We all know those strength-sport athletes who never get in their accessory work. They snatch, clean and jerk, squat, deadlift, and/or bench, and then they’re out of the gym. Or, they lackadaisically go through their accessory work, obviously showing the world they have no interest in doing any of it. This, personally, drives me insane. So, I am going to lay out three reasons for people to get serious about their accessory work…
1) More Muscle
Incorporating some accessory work into your program is a good way to pack on more muscle. The snatch, clean and jerk are not good exercises to specifically build muscle, and the squat, bench, and deadlift can only give you so much in regard to increasing muscle mass. If you’re only squatting for 5 sets of 3 reps in one day, that’s not going to give you enough stimulus to effectively add muscle. Low reps and heavy weight are great to get you stronger, but they aren’t the best way to add muscle.
While most strength gains come neurologically or with better technique, increasing muscle mass can also add some kilos or pounds to your lifts. Adding more muscle can increase the contractile force of the muscle, resulting in increased strength gains. Also, increasing muscle mass in trained lifters is a big factor in increasing strength among these lifters. While there are a multitude of factors that influence one’s ability to increase strength, muscle size surely plays a factor and is a variable that you can control. Here is a really great article that explains in great detail the factors that influence strength: https://www.strongerbyscience.com/size-vs-strength/.
2) Address Weaknesses
Accessory work is a great opportunity to work on the things you suck at. Just sticking to the competition lifts can leave out your ability to address certain issues. The competition lifts, because they are so dynamic and have multiple moving parts, make it harder to address some things specifically. For example, if someone has weak glutes and hamstrings that cause their butt to fly up when coming out of a squat, a squat might not be the best way to fix that. If someone’s knees keep caving in when they are squatting and all the cueing in the world isn’t helping, they may need some specific accessory work to address the issue. These people might need to incorporate some glute-ham raises into their program, glute-ham hypers, or some wide-stance box squats to specifically address these issues. This allows them to only focus on the muscles surrounding the hips (where they suck) and completely takes the quads out of the equation; whereas, a normal back squat might not allow them to do his. Adding in some basic accessory exercises is a great way to address weaknesses in a lifter’s chain. Getting stronger in areas where someone is typically weak can result in bigger numbers on the competition lifts.
3) More Work, Less Damage Done
Competition lifts can take a heavy toll on the nervous system and joints. Most of the body’s joints are usually in play during all competition lifts, causing more stress to be directed to the joints, and most of the time, the weight is heavier, causing the body’s central nervous system to play a huge role. When lifting something super heavy, the nervous system is heavily involved and the extra weight is something that the nervous system can’t sustain. Just think about how you felt the next couple of days after deadlifting something super heavy. The next day you might have come to the gym and a 135 lb. bar on your back felt like a truck. I know. I’ve been there. This is another reason why accessory work can be so beneficial. Accessory exercises usually involve less weight, with movement occurring only at a single joint, and sometimes multiple joints. Because of this, you can get a lot of work in and not feel like complete crap the next day. You might experience some muscle soreness, but it won’t be the nervous system and joint fatigue you might feel the day after you max out. It’s the reason why you could do a bunch of rows and curls on one day and come back in and do the same thing the very next day. Even if some muscles are sore, you still might feel like you can still do the exercises without too much difficulty. If you want to be a stronger Powerlifter, Weightlifter, Strongman, etc., you aren’t going to be able to just do the competition lifts each day. The days when you feel like crap are good days to add more accessory work to get in some of the quality training that you might be missing. There’s a reason why the best in the world do these things.