How To Do The Bear Complex

The bear complex is a classic CrossFit move. A series of barbell exercises stitched together, it’s a great way to build strength and push through your limits. 

Performing complexes is tricky, however, and they can take a while to learn. 

But doing them will really benefit you and is a great way to progress your lifts. 

We invited Norwich Spitfire CrossFit coach Sheena Valentina into the Mirafit studio, to break down the moves and demonstrate each part in sequence. 

In the video Sheena goes through each stage of the bear complex while using a Technique Bar.  

These are 4ft and weigh just 2.5kg, making them perfect for working on your technique and form. They also help to reduce fatigue and risk of injury from using a loaded bar while you’re still learning. 

What is a barbell complex in CrossFit? 

A complex refers to a series of moves that are performed in one go using the same piece of equipment. 

The movements are performed back-to-back without any rests. 

The bear complex is done with a full-size, traditional 7ft Olympic barbell. As you progress, you can up the weight to increase the difficulty.  

The bear complex broken down

The bear complex is a sequence of barbell exercises which go as follows: 

  • Power clean 
  • Front squat 
  • Push press 
  • Back squat 
  • Push press 
  • (Reset) 

Power clean 

  • Start with the bar in front of you on the floor 
  • Feet should be hip width apart 
  • Hands need to be slightly wider than your shoulders  
  • Make sure your feet are flat and your toes are pointing forwards 
  • Pick the bar up and as you do, shrug your shoulders up 
  • Then pull the bar under and adjust your grip around until your wrists are underneath the bar 
  • The bar will land in the finished clean grip position 
  • Once you have ‘received’ the bar, your elbows should be raised and horizontal with the floor  
  • And your hands will be slightly wider than your shoulders  
  • The bar will be in contact with your front delts 

Front squat 

  • Widen your feet slightly so that they’re in a squat stance 
  • Make sure your hands are comfortable and that your elbows are nice and high 
  • Go down into the front squat while keeping your chest elevated 
  • Breathe in and hold that breath in as you go down 
  • Keep your heels flat on the floor 
  • And make sure your glutes are lower than your knees 
  • Push back up and release your breath as you reach the top 

Push press 

  • Dip back down with the bar still in the power clean position 
  • Next you need to press the bar up so that your arms are straight, and your chest is elevated 
  • Remember to move your chin out of the way as you push the bar up 
  • The bar path should be straight 

Back squat 

  • Like the front squat, keep your heels on the ground and your chest elevated 
  • Take a breath and then go down into the squat 
  • Take your glutes past your knees 
  • And then push back up while releasing your breath as you reach the top 

Push press 

  • Press the bar up so that your arms are straight, and your chest is elevated 
  • Bring it over your head and back down into the finished clean position as before 

Reset the bar 

  • Drop the bar back down and around into the hang position 
  • And then lower it back down by bending your knees, pushing your glutes out and keeping your back straight 

Exercises to improve your bear complex 

One of the benefits of the bear complex is that it hits pretty much every muscle in your body. So, it’s great for strengthening. 

However, doing a barbell complex can take a long time to master. And because you’re using the same weight to squat and press, you need to make sure you have a good level of upper body strength. 

Most people who train can squat with a good amount of weight. But being able to press that same amount of weight above their heads is another matter. 

To help, we’ve put together some key exercises you can do to help target weak links and build up strength to improve your barbell complex. 

The exercises: 

fitness expert does dumbbell shoulder press with mirafit hex weights

1) Dumbbell shoulder press 

Shoulder strength is key in being able to push press. By doing dumbbell shoulder presses, you’ll be able to avoid asymmetries as well as develop your control and stabilising muscles.  

2) Bulgarian split squats 

These are great for building your quads which are essential for squats. And because they’re effectively lunges, you can get to a really good depth to strengthen and build.  

Use a sandbag to add a good amount of weight while you train. 

3) Stretches and mobility work 

Squats as well as other powerlifting moves require a good amount of mobility and flexibility. So, it’s really important to keep up your shoulder exercises as well as your hip exercises. Resistance bands as well as foam rollers can help you work these areas. 

4) Goblet squats 

These are great for helping you practise your squats as well as your wrist mobility.  

Hold a dumbbell close to your chest so that your wrists are extended back towards your front delts. 

5) Barbell push press 

Being comfortable with a barbell is a really big part of performing a lot of CrossFit moves. And practising the push press with a barbell is key for building upper body strength as well as getting used to the movements. 

6) Romanian deadlifts 

Romanian deadlifts not only help you build strength in your hamstrings, glutes and lower back, but they also help to increase your hip mobility. This is because you’re not dropping the weight down to the floor each time. 

They also really focus the posterior chain and are great for helping to improve your cleans as well as your squats. 

7) Bent over rows 

Bent over rows are great for working your back and core. And these are both really important for supporting the bar when doing the bear complex. 

Aim to have your chest horizontal with the floor. But, remember your back needs to stay straight so go as low as you can while maintaining good posture. 

Also, remember to take your elbows right back as high as they can go, to really target your lats and upper back. 

8) Shrugs 

Shrugs are great for helping you build strength for performing cleans. You can use a barbell for this exercise, but you can also use a shrug bar to help ease any strain on your wrists. 

Looking to get started? Head over to our CrossFit equipment section to get kitted out. 

And if you have any questions, find us on Instagram @MirafitOfficial