One question we inevitably hear seminar after seminar is “What about accessory work?”. My response is as predictable as the question itself: What about it? Since the dawn of strength training people have geeked out on any and every fad, training program, or hot new movement that has implied better results. As we often say with regard to novice lifters – everything works but what works optimally?
The topic of accessory work can be likened to that of religion. It’s taboo, varying in ideology, and laced with emotional ties we can’t quite comprehend. Just try and tell someone that 2 weighted dips are a poor way to improve their 115lb bench press and watch their expression twist into disbelief and then anger. I remember doing prowler pushes with a guy who was implementing it as a power developer but was walking the weight for 200ft. I casually mentioned that we should cut the distance and maybe the weight for the desired training effect and his response was: “Don’t ever tell me what to do, Cali.” Calm down asshole, I won’t.
Emotion aside, these aren’t the reasons we shy from explicitly listing them on CrossFit Football’s SWOD. What you see on our site is a skeleton of a program- effective in it’s own right as a strength template for anyone who has never followed a linear progression. These are some 20,000+ subscribers whom we’ve never met or had the ability to assess their specific limiting factors. Moreover, if indeed these athletes are relatively new to an aggressive linear progression, they simply need more time pulling and pushing a barbell. It’s as simple as that. Instead, many athletes get caught up in the sexiness of accessory work far before it becomes pertinent and necessary for their training.
The body goes through several phases of adaptation in the early training days. Intermuscular coordination occurs when muscles begin to “talk” to each other. This phase is allows the bod to coordinate efforts to create movement patters. The second phase is intramuscular coordination wherein the muscle itself becomes more efficient in it’s ability to fire and create contractions. Myelination is a key component in the process of maximizing contractile potential among a specific group of muscles and muscle fibers. Lastly, the bod will undergo hypertrophy- both sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar. This enables the muscle density and size to increase thusly creating a stronger, more powerful individual. It is our contention that athletes don’t necessarily need accessory work during this approximate 12-20 week period. Only after the novice effect has been sufficiently tapped should we progress to accessory and single joint movements.
How do we know which ones? Well, what are your pitfalls? There are innumerable tools for shoring up a specific weakness or sticking point. The question is- which ones work best and how do you implement them? On the CFFB site you’ll see us sneak in variations of the big lifts and more traditional accessory type work in the Collegiate template and DWOD’s. With the overarching goal of accelerated adaptation, we continue to progress athletes by varied and deliberate stimulus. It works well – addressing the most commonly found strength inhibitors – but it’s not perfect as it still designed for a demographic we have not met.
For more on accessory work advantages, disadvantages, and effectiveness, I talk with John Welbourn – self proclaimed lover of the tricep extension and longtime victim of the prone hamstring curl.
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What is the risk/disadvantage of implementing accessory work too early in a program?
Much of the adaptation associated with lifting weights comes from actually lifting the weights. While many of you are nodding your heading and saying “of course”, think about that. Inter & Intra muscular coordination happen in part due to learning the movement pattern while myelination is directly related to patterning. In short, for many beginning lifters all they need to do is the main lifts as we are banking on the unadapted CNS becoming more adapted. In other words, accommodation is not much of a factor with a beginner as the patterns are so new that this helps drive the adaption we are expecting. The result is increased strength. In our research, adding too many new and diverse movement patterns to a beginner could potentially have a negative effect in the short 12-16 week window known as the amateur window.
Louie is well known as a proponent of accessory work. Can you provide context as to why it’s effective for his athletes but maybe not for a 135 lb 15 year old with a bodyweight back squat?
WSB trains some of the strongest men on the planet. These are highly trained specialized athletes that are using a combination of training gear to maximize their ability to generate big numbers in the bench, squat and deadlift. Due to the fact these individuals are moving super-human weights in training they must have a very specific about of volume and tonnage each training session to keep driving adaption. Because the weights are high and these highly trained/advanced individuals are at great risk of accommodation, they must find a way to get keep their volume of training at a level conducive to their sport. Assistance work allows them to up their training volume and address any weakness or limiting factors that might hindering progress or a lead to a potential short coming. For most beginning lifters, the limiting factor is time under the bar. Therefore, a simple novice program with a steady diet of basic lifts will produce the biggest gains for the amateur athlete.
Are there commonly used accessory exercises that are a waste of time– or that have much better alternatives?
Yes, face pulls. Complete waste of time.
What are your favorite accessory exercises for the below:
- Lockout: 2-3 board Close Grip Bench
- Off chest: Pin Presses with the pins set at chest height. Training starting strength by initiating in the concentric portion of the movement.
- Stability: Slide Board Push Ups
- Speed: 2 sec pause squat w/ chains
- Turnover (stretch reflex): Squats w/ 3 count eccentric, followed by fast turn around.
- Back: Belt Squats
- Speed: 4″ deficit deadlifts
- Thickness: Starr Shrugs
- Hamstring development: Hamstring Curls followed by heavy RDLs in the 8-12 rep range
- Speed: Muscle Clean
- Power: Starr Shrugs
- Arms: Hammer Curls
- Biceps: Incline DB bicep curls
- Triceps: KB Skull Crushers with a slight incline.
- Back: 5 DB Kelso Shrugs followed by max rep One Arm DB Rows – AHAP
- Grip: Plate Flips and Weighted T-Bar Chin Ups
- Shoulders: 10 way banded shoulder complex w/ isometric holds. Seated DB Press – high rep/high volume
A strength and conditioning coach since 2009, Cali has worked with numerous athletes spanning from rugby players to cross country skiers. Almost immediately after finding CrossFit in 2010, she was introduced to a program that better suited her athletic goals. With her existing background in powerlifting and football, she became a natural devotee to CFFB/PowerAthlete and testament to it's effectiveness. In 2012, she left D.C. and headed for the state named after her to be a part of the CrossFit Football Seminar Staff and a Jedi of Power Athlete HQ. Cali currently resides in Seattle where she works full time in law enforcement.
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