Don’t Waste Your Time With Accessory Work

After all your main work is done, you need to follow it up with time consuming accessory work…. Right?

When it’s all said and done, you need to train the squat, bench press, and deadlift to improve in powerlifting. Without those 3 lifts – or close variations on them – you’ll never improve. At the same time, there is a new breed of powerlifter that’s been emerging over the last decade or so which abandons the “classic” powerlifter archetype of fat, bloated, and entirely out of shape for anything over 1 rep. Today, I’ll be going through a practical approach to deciding how much accessory work you should be doing in your program based on the intent of an exercise, amounts of time involved, and your training priorities.

Dan Green… Definitely not fat. 

Specificity Matters

Before we get into it, I’d like to take a quick second to outline some context.

If you’re reading this, you probably know that nobody ever got to a 600lb deadlift by skipping their barbell time and just running marathons instead. Obviously this is an extreme example, but it’s to illustrate a point. In the real world, the distinction between effective training and wasting your time is less obvious.

With accessory work often being close variations of the Big 3, or at least working muscles that are trained in those lifts, we will take a look at striking that balance between having enough supplementary training in your program to mitigate injury risks and spur progress without going overboard on junk volume.

Establish a Baseline
If you’ve written a training program recently, you’re probably familiar with the concept of Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV) and Minimum Effective Volume (MEV). Knowing these is crucial as the main lifts are the foundation of your program. Once you’ve figured out how much training you can do with the Big 3, you can build your program up with additional exercises, but without that base, you risk having an ineffective regimen.

We used a proper program for Chad, and lookey lookey, some hardware.

Accessorize, Girl!

After you’ve set up the basics for your training program, it’s time to consider a few key factors around additional exercises in your program

As you can hopefully see by now, there are a variety of factors to consider when making an effective program, especially when you want to make the best use of each exercise, be time-efficient, and keep a long term outlook with your training. This should put you one step closer to improving your total!

  1. What are your goals with programming in additional movements? Just like you have a reason for selecting certain intensities or volumes for your main work, you should have sound reasoning for each movement beyond what muscle it works. Doing lunges for the sake of doing lunges is a terrible idea, but doing lunges with the goal of improving your hip, knee, and ankle control in a squat and spare your knees and back in the future is a stellar option. There are no “bad” exercises, just bad reasons.
  2. How much time do you have to train? Let’s use a sample 4-day-per-week training program with 90-minute sessions. – You have a 15 minute warmup where you go through some general warmups as well as skill practice with whatever you are trying to improve a the moment (this could be bracing, positioning, symmetry, etc.). – After your warmup, you have 2 main lifts that take around 30 minutes each to do. – This leaves you with about 15 minutes of “accessory time”. Realistically, you can do 1-2 exercises here, depending on the volume and intensity of each.
  3. What are your priorities with training? In my opinion, injury prevention and movement quality work should take priority above all else when selecting what else to do on top of your Big 3. What’s a good 6 months of training worth to you if you snap yourself up so bad that you never improve past that point. Especially in a sport like powerlifting where progress takes a LONG time, having a short-term mindset will bite you sooner or later.While longevity is the name of the game, we do also want to be practical with how you organize your training to get the most out of your time in the gym. With this in mind, I generally like to work any movement quality and injury prevention work into the warmup portion of the workout which works great as it makes for great movement prep for the workout as well as frees up the back end of the session for more traditional hypertrophy based accessory work such as rows, dips, lunges, leg press, etc.

As you can hopefully see by now, there are a variety of factors to consider when making an effective program, especially when you want to make the best use of each exercise, be time-efficient, and keep a long term outlook with your training. This should put you one step closer to improving your total!