The Best Way to Use Accessory Lifts

When I was first introduced to the term “accessory lifts” I was led to believe that it constituted all the lifts that were not your compound movement and trained the muscles not trained by your compound movement. For about a year this is how I approached accessory training- using tricep exercises at the end of my bench press day etc. It was only when I switched permanently to power lifting did I begin to see them differently. For those veterans of my blog you will know that I play rugby- a sport dominated by the big and powerful.

Taniela Tupou.jpg

Exhibit A (not me)

A very good way to become as big and powerful as Taniela Tupou (above) is to take up power lifting.

For those unfamiliar with the discipline, power lifting is a sport centred around your ability to complete the “big three” lifts- squat, bench press and deadlift. Your total, a combination of your best attempt per lift, is compared against other lifters. So to be a major figure in the power lifting community you only need to be good at three lifts. This is where accessory work enters the stage. A powerlifters accessory work will be aimed at improving either the bench press, squat or deadlift. They will not waste time or energy training muscles absent from those three lifts. This is how you should approach the use of accessories.

As mentioned rather badly in my build your own gym plan series (part 1, part 2, part 3) this type of accessory use works best if you have a sport specific need. To explain I will use me as an example. I play rugby. To do so well, I need to have upper body strength- so I have a bench press day. Within the day of training I have two sections.

  1. The main compound movement
  2. The accessory lifts.

The first section, made up of compound movements, are my flat barbell bench press and my incline barbell bench press. These take the most energy, are the most important and are the most applicable to rugby (the sport in question). Hence these come first.

The next section are my accessory lifts and the focus of this article. To complete a bench press I need tricep, pec major, pec minor and anterior deltoid strength. This is what I will train. So I have a skull crusher and close grip bench superset to deal with the triceps. I do a landmine press to train my pec minor. And I have a variety of dumbbell presses to attack my pec major.

For every compound movement that I complete this is the thought process behind the training. Its a list of requirements at the basic muscular level not simply a rough estimate at a lagging body part. The change is one of perspective- it is slight but will change the way you think about training.

If you feel I have bombarded you with something you may not fully understand then do not worry. Even the most simple of training plans you can find in the depths of the internet will roughly follow this way of thinking. It may not be the intention but often times a bench press (for example) will be paired with other chest exercises and so the specific muscles mentioned previously will be trained.

Proper programming is much harder than it looks and will provide you with the best chance to achieve your fitness goals and reach your sporting potential. This article was aimed at helping you develop the abilities to create and build your own plan- having said that there is no shame in asking for help. If you need it then just contact me and free, impartial advice will follow.

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