You’ve done all sorts of barbell movements at the gym… but have you ever combined them all into one? That’s what the bear complex is, and it threatens to push you to your limits — and beyond. But what is a bear complex? How do you do it, and why should you incorporate it into your programming?
Wait, What is a Bear Complex?
The bear complex exercise is a combination of five barbell movements:
- Power clean
- Front squat
- Push press
- Back squat
- Push press
Here’s what it’s going to look like:
The five movements combined equal one rep. To make it a full workout, you can choose a set and rep scheme that makes sense for you. Consider 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps, to start. Rest for a few minutes in between. The bear complex takes a lot out of you! Your muscles need that recovery period in between sets.
In this blog, we are not going to go over the individual movements. But we have plenty of great content you might find helpful for this!
Instead, let’s talk about the transitions because that’s where most athletes get stuck.
Now, you can really look at the bear complex in two ways. You can look at it as five distinct movements, or you can sort of combine them together into one, flowing exercise. If you’re new to this, we suggest you start with the former. Look at it like this:
- Perform a power clean. Pause and take a breath.
- Perform a front squat. Pause and breathe.
- Perform a push press. Bring the barbell down behind your neck, so it finishes on your back. Take a breath.
- Perform a back squat. Breathe.
- Perform a push press. Bring the barbell down in front of your neck, so it’s back in the front rack position.
From here, you lower the bar back to the floor and prepare for the next power clean, which is the start of the next rep.
Now, once you get comfortable with this, you can combine some of these movements.
- Put the power clean and front squat together to make a full squat clean.
- Combine the squat clean and first push press to make a thruster.
- Put the back squat and second push press together to make a behind-the-neck thruster.
You’re still doing all the same things. But looking at the bear complex exercise like this will make it feel a little more seamless.
You might find this movement tough on your grip, understandably. A lot of athletes also experience wrist discomfort, since this joint has to do so much work. So, for this exercise, you might find these items really helpful:
Side note: Your wrists in particular might experience discomfort. They have to work hard to support your positioning during the power clean, front squat, and push press. Check out our collection of wrist wraps.
The Bear Complex Muscles Worked
The bear complex works — how do we say this? — literally everything. Because you’re putting five barbell exercises together in one, you’re getting a full-body burn.
Let’s break down what each individual movement targets.
- Upper back
- Erector spinae
Not bad, huh? There’s even more beyond this, but these are the main muscles put to work.
3 More Bear Complex Benefits
It doesn’t end there, though. The bear complex exercise offers a number of other benefits that translate to other things you do in the gym.
1. The Bear Complex is Excellent for Building Muscle
This one is probably a given. Anything involving this much barbell movement is bound to build muscle. Incorporating this exercise regularly into your programming is going to make all your other lifting easier. If you can perform a power clean as part of a huge complex like this, imagine what that’s going to do for your power clean, in general.
2. Your Endurance and Cardio are Going to Be Put to the Challenge
The bear complex isn’t all about lifting weights. Your lungs are going to be burning, too. You know the joke with weightlifters?
Everyone else: “How do you do cardio?”
Weightlifters: “Lift more weights faster.”
That’s what the bear complex is. You don’t know cardio until you throw a barbell in.
3. You’ll Learn to Build Power and Explosiveness
You can’t get through the bear complex — let alone several reps — without tapping into your body’s power. You’ll die out, plain and simple. This is especially the case with the power clean and push press. These two movements are less about brute strength and more about explosiveness. You can’t complete them without building tension and then exploding through your legs and hips.
What Weight Should You Use?
While we can’t give you an exact number, we can tell you this. The weight you opt for should meet two requirements:
- It should be heavy enough so that the bear complex isn’t easy.
- It should be manageable enough so that you can hang onto the barbell for the duration of the movement.
Needing to drop the barbell at any point defeats the purpose of the bear complex and actually gives you more work to do. If you can’t get through it with the weight you’re using, you’re probably going too heavy.
The bear complex is so amazing because it’s a beautiful blend of both strength-building and cardio. Your body certainly needs both, and with this exercise, you kill two birds with one stone.