“The wider the Base, the taller the Pyramid.”
What is what and where it belongs
First, we should put in perspective, where is accessory work on our pyramid. In strength training, there are the big lifts, squat, deadlift, and bench press. For our purposes I would like to rather use my term, I call them the big moves and add C&J, snatch and strongman lifts onto the list (gymnastics movements too, however, we are in weightlifting here.)
Comment below if you’d like some more gymnastics talk.
After all, we are not strength only athletes.
The big moves are the tip of our pyramid, they are our goals, they are what we strive to get better at.
Then there is the accessory work, the training we do to push the tip of the pyramid higher, the base that supports our peak performance.
Big Moves Only Training
Of course, it is possible to get better by doing the big moves only, practically speaking they give us the best reward to effort ratio. A Squat is the most effective way of strengthening your legs, Tire Flipping is best in training you to flip bigger tires faster, and Snatching makes you better in Snatching.
Executed properly and in good form, they are excellent. Note: Proper execution is the major key!
HOWEVER! Such a method of training won’t bring any of us nearly as far, as a balanced training plan building from the bottom up.
Before moving on, an example to when big lifts alone aren’t sufficient.
Barbell front squat, they will get better and better until, someday, the elbows may start falling down and the back will bend round.
Looks like a weakness in the upper back. There it would be wise to think of doing front squats with kettlebells in front rack position, so you train pulling yourself upright, one variation further would be holding the kettlebells in the off-rack position (in the front rack your fists are positioned below the chin and don’t touch, in the off rack the elbows point straight forward and the forearms are perpendicular to the floor).
What if the upper back is fine, but the lower starts bending? Think of working on some GHD back extensions, Nordic Curls and heavy hip thrusts or kettlebell swings, these exercises will stabilize your posterior chain and train you to push the hips forward better when getting up from the squat.
And if all is upright and tight but you simply can’t stand it up, guess the quads will need some extra attention. Get a big pair of dumbbells, put them on the shoulders and start lunging away.
Right, a quick look back, what have we got so far? We have addressed the Big Moves, we know where their place is and how effective they can be, we also have made the case showing that accessory work is at the base of the pyramid.
Moving on then!
So, what are Accessories?
Accessories are smaller movements you use to target particular areas of your body in order to balance and stabilise, additionally, accessory work covers exercises you do to increase the ability of your body to get into certain positions and exert strength throughout.
When do we need Accessory Work?
Always! There is no way around it, me you and everyone else always need accessory work if we want to advance in a sport. Fortunately, the possibilities of strengthening the body and addressing weaknesses are endless.
But just to cover it in symptom – remedy style, here some symptoms.
- Lack of tension in the spine – during heavy lifts you either bend or arch.
- Lack of strength or stability to support the load through movement.
- Struggle to achieve a certain skill – the Squat Snatch or Pullup just doesn’t happen.
- Injured and currently in rehab.
- A disbalance causes pain and leads to potential injury – body twists while supporting heavy load.
Should just a single one of the above mentioned apply to you … even remotely … Accessory Work! Go to your coach and ask for a prescription. Start ASAP.
No surprise looks like every single one of us can find themselves somewhere on that list … even you … Kevin!
The Groups of Accessory Work
Now that we know what it is, why it is necessary and that everyone without exception needs it, let’s bring some structure into the types of exercises we all should be doing.
Strength & Stability
The first to come to mind and the one covering most exercises we may think of. Working on strength & stability will enable us to hold a better form, transfer power more efficiently and work better through skill. Basically, here you can never go wrong training the core, build yourself a trunk (see previous blog post). Same holds for the posterior chain, Nordic curls, glutes work, always need that. Or the shoulders, how many of us are pushing too much and pulling too little, keep the rotator cuff in mind.
Take the skill you want to achieve or the one you want to master and break it into pieces. Work on the progressions of individual skills. Said progressions will train your mind the patterns to be executed, will bring the necessary reflexes and intuition behind the movement and will strengthen the nervous system making it better acquainted with the movement. Here it is also good to work on coordination on itself, you can even break the running pattern down into pieces you can exercise.
Mobility the disputed one
Flexibility plus Stability equals Mobility. Being mobile in a position means being able to exercise power into or out of the position. Mobility is often the limiting factor since inability to get into certain positions will hold you back from learning a skill or developing further strength.
Accessory work builds the base of our movement pyramid. If we want to learn and master the Big Moves, we must work hard on building a wider base. The bigger the moves we want the bigger the base we require. Accessory work is what will be driving us forward in our sport, we all need it, all without exception. We want to be balanced, we want to stay away from injuries and for those who are on the journey for a while now, we want to break through plateaus.
A beautiful thing about Accessory Work is that you can incorporate it into many places. Plan extra time for a long Warm-up, start by working on mobility so the body can open up. Then proceed on working the skill, take the body through progressions to prepare it for the loads that are coming. And make sure you put great value on accessory when putting some weight on whatever you’re lifting.