Single-bar barbell complexes are a challenging training method that can be used by amateur rugby players to achieve many strength and conditioning objectives. Not least of them, functional strength gains. The bear complex, in particular, includes a series of power movements that require and reinforce flexibility and muscular endurance.

The following is an analysis of the bear complex by our friends at Rugby Renegade. Their original article includes a series of training protocols that rugby players can use to stronger and more mobile all at the same time. Our revision incorporates nutrition recommendations. 

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‘The Bear Complex’ is a single bar rugby strength workout designed by our friends at Rugby Renegade. The workout was inspired by CrossFit stars Rich Froning and Dan Bailey.

Time under tension for strength

The benefit is the time under tension that you can create which will stimulate strength, hypertrophy, fat loss and metabolic conditioning. Complexes also are a unique challenge for the core and grip due to the extended time under load. Single bar barbell complexes are an all in one method to develop functional strength.

The bear complex is a 5 exercise complex consisting of:

  • 1 Power Clean
  • 1 Front Squat
  • 1 Push Press
  • 1 Back Squat
  • 1 Push Press (behind the neck)

Check out this video for a demo of the Bear Complex:


Before we move on to workout programming, let’s talk about what you’ll need to eat before undertaking the bear complex. Below, you’ll find two categories of bear complex programs for two different purposes; strength and conditioning. If you’re attempting a 1RM variation of the complex, including the rapid fire version, we suggest you use a pre-workout supplement with Niacin, Vitamin B12 and Creatine Monohydrate.

Niacin is vitamin involved in muscle cell energy metabolism while Vitamin B12 is integrally involved in red blood cell (RBC) development. Both these metabolic processes are critical for performance of strength movements. Similarly, Creatine Monohydrate helps to prevent decrement of strength during a power workout. 

If you’re looking to use the bear complex as a conditioning tool, consider incorporating a couple of different supplements like L-Arginine and nitrate powders. Each of these compounds is used by the body to produce nitric oxide in the bloodstream which is critical for efficient circulation. Elevated levels of nitric oxide are associated with performance benefits, especially as it relates to endurance athletes. Each of these can be used to help your bear complex workout last a little bit longer. 

For any of the programs listed below, we suggest eating some fruit and salts before you get started. We’re not usually huge fans of fruit. As we’ve outlined in the past, rugby programs like the All Blacks have gone away from carbohydrate-based nutrition. But if you’re going to be doing high-intensity lifting program like the bear complex, you’re going to need some extra energy in the form of complex carbohydrates from fresh fruit. 

Notice as well that we mentioned salts, NOT electrolytes. Unfortunately, when you say electrolytes these days everyone immediately thinks “big F*ing Gatorade”. That’s not what we mean. Rather than throwing those empty fiber-less calories into your body, get a pinch of sea salt and put it straight into a glass of water. All the benefits, none of the negatives. Now on to programming!


So, once you have the Bear Complex exercises down whats the best way to perform it? Here’s a few great ways to try depending on your goals.


This is dead simple. Start with a moderate weight and build up until you hit the heaviest weight you can manage! Rest 2-3 mins after you perform each complex to allow sufficient recovery so you can lift maximally. As with all complexes you will be limited by your weaker exercises but you will still get some good volume with decent weights.


Exactly the same as the last method only you don’t rest 2-3mins but only as long as it takes you to load the bar up! Use jumps in weight of 5-10kg depending on your strength level and how much work you want to do! Obviously you won’t get up to as heavy weights but you will know you’ve had a good conditioning workout by the end!


Every minute on the minute for 10 minutes perform 1 bear complex with 80% of your Push Press 1RM. This is a great way to get some great volume and time under tension with a decent load in just ten minutes.


Inspired by CrossFit legend Rich Froning and his battle with Dan Bailey. Pick a weight with a partner and compete to complete 30 reps the quickest! Not for the faint of heart!


Load = Moderate-Light!

Here you perform:

  • 1 complex rest 60 secs
  • 2 consecutive complexes rest 60 secs
  • 3 consecutive complexes rest 60 secs
  • 4 consecutive complexes rest 60 secs
  • 5 consecutive complexes rest 60 secs

Collapse in a heap!


The goal here is more for hypertrophy than conditioning. Choose a moderate weight and perform 3-5 reps of each exercise of the complex for 3-5 sets with 2-3 mins rest.


This time the goal is more conditioning/fat loss. Choose a light weight and perform 6-8 reps of each exercise in the complex for 3-4 sets with 60-90s rest. The 60secs rest really does fly by on this one!


As stated earlier complexes can be limited by certain exercises and in this case the push press. To get round this we will do higher reps for the lower body exercises. It works out to:

  • 3 Power Cleans
  • 5 Front Squats
  • 2 Push Press
  • 5 Back Squats
  • 2 Push Press

The Heavy Legs Bear Complex is an unbelievably tough leg workout 3-4 sets is usually enough!


For time:

  • Complex of 1 rep each exercise
  • Complex of 2 rep each exercise
  • Complex of 3 rep each exercise
  • Complex of 4 rep each exercise
  • Complex of 5 rep each exercise

Use a moderate to light weight and rest as much or as little as you need.


Hopefully you can see the benefits of the Bear Complex and now have a few workouts to try! Give them a go and let us know how you get on. Just remember its harder than you think!! #BuildingMachines


Training Team

We are building the most comprehensive library of training materials for amateur and pro rugby players. With protocols for hitting training goals including power, agility and strength. Our team consists of elite-level trainers from rugby, S&C, powerlifting and performance nutrition backgrounds.