In powerlifting, it’s very easy to focus on squats and deadlifts for your main lower body work.
After 9 years of being a powerlifting coach and 15 years as a powerlifter, I have certainly noticed this bilateral focus for lower body training can certainly lead to some banged up knees, even if you’re being smart about loading strategies, good periodization, etc.
Today’s post showcases 3 of my preferred exercises to include in your accessory work when your knees are feeling a bit stiffer than usual. Below, I’ve outlined a few key benefits and cues for the exercises as well.
Hopefully these help you build a more well rounded lower body training regimen.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to program accessory work, you can get a copy of my Definitive Powerlifting Accessory Manual eBook.
Exercise 1: Pistol Stepdowns
Pistol stepdowns are an excellent way to train ankle mobility – a key factor in knee health. They will also let you train the connective tissue in your knees in a more lengthened position.
Slow eccentrics are key here and an emphasis on building full range of motion before loading extra weight should be in place. Build up to being able to step off of a ~10″ (25cm) platform before adding additional weight.
Exercise 2: Contralateral Split Squats w. Shift
Possibly one of my favorite single leg training options for powerlifters. This allows the lifter to create a LOT of internal rotation in the lead leg’s hip by “twisting into” that side. The result is a beautiful glute stretch, increased internal rotation and a movement that not only develops mobility but is perfectly capable of being loaded heavy enough to generate some hypertrophy as well.
Add these into your program after your squats or even beforehand as part of your extended warm-up for a powerlifting squat session.
Exercise 3: TKE Split Squats
Contrary to the pistol stepdown and split squats mentioned earlier, the TKE split squat allows the lifter to emphasize the contracted, shortened position for the tissues of the knee. Being able to train both the long and short positions is an important piece of maintaining a good length-tension relationship for your lower body health and strength.
Most powerlifters will do well with 30-60 pounds (14-28kg) of force on the cable and loading up additional weight via dumbbells like they would for a regular split squat.
This variation on split squats is particularly effective for building up overall knee strength and biasing the quads in a split squat compared to the glute emphasis that can be present in a more traditional split squat.
As with any accessory work, where they fit into your program, the dosage and how heavy you load them will all be determined by your lifting status, training age and proximity to powerlifting competition so make sure to take those into account when you experiment with adding any of these into your training program.
For a more detailed guide on how to program these movements and your entire accessory program for powerlifting, see my Definitive Powerlifting Accessory Manual.
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