’ll ever get, or at least I have ever gotten.

I’ll assume that “The Bear” is referred to as “The Bear” because of how difficult the workout is.

This complex workout leverages barbells.  Barbells are mostly thought to develop pure strength and power.

The barbell was manufactured to work well for moving heavy weight.  Moving heavy weight creates the ideal training stimulus for building strength.  If a person moves the barbell fast enough across a set distance (Point A to Point B), the barbell becomes a tool that enhances an individuals power.  Think cleans, snatches, jerks, etc.

  • Slower moving + heavy weight = Strength Development
  • Fast moving + medium/heavy weight = Force Production = Power Development

Although barbell training might not be an appetizing fitness solution for a lot of people, taking some time to learn and practice the basics of barbell training can pay a person back ten-fold over time.

My guess is a lot of people avoid barbell training because of the intimidation and unfamiliarity factor, or for some, the uncomfortable sensation of iron grinding against the skin.  Barbell work will develop tough hands over time.

The callouses I cannot help you with… but if you want to know more about barbell training, buy Starting Strength by Mark Rippletoe.  Read a few pages, practice, read a few more pages and practice some more.  There is a wealth of knowledge in Starting Strength that can help you establish the emotional confidence and the technique to play around with the barbell a bit more.

It’s important not to be afraid or intimidated by the barbell.  When people think of barbell training they usually picture a 300lb tank-of-a-man squatting 500lbs, yelling like a maniac during every rep while his friends stand around yelling like maniacs during every rep.

You’re partially right if this is your initial mental picture.  But barbells, and how we use them to develop physical qualities has evolved a lot over the years.

Like any other fitness tool, barbells can be leveraged for other purposes also.

In particular, I enjoy using the barbell during work capacity directed training sessions (aka: metabolic conditioning) or at the end of a workout for a short burst finisher.  Think high reps with lower loads, or a highly concentrated amount of work done in a short time frame, or unique mixture of both.

When I re-stumbled onto the The Bear Barbell Complex a few weeks ago, I reintroduced myself to a style of barbell training that I used to use quite a bit, especially when available workout time was limited.

“What is The Bear Complex?, you ask.

Come a bit closer and let’s take a look…

Barrier to Entry

Tools: Barbell and plates (bumper or standard metal work fine), clock timer such as the GymBoss.
Skill:  Working knowledge of the barbell based exercises listed below.

The Exercises

#1: Power Clean

#2: Front Squat

#3:  Push Press

#4: Back Squat

#5:  Behind-the-neck Push Press

Workout Structure

–  Each movement is performed for 1 repetition before immediately moving into the next exercise.

–  1 Cycle =  1 repetition from #1-#5 in alternating/descending order.  After exercise #5’s rep, return back to exercise #1.

–  1 Round = 7 Cycles

–  Perform 5 Rounds

–  Rest 90 seconds after finishing each round.

–  Barbell weight is dependent on:

  • Weakest lift (the weakest lift determines the appropriate load, which should be sub-maximal)
  • Exercise technique and know-how.
  • Reaction to fatigue (which correlates closely with the deterioration of exercise technique)
  • Advanced Women – 95lbs
  • Advanced Men – 135lbs

The Extended Break-Down…

There are 35 reps of every movement being performed throughout all 5 rounds.  Just 35 reps.  If you consider the volume of a more traditional work-rest training session, where a squat is performed for 8 reps x 3-4sets, the volume is not much higher.

The weight used is also much lighter than a more traditional work-rest set and should be determined by your weakest lift in the complex.  For a lot of people that is going to be the push press, possibly the power clean (grip). I’m asking you to perform 5 reps for each round.  The barbell load should be a sub-maximal, which means that you should be able to push press that barbell for 8-10 reps comfortably.

My suggestions on weight for men and women are not the law.  Adjust the weight to what is appropriate for your current fitness level and know-how.

