Written by Invictus Athlete Josh Littauer
As a coach, I often hear athletes say things like, “Well, I just need to get stronger,” or “I really need to have a more solid squat,” or “I just wish I could do pull-ups.” Every CrossFitter has a movement or skill that feels just out of reach and when it surfaces in a workout, it serves as that nagging reminder of something you badly want to master, but just haven’t yet. It’s the carrot dangling right in front of the proverbial horse.
We’ve been talking about what it means to own your fitness, and this is an excellent example of what it means to do just that. There are things you can do as an athlete to identify your weaknesses and then take the steps to overcome them.
Whatever the situation is, there is an answer and a way to remedy the problem or fine-tune that movement so that you can stop chasing that phantom pull-up or feel frustrated every time double-unders or back squats come around. With some work, your weaknesses can actually become your strengths.
What is one of the ways to do this? Accessory strength training!
What is accessory strength training exactly?
When most CrossFitters think of gaining strength they think of squatting, deadlifting, pressing, or Olympic lifting. These are your big lifts and what we tend to associate the word “strength” with. Accessory is referring to smaller movements that target a specific area that is deficient or needs to be strengthened. Practically, this could be anything from pull-up negatives and banded lat pulldowns to hamstring curls and weighted hip thrusts. There are endless possibilities when it comes to ways to strengthen your body and specifically focus on weak areas.
I know, accessory strength training may not be the prettiest or most fun to watch; and integrating it as part of your fitness routine may not have the thrill or allure of PR’ing your snatch, but it is an extremely important piece to rounding out your fitness and is often the vehicle that can help speed you towards the mastery of a skill or movement.
Accessory training not only provides a change of pace from the typical CrossFit structure of a big lift and a conditioning piece, but has several other benefits as well.
Accessory strength helps create balance. Often when performing big lifts an athlete will bias one side over the other causing instability or weakness on one side.
Accessory strength can help prevent injuries caused by these imbalances and also be used as a way to rehab a prior injury.
Accessory training can be one solution to helping break through plateaus if an athlete has seen a stagnation in strength or performance.
Here are a few signs that adding in accessory strength training might be for you (hint, everyone will fit somewhere in this list):
1) You are lacking strength in a specific muscle group and it is holding up your progress.
2) You are have an imbalance that has caused an injury or is causing some type of pain.
3) You lack stability to support a load.
4) You struggle to perform the big lifts without losing your spinal position or you get caught disengaging your posterior.
5) You currently have or had an injury.
6) You struggle to achieve a specific skill.
Hopefully, that list is all inclusive, because accessory training applies to everyone!
Now that we have identified that everyone should be doing accessory work, let’s identify different types of accessory work and how it applies.
Strength & Stability
This is an area that is broad and inclusive to any additional exercises that will supplement the big lifts, as well as build strength that will help an athlete be able to achieve a desired skill. In most cases, this type of accessory focuses on core and posterior strength necessary to help an athlete move a greater load, but can also be used to provide the necessary strength to accomplish a skill. For example, an athlete who wants to increase their squat or deadlift will benefit from extra hamstring and glute exercises to strengthen their posterior chain. This would also apply to an athlete who is trying to get a strict pull-up or handstand push-up; adding in some additional shoulder exercises will help to build the upper body strength needed for these movements.
This type of accessory comes in the form of progressions that will create muscle patterns to help an athlete achieve a desired skill. For example, the ability to do a muscle-up does not come natural to most athletes and there will be a need for progressions that will allow the athlete to create the muscle patterns without failing a muscle-up dozens of times. Acquiring the strength to accomplish a skill can also be a part of your skill accessory, such as pull-up negatives.
Some people wouldn’t classify this as accessory training, but it is an important piece to building strength and developing skill. Mobility is often the limiting factor in gaining both skill and strength as the athlete’s range of motion is insufficient to properly execute a movement. Whether that be hip, shoulder, ankle, or any other parts of the body that lack of range of motion, adding in the necessary accessory mobility work will speed up an athlete’s progress.
No matter what your area of focus needs to be, there is accessory for everyone. Do not allow yourself to be held back by a gap in your fitness or ability. Sometimes all it takes is a little extra work on the side to really get you where you need to go…whether that be some extra pull-up negatives, making use of that GHD machine, or spending more time doing mobility, don’t be limited by an inability. Find the problem, own your fitness, and get in the accessory training you need to meet your goals. Don’t let that carrot stay out of reach, do what it takes to get over the hurdle and achieve that skill or strength goal.
Be on the lookout for future posts where we’ll go into more specifics on accessory work and direct applications so you can identify exactly where you want to go and the steps you need to get there.
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