Sometimes, when training, we need to push ourselves a bit more than we usually do. We might have some extra energy to burn. Maye we're training for a competition. We could even be just tired of burpees exercises and wall balls. No! Dumbbell workouts are great, but nothing beats a barbell cycling workout for improving power, strength, and cardiovascular fitness. And nothing will get your heart rate running at breakneck speed and your shoulders and legs screaming for mercy faster than the Bear Complex WOD.
Generally considered a WOD for people with strong shoulders and an ability to ignore pain, the Bear Complex WOD is a popular CrossFit benchmark WOD, designed to test physical and mental strength. In contrast to many other CrossFit benchmarks, the Bear Complex is not scored for time, but maximum load.
The CrossFit Bear Complex WOD Workout
Here's the standard Workout Of The Day (WOD):
5 Rounds for Maximum Load of
7 Unbroken Sets of the Barbell Complex:
- 1 Power Clean
- 1 Front Squat
- 1 Push Press
- 1 Back Squat
- 1 Push Press (Behind the Neck)
Completing the five exercises in succession counts as one set. Athletes must complete the barbell complex seven times unbroken to complete one round. Unbroken sets mean the barbell cannot be placed on the ground or dropped at any point in a round. After each round, you can rest for as long as required before increasing the weight and starting the next round. Once 5 rounds are complete, the maximum weight used for your fifth complete round is your score.
The Bear Complex can be completed ‘strict’ or ‘linked’. A strict Bear Complex consists of each movement being executed as prescribed. A linked Bear Complex couples certain moves together, allowing maximal efficiency.
Strict Bear Complex
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Keeping a tight core and lumbar curve, send the hips back and grip the bar. Drive through the heels to simultaneously extend the hips and shoulders. Once the bar has reached just below knee level, rapidly extend the hips and knees to reach triple extension. When the bar becomes weightless, shrug the shoulders and pull yourself under the bar to catch in a partial squat position. Stand tall to complete the rep.
From a front rack position, keeping a tight core and lumbar curve, send the hips down and back past your knees to a full squat position. Drive through the heels to fully extend at your hips and knees, while keeping knees in line with the toes and elbows high.
Example of athlete performing front squat:
Again, from a front rack position, bend the knees until a partial squat positioned is reached. Then perform a push press by pushing through the heels to fully extend the hips and knees. Using the momentum from the dip, fully extend the arms overhead.
From the overhead position carefully lower the bar to sit on the upper back. Upon impact, slightly bend the knees to absorb some of the weight. Standing straight, keep a lumbar curve and a tight core, send the hips back and down until the hips are lower than the knees. Drive through the heels to fully extend the hips and knees, keeping the knees in line with the toes.
Back squat example:
Push Press (Behind the Neck)
With the bar on the upper back, bend the knees until a partial squat position is reached. Then push through the heels to fully extend the hips and knees. Using the momentum from the dip, fully extend the arms overhead. Carefully lower the bar to a front rack position to begin the next set, or finish the round.
Example of behind the neck catch and push press:
Linked Bear Complex
The linked version allows athletes to eliminate pauses between the squat to overhead portions by completing a thruster. Each prescribed movement will be completed within a squat clean thruster and a back-squat thruster. Eliminating pauses allows for momentum to be used throughout the complex, therefore enabling more load to be moved.
The technique for each exercise will be the same as above. The difference will be in the transitions from one movement to the next.
Squat Clean Thruster
In a squat clean thruster, you are eliminating the full extension after the power clean, and the dip in the push press. Instead of performing a power clean, you will drop straight into a front squat by performing a full squat clean. Then, you will use the momentum of the front squat to push the bar overhead and complete the press.
Back Squat Thruster
In a back-squat thruster, you are eliminating the dip in the push press (behind the neck). You will use the momentum of the back squat to push the bar overhead and complete the press (behind the neck).
WOD Advice & Tips
Save Your Grip
Holding onto a bar for a total of 35 reps is a tough ask, especially with a heavy load. Although you cannot drop the bar during a round, you can loosen your grip at certain points to release some tension in the forearms. During the front and back squat, you can rest the bar on your fingers, rather than a full grip. This will give your forearms a quick break, and prolong inevitable grip fatigue.
Recover Between Rounds
Remember, this workout is for load not time, ensure you are recovering between each round. I would suggest taking 3-5 minutes between rounds, you want to break for long enough to lower your heart rate and replenish your ATP stores, but not too long that your body temperature drops and you begin to stiffen up. In between rounds keep warm by going for a little walk and performing some light dynamic stretches.
Don’t be a hero and go all out in the first round. You have five rounds to reach your maximum load, use it wisely. Remember, this workout may be for load, but it’s not a 1RM. I suggest planning the weights you want to work up to before completing the workout, you can always adjust based on feel. Throughout the first four rounds, you want to use weights that will gradually prepare your body and mind for the final load.
Rest Within Rounds
This might sound contradictory given the bar cannot be dropped and momentum will be our friend. However, if you find yourself struggling, use the time between the thrusters to rest the bar and catch your breath, remember this workout is not for time. This way you won't lose momentum and you can mentally and physically prepare yourself for the next movement.
Like all CrossFit workouts, the Bear Complex can be scaled to suit your level. The Bear Complex requires good technique and strength endurance. To maximize the benefits of this workout you will need to move correctly for unbroken sets. Choose a level to ensure you gain maximum benefits from this workout.
Perform the linked Bear Complex, increasing weight every round.
Perform the linked Bear Complex, increasing weight every other round.
Perform the strict Bear Complex, increasing weight every round.
Perform the strict Bear Complex, with a light weight for all five rounds.
CrossFit fan. Ex-personal trainer, triathlete, and cross-country mountain biker. Masters Competitive CrossFit athlete. Writer and blogger.