The Importance of Accessory Training
Written by Hunter Britt
Are you giving the same amount of energy to your accessory lift training as you are to your squats?
For most athletes, the honest answer would be no. If you are on the fence after you read that question, then the answer for you as well is no. Do you get pumped and attack a set of glute-ham raises or tempo pull-ups the same as you would a snatch or any other classic lift? I understand it is not as exciting for most of us, but it holds an entirely new set of benefits and rewards to be gained that most athletes are missing out on.
Benefits of Accessory Training
Break down what it means to train for life and use functional movements, then compare it to what your training looks like. In my life, not everything is a perfectly symmetrical, balanced barbell. Let’s pretend I need to help move my Grandfather’s near obsolete, bubble television that weighs as much as his refrigerator. The problem with the television – besides it poor quality – is that it is wedged between the bookshelf and wall. When I go to pick this up, it is most likely that I am not going to be able to have a perfectly flat back or even have my legs set up evenly next to each other. In an ideal world I would be able to set up the same way I would deadlift, but this is obviously not the case.
Now, we could say I could just always train picking up odd objects to improve my ability to lift them, but there are infinite shapes that are put into the category of “odd objects”. If I have been training with accessories lifts, which is going to allow me to be more prepared for a lift that is oddly shaped, I will be stronger in this “not strong position” when compared to someone who has been strictly training the balanced barbell movement. Here is why: by training and implementing accessories lifts, an athlete is able to substantially improve strength by stressing their body in many different angles and cause different stimulus to a certain area that a classic barbell lift may not be able to challenge as well.
Wear and Tear on the Body
To be clear, I am not saying that there are not huge benefits from the classical lifts because there are and they should continue to be performed frequently. Even with great benefits everything can have negative effects. Some of the problems that training these classic lifts all of the time as the majority with no implementation of accessory lifts is the wear and tear on the body. The constant loading of a heavy barbell on an athlete’s joints can and will start to break a body down. What accessories allow an athlete to do is to increase the volume of training while at the same time taking the stress off a specific joint. Along with allowing an increased workload they have a good range of play in them. Do not limit the accessory work to just 3×6 glute-ham raises with a rest as needed between sets all the time; instead, use them to control volume, training density, and intensity.
Training Classic Lifts Only vs Adding in Accessories
We can break strength training into two simple categories. We will use the squat as our example and the main options are implementing training with accessory lifts or performing the classic lifts only. By training the classic lift only, an athlete is going to obviously make gains with the work they are putting in, but at the same time they are going to be constantly training certain muscles and are going to be limited by their weakest muscles. If an athlete continually dumps forward on their back squats, it is a good chance that the athlete had a weak back relative to the weight they are attempting. Now take this athlete that continually dumps forward on their squat and train their posterior chain specifically with the goal of getting it strong enough to keep their chest up and avoid dumping in the future. By implementing accessory lifts into an athlete’s training, we are able to target those muscles needed to maintain the optimal squat position. An athlete that keeps failing over and over once they get above parallel but isn’t dumping their chest might have quads that are the limiting factor. I can throw the athlete on the hack squat machine, a leg press, and start getting some reps in of hip-quad extensions. Instead of having the athlete just keep squat and slowly progressing, attack the weakness and make it bulletproof.
Putting It All Together
How do you solve a puzzle? First you find the corners to get an idea of what is going on and then make the outside frame. You just built a solid base. Now that you have this puzzle piece frame made, you are not just going to try to start building the puzzle flat out hoping to get the random 500 pieces to make it to the correct destination. You are going to start finding all the pieces that look the same. The blue sky, the brown truck, the red barn, and the green grass. Group them together, then build them separately and finally you will put it all together to form a masterpiece. That is what training is! Work the quads, the hamstrings, glutes, erectors, and core, all while keeping the big picture in mind of what you are working towards. Apply this, whether you are figuring out how to put together the picture of the country home I described for a puzzle or are trying to achieve a 500 pound back squat.
Ideally an athlete will continue to train the classical lifts: squat, deadlift, clean, snatch, jerk, and bench press. At the same time though, do not rely solely on these movements to get strong. Some programs use 80% classical lifts to 20% accessories and others are complete opposite. Both show great results and for everyone the optimal prescription might be slightly different. Make sure that the accessories are not overlooked or undervalued when they show up in the program because every lift is an opportunity to become stronger.