Abs & Core, Full Body, Sprints, HIIT & Conditioning

Full-Body Barbell Complex & Core Conditioning

barbell complex for cardio

Barbell complexes (i.e. strength circuits that takes compound, multi-joint lifts and pieces them together) are a great way to get a full-body workout—providing awesome conditioning, fat-burning and muscle-building benefits while helping improve over-all stamina and working capacity. “Lifting weights faster” (coined by one of my favourite fitness resources, Jen Sinkler) is the answer to cardio for people who hate pounding it out on the dreadmill (and want to preserve their gains, plus get all of the benefits that steady cardio won’t give you). Barbell complexes are a perfect example of how to “lift weights faster”—they’re much like sprints in the way that they leave you breathless, burning, and drenched in sweat. Overall, they’re an awesome bang for your workout buck, and a great addition to your training regimen when you’re looking for a challenge or to switch things up. Because they rely on compound lifts performed quickly, technique know-how and maintaining good form are key, so this type of workout may not be ideal for beginners.

In this workout, I’ve taken a standard barbell complex and thrown in some extra core moves as finishers. The full-body movements of the complex already place demands on the core, but the last two exercises really deliver that love-hate burn across the abs and obliques.

After the warm up, the workout consists of performing the below exercises back-to-back without a rest (i.e. barbell complex + barbell pushups + hanging leg raises). Repeat 4 – 5 times, breaking long enough between complexes to be able to complete the next round.

Warm Up

  • 5 minutes moderate running or peddling on a stationary bike and some mobility work—enough to get you sweating a bit and loosened up

Barbell Complex

When choosing a weight, don’t be afraid to start on the lighter side. This isn’t about setting PRs—it’s about finding a weight that is challenging, gets the heart pounding, but makes it manageable to complete the sequence without breaking.

  • 5 x deadlifts
  • 5 x bent over rows
  • 5 x clean and press
  • 5 x front squats
  • 5 x back squats

Plank with Leg Lift

  • Plank with 20 alternating leg lifts (10 per leg). Get in the plank position, squeezing the abs for stability. Alternate leg lifts for 20 reps, 10 per side, leading with the heel and squeezing through the glute. For an extra challenge, instead of a plank, make it a push-up that’s simultaneous with each leg lift.

Hanging Leg Raises

Find a pull up station, and with either a close-grip or wide-grip (for extra challenge), hold on to the bars and let the weight of your body hang. Then perform:

  • 10 hanging leg raises. Bend the knees slightly and raise them up while hanging by contracting the core. For additional challenge, try a straight-legged raise by forming a 90 degree angle when raising the legs.
  • 10 twisting leg raises (5 per side). For these, knees should be bent and the twist movement can either alternate from side to side, or perform 5 on the right then 5 on the left.

That’s it—simple enough, but tough! The great thing about workouts like this is that room for improvement is built in, whether it’s working up to a heavier weight, or timing the workout to try to break records for speed over time (or both). This workout is extra sweaty, so don’t forget to refuel, hydrate and recover adequately once you’re done. You’ll have earned it! 🙂

Resources & Recommended Reading