Assistance work will make you very strong.
In fact, it’s pretty clear that you won’t reach your full potential in the gym without it.
Point to any great lifter, or any great program, and you will see that a large portion of the total work is devoted to exercises that target specific weaknesses. A break will happen if there is a weakness along the chain. At best, it will cost you your potential. Of course, the whole trick with assistance work is matching it to your specific weakness. For that reason it’s a very good idea to start with an external assessment.
Get a coach or knowledgeable, honest buddy to watch you lift or train with you for awhile. Warm-up, take light lifts and heavy. If you can’t find a buddy, record yourself training and toss it up on social media for comment. Most people will give you honest feedback.
That’s what you’re after – Objectivity. If you’re on your own you will very likely do what you think you need to do. Maybe you’ll just do what you want. But that’s a pretty bad way to find and address weakness. If you stick to what you think or prefer you might end up waisting a lot of resource.
For example, many people pull endless reps off the ground in training, when in reality they almost always fail on the jerk. Maybe they fear getting under the bar. Maybe they are not being pushed in training, or they just love to deadlift. In any case, just know that you cannot make anything meaningful happen in the gym unless you commit fully. Put real time into what you need most.
The objective voice will point you towards what you cannot see for yourself. Yes, it sucks to feel weak, especially once you actually start working on deficits in training. However, nothing will make you stronger faster.
Find out where you’re weak. Be honest with yourself. Pay close attention to where you fail. Achieve balance in your programming and you’ll reap rapid reward.
You might start by accounting for the big, obvious things…
1. How strong is your back?
If you are new to lifting, or if you struggle keeping your shoulders over the barbell during a snatch, let’s say, then you must to spend more time bending over at the hip under load.
The very best thing you can do for yourself is tons of good mornings, back raises, stiff-legged deadlifts, reverse-hyperextensions, that sort of thing. A strong back will drive all of your lifts upwards.
2. Every one needs single-leg work.
We don’t have to debate the benefits of single versus double leg work in the gym. That debate is ridiculous. The obvious and best answer is to train both ways, balanced according to your specific goals.
Most people need a lot more single-leg work, but even strong and fit lifters need this in their assistance programming. It’s an amazing tool for keeping healthy hips and glutes.
3. Strong lifts doesn’t equal strong core.
If you want to maximize your strength, you simply must have a bulletproof midsection. If you don’t, all the arm and leg strength in the world won’t matter much. Every time you catch a record clean or snatch, you will fold over.
To paraphrase the great American poet, 50 Cent, a great weightlifter cannot afford to be like a pop-tart, soft in the middle.
Heavy barbells do a great job of it, but snatches, cleans and squats alone are not enough to train the core. If you believe that, just subject yourself to a tough session of V-ups, hollow body holds, or grappler twists. You will no doubt discover a different reality. Also, you will not be able to get out of bed the next day, or poop at all. So be careful.
4. Handstand holds are the shit!
Gymnastics and weightlifting go hand-in-hand because both are expressions of basic human movements. Mechanically, there are limited ways you can effectively bound, pull, lift a load overhead, etc. Physics makes it so, folks. So if you can spend more of your time practicing core moment skills, you’ll get transfer across the board.
An amazing example is the handstand. If you get into an inverted vertical position, congratulations! Your shoulders are very likely in great position. They have to be. If you cannot quite get there, work on it. Hard. Often. Nudge closer and closer to vertical. Maintain that hollow body position. As you improve, so will your jerk. The laws governing going overheard apply to both movements.
5. Pull horizontally WAY more often.
Pull-ups are generally over-programmed in fitness gyms. You might be great at them. Maybe you’re fighting desperately to earn your first dead-hang rep. But regardless, you’re probably pulling vertical way too often.
You need to achieve a balance in you programming between vertical and horizontal pulling. Adding in barbell, machine, cable or even banded rows can have a quick and amazing effect on performance. Pull with one hand and two, with heavy dumbbells or kettle bells.
Pull anything you want, really. The more ways you can make your arms and back strong, the better off you will be.
Need help figuring out your assistance work? Just leave a comment below the article. We’d be happy to help you out bust your weakness.
Really liked this post, very informative. What would you guys recommend as assistance work in terms of making your snatch & clean faster?
There are not tricks to moving faster. Honestly, you should just spend time around faster lifters. You need to “get it” by seeing it live, then fight to keep up.
Which single-leg exercises do you recommend the most?
I’ve definitely felt there’s a disparity between the strength in my right and left legs, but I’m not sure how to go about fixing it.
I’m picky. I go with the movement that’s most comfortable. My toes hate lunges, so I typically put my back leg up on a bar/rail/pad then just do deep one-legged squats. Usually always with a barbell on the back.
Great article! What would you recommend for improving leg strength for squats? I am so weak in the legs, to the point that I can squat and push press the same weight. That can’t be right. :/
If that’s true you need to simply do it more. How often do you squat now? I would say, with moderate weights, you should be squatting at least 2-3 times a week. High bar. Full depth. Adding weight as you can. Stay very conservative and patient, and just practice.
Thank you!! I am probably only doing it once a week on average. I’ll step it up. 🙂
[…] Read the full article here: What Variety, Accessory Work or Skill Work Would Be Recommended To Improve The Olympic Lifts? […]
Nailed it….. Enough said!!!!
Hi Chris. I get low back pain from dead lifts. I’m thinking I need more core strength. Would you agree? Also have a lot of shoulder pain from over head work. Gonna do more horizontal work. Thanks. Mike…
I need to focus on mid and upper back – winged scaps, don’t activate my lats in most movements. Besides rows, what else should I do?
Rich, I am an athletic trainer, winged scapula is typically due to weak Serratus Anterior muscles, this can lead to shoulder instability and possible other problems down the line. Serratus punches with a band or cable are excellent, but you must make sure you aren’t shrugging upward letting your upper trap fire too much. With a straight arm grasp the band or cable while facing away from it and punch forward from the shoulder. Also, the plus part of the push up plus is great for the serratus. Lower traps also might need some work, these can be worked with high banded face pulls/rows, the high angle targets the way the direction that the fibers of the lower traps run, always start the row with straight arms and squeeze your scapula together, setting them in proper position, then perform the row, controlled. Focus on your serratus mainly, add lower trap once the serratus can fire properly. You can google some of these exercises for an example. Hope this helps!
The new Q&A is awesome, as well as all of the many amazing things you guys do, thank you for sharing your knowledge and wanting to make others better without looking for something in return, a truly novel concept.
How can I get programming from you guys?
Hi Chris, how would you recommend prioritizing accessory work for multiple deficiencies? For example, I want to work on both handstands (I can go against the wall, but it’s a bad hollow position) and core (I get rounded with heavy front squats and cleans). I’m following G. Everett’s weight gain program from his book. To mix these in 3-4 week cycles would it be better to focus on 1 of these 2-3 times a week and alternate cycles? Or both 1-2 times a week every cycle?
Hey there Barbell Shrugged! Great info, have already incorporated most of this from previous episodes/weightlifting guide and have already gone up 15lbs on my jerk. What episode if you know is the one about the core work Mike referenced? Thanks much.
What assistance work can i do for having a weaker shoulder then other
Great info and great writing… #3 had me laughing out loud in a doc’s waiting room. 🙂
[…] These assistance exercises will prove even more valuable if you can’t get into proper positions due to a lack of mobility, strength or even injury. This supplemental work is therefore essential if you want to build your foundation and progress to t… […]
I am following the muscle gain challenge, just completed week 2. So far there hardly any accessory work. Should I be doing some? In that case what so I start doing? Many thanks