This five-move barbell complex workout strengthens muscles and boosts your metabolism in 20 minutes

Woman smiling kneeling on the floor with a barbell in front of her during barbell workout
(Image credit: Getty images/ MoMo Productions)

Whether you prefer strength programs, cardio, or metcon (metabolic conditioning)  workouts, this barbell complex ticks every box. 

You only need 20 minutes and these five moves will build strength and power in your back, chest, shoulders, core, and leg muscles. 

If you’re looking to bag an efficient workout to ramp up calorie burn, increase your heart rate, and strengthen muscles all over, this one by Eric Leija fits the bill perfectly. 

The barbell complex is a sweaty metabolic conditioning torcher drawing on metcon training principles that combine power, endurance, strength, and aerobic exercise. Known as the Primal Swoledier to his dedicated following, Leija's creation will test your strength and endurance, also improving how your body uses energy.

According to Leija, this routine will get your entire body feeling worked while also torching calories. “Make sure you execute every rep with quality form to get the most out of this session,” he says. “I also included mobility warm-ups and decompression cooldowns that are optional. It will push your workout to 25-30 minutes long, but you’ll feel a lot better if you invest the extra 5-10 minutes. Let’s go!”

You heard the man. Grab one of the best yoga mats for stretching, and give this a go.  

Watch Eric Leija’s 20-minute full-body barbell complex

It’s fair to say Leija is a bit of a legend. Training out of renowned Texas-based Onnit Academy, he shares regular fitness content with more than 1 million followers across various social media platforms. This barbell complex is a winner, using a five-move AMRAP of compound exercises that work multiple major muscle groups and joints in one 20-minute session.

While a one-off session will undoubtedly burn calories and leave your body feeling worked, you’ll need to train consistently to see improvements in strength, power, and muscle mass. If you don’t have a barbell to hand, we recommend the best adjustable dumbbells on the market as a substitute. Each move could still be executed using two dumbbells, so if you’re doing a home workout in a small space, this barbell complex is transferable — and just as effective.

Exercises include:

Barbell deadlifts x5

Barbell rows x5

Barbell front squats x5

Barbell push press x5

Barbell reverse lunges per side

“Set the clock to 20 minutes and complete five reps of each movement back to back, resting as needed in between rounds,” says Leija (one round means doing five reps of each movement). “Once the clock hits the 14-minute mark, finish out the round you are on and then work on putting every movement together into a barbell flow — one rep of each movement back to back until the time is up.”

For example, start by performing one deadlift. Then, from the floor position, row once. From your row, clean your barbell or dumbbells into a front rack position and perform one front squat with elbows lifted and pointing forward. Move straight from the squat to a push press, then from the overhead position, place your weight behind your neck onto your upper back, and perform one reverse lunge per leg.

If you’re unsure, Leija takes you through every exercise with a full explanation of the session and even runs you through warm-up and cool-down drills. Try to hit three rounds of the flow without rest before adding any, where needed. 

Need a bit more guidance? Tom’s Guide covers how to deadlift, the proper form for barbell rows, and how to do a lunge with variations.

The optional mobility warm-up includes one round of 10 reps per exercise, hitting exercises like lateral reaches, hip circles, and thoracic rotations to mobilize the body before the barbell complex workout. The same applies to the decompression exercises, which include popular moves like child’s pose with arm rotations, kneeling arm threads, and (one of my favorites) alternating floor scorpion (see below). During the cool-down, perform each stretch for one minute, totaling five minutes.

When performing the five barbell exercises, imagine squeezing and contracting as many muscles as possible. For example, the push press requires a quick push from the lower body to drive the weight upwards, so keep your core nice and tight, push through your legs, and squeeze your chest, back, and shoulders in the overhead position. Create a solid shelf for your weight to sit on by slightly sticking your head through your arms and locking arms out at the top, drawing your shoulders back and down. 

If you experience pain while exercising, stop immediately and speak with a personal trainer or medical professional. I also swear by these 5 shoulder stretches relieve pain and build strength, and 3 assisted stretches develop flexibility and strength without equipment. When they’re practiced regularly, stretches and mobility exercises could help prevent developing an injury.  

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.