Every exercise is performed for a single rep before moving into the next exercise.  From rep to rep, you’re alternating between different movement pattern throughout each cycle.  It’s important to understand this aspect of The Bear Complex, because it’s one of it’s features that makes it so physically taxing.

Elevation Change

The barbell begins on the floor and travels to chest height after the clean and during the front squat.  After the front squat the barbell moves overhead after the push press.  The barbell then transitions from the front of the body to the back of the body on the descent down from the push press.

At this point, the barbell rests on the shoulders while you perform a back squat.  At the top of the back squat, the barbell is forcefully pressed overhead once more, and caught back into the front rack position at chest height.  The barbell is guided back to waist height and eventually back down to the floor to prepare for the next cycle, starting with a power clean.

The training stimulus elicited by moving the barbell up and down, front to back, movement to movement creates a large metabolic training effect.

Performing single rep of a movement pattern, followed by single rep of a completely different movement pattern, while bundling a bunch of different movement patterns together in a row (creating a “cycle”) is extremely fatiguing.  It’s provides a unique training stimulus for the body to cope with and also laser-like focus for the mind to keep up with since every rep involves a different movement pattern.

‘Single-rep-alternating-movement-pattern-workouts’ have proven to be an effective variation of traditional complex training, where exercises are performed for multiple repetitions before moving on to the next movement pattern.

If you’re accustomed to sectioning off your complexes, doing 6 reps of one exercise here and 6 reps of another there before moving on, alternating movement patterns with every rep will be a shock to your system.

It’s reiterating once again that alternating the movement pattern on every rep requires great skill.  The barbell is constantly changes levels, stopping and starting in different positions.  The transitions can be brutal.  There’s a high level of focus needed here.

The Fatigue is Coming…

During The Bear Complex, the first few reps/cycles usually don’t feel too rough, but the wave of fatigue that bites you in the ass somewhere around cycle 5, 6 or 7 can be overwhelming.  Possibly so much so that executing all 7 cycles for any 1 round is just plain unreasonable if you’re new it.  Don’t be afraid to remove your hands from the barbell to take a break and to gather yourself.

Loaded conditioning is a fantastic method to burn fat and develop high level work capacity which has great transfer into sport and becoming more resilient toward real life labor, but fatigue can break down your exercise technique.  Don’t be a hero here, be smart.  If 5 rounds is too much, do 4 rounds.  Be reasonable.

Movement technique first and foremost, forever and always.

Pay Attention to your grip integrity

Alternating movement patterns and transitioning the bar to different resting positions can fry your grip.  Consider that the bar is moving from the floor, to chest to over head, to shoulders, back to overhead and finally back down to the floor position.  That’s a lot of bar movement.  Don’t be afraid to walk away from the barbell if your grip starts to slip.  A quality grip is needed for the cleans.  Attempting to pull a barbell with a poor grip can be dangerous, and the fatigue that’s been created with slow your reaction/recovery time.  Again, rest for a few seconds, gather yourself, then complete the work with a solid grip.

If you’re a tenacious sweater like I am, also be aware of any sweat rolling down your forearm and into the hand/barbell interface.  Don’t push through this situation either.  Dry all surfaces with a towel and continue on.  Maybe consider using a no mess chalk solution such as HumanX Chalk Balls to help maintain grip.  Chalking your hands has come a long way.
.

This workout is advanced 

Complex training in general is an advanced form of training.

Any exercise scheduled in a complex must be an exercise that you have a familiarity with BEFORE you enter the workout.  You must have experience and proficiency in executing each of the included exercises on an individual level before you attempt a workout like The Bear Complex.  If you don’t know how to perform any one of the exercises, The Bear Complex is not the place to learn.

Explore…

If you’re looking to add in some variety to your training, give The Bear Complex a legitimate shot.  Be honest with your rest periods, your exercise technique and the structure of the reps, cycles, rounds.  Also be honest with weight that you choose to use.  There’s no shame in lessening the load if you need to.

Cheers to The Bear…

Kyle

(Video Coming Soon)

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