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The purpose of accessory training is to train your weak points in the squat, bench and deadlift.  Nothing else.   Sometimes this means giving one of the major muscles in one of your lifts a little more attention, but it also may mean strengthening the synergistic muscles.  The synergistic muscles are the muscles used in the squat, bench and deadlift to support the weight you are lifting. 

To properly select an accessory exercise, you need to utilize exercises that are as close to the major lift as possible.  One or two exercises per muscle group is plenty.  Exercise scientists have shown that the closer the accessory exercise is to the main lift, the more the strength gained in doing that exercise would transfer to the main lift.  So it makes since that if the strength increases won't transfer to the squat, bench or deadlift, you are more than likely wasting your time doing them.

Movement that requires simultaneous use of one or more joint at the same time forms a kinetic chain and is commonly referred to as multi-jointed exercises.   In a kinetic chain,

movement is generated from coordinated muscle contractions that move more than one joint at the same time.  In the squat, bench press, and  deadlift, kinetic chains is formed by the ankle, knee, and hip joints or in the case of the bench press, the wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints.  Muscle activation is sequenced according to the movement in these three joints.

In a kinetic chain or multi-joint exercise, the movement patterns of an individual muscle, such as one of the hamstrings, is different than when the muscle moves a single joint.  Muscle contraction sequencing, motor unit activation, and stretch activation are fundamentally different during multi-joint than when individual joints are isolated.  One-joint exercises, such as leg extensions or leg curls, develop movement patterns that will interfere with patterns you use in your sport.  Using such exercises in your training can lead to inappropriate muscle recruitment patterns that can lead to injury.  The following are a few recommended accessory exercise you might include in your training program.  These exercises are by no means the only ones available.

The Squat and Deadlift

If you want to increase your squat and deadlift, then we need to get to work on those weak links, and fast.  As we are all aware, many of the more conventional leg and back exercises do not really target the particular areas a powerlifter needs to be able to effectively increase the squat and deadlift.  So we have really to come up with some different exercises then.  Both the squat and the deadlift rely heavily on the hamstrings, the glutes, and the erector spinae.  So the powerlifter not only needs an assistance exercise that will strengthen these muscle groups, but exercises that will employ these muscle groups in a similar fashion as they would in both the squat and deadlift.

In the squat and deadlift, the hamstrings and glutes act to extend the hip as the erectors work to extend the spine.  So it is important in powerlifting that we find assistance exercises that will use those three muscle groups in much the same fashion.  That way we will get the best bang for the buck out our assistant work and most of all a better squat and deadlift.

Exercises to stay from when choosing accessory exercises for the squats and deadlift are the leg press, smith machine, knee extension, and leg curl.  These exercises are great for bodybuilders, but they don’t do too much to help the powerlifter get stronger.

One of best and perhaps one of the most overlooked and forgotten exercises available is the good morning.  This exercises particularly stresses the erectors spinae, but also can be performed to activate the hams and the glutes in a movement that is very similar to that used in the squat and deadlift.  There are technically 3 different kinds of good mornings for us to choose from:  1) arched back; 2) bent-over; and 3) seated.  It is recommended that one of these exercises be used once a week on either your squat of deadlift day.

·        The arched back good mornings

The arched back good mornings are done almost like you would do a squat.  The bar is held in the same position.  Use a wide stance, with the feet straight and the knees forced out ward similar to your squat.  Make sure to keep the chest out and an arch in the back too.  Then take a deep breath, bend the legs just slightly, push the glutes back and lean forward about 30 degrees.  You should feel the stress mostly on the erectors and somewhat on the glutes and hams.  Make sure that you do not drop your shoulders and let the back round.  Keep the body tight, the chest and shoulders back and the low back arched throughout the entire range of movement.  Remember to also hold your breath while you bend over and exhale and push the abdominals against the belt as you come back to the upright position.

As with all exercises, it is extremely important to use proper form and slowly work up to heavy weights. It is recommended that you start very light and eventually work up to 3 sets of f5 repetitions with about 65 percent to 75 percent of your best squat.  This exercise is one of the most effective assistance exercises for building strength in the squat and deadlift.

·        The bent-over or round back good mornings

Once again we will use the same position as you would with your normal squat. However, this time we will bring the legs and feet together.  Now you can either do this particular exercise with a straight knee or bent knee.  The straighter knee the more emphasis on the erectors.  When you bend the knee the erectors are de-emphasized slightly and greater stress is placed on the hams.

Unlike the arched back good mornings, this exercise is done with a rounded back.  So take a deep breath, lean forward as far as possible, pause slightly and quickly accelerate back to the starting position while exhaling.

Since this exercise isolates the low back much more than the arched back good mornings, it is recommend that you use much lighter weight and higher reps.  Try 3 sets of 12 repetitions with light weight.  Eventually try to work up to about 40 to 60 percent of your best deadlift.

·        The seated good mornings

Unlike the other two forms of good mornings, this exercise is done while sitting on a bench.  It takes the use of the hams and glutes out and isolates the erectors. To do the seated good mornings take you normal squat position with light weight and squat down on to a weight lifting bench.  In a seated position, keep the body tight, take a deep breath and lean forward as far as possible.  Pause just slightly and return to the starting position as you exhale your breath.  The shoulder and back will be rounded, just like the bent-over or round back good mornings.

Since this exercise isolates the erectors and places a great deal of stress on them, it is recommended that you start out with a very light weight and do 3 sets of 12 repetitions , slowly work your way up.

·        Hyperextensions

Most have found hyperextensions to be very beneficial to powerlifters in increasing the deadlift.  Hopefully your gym has a hyperextension bench.  If not, they can be done on the end of a bench with your partner holding your feet.  You should start in the pronated position, with the feet anchored and the hips supported.  Again in order for this exercise to be effective the muscles must be overloaded as much as possible.  So if at all possible, grab those heavy dumbbells.  Hold the weight around the chest and slowly lower your chest until it is perpendicular to the floor.  Then ascend back up until the back is in a straight line with the hips.  Do not arch or hyperextend the back. Again, intensity is the key, do 3 to 5 sets of 10 repetitions with as much weight as you can handle. You will no doubt, by this time feel the lower erectors and glutes really tighten.  If you need to stretch this area, please do so at this time.

·        Box  or rack squats

Box or rack squats may be one of the best assistance exercises for the squat.  The biggest movers of the squat are the muscles in the hips.  Both of these variations utilize these muscles most effectively.

Most of us have weak hips; therefore we will need to use a box that will allow us to go just below parallel.  If you are one of those who has a sticking point just above parallel, then use a box that will allow you to squat just above parallel.

The rack squat is done in a power rack with the pins set as described above.  The utilization of the box squat or rack squat will build that much needed strength to get out of the hole

Use about 55 to 65 percent of your work set weight for the day.  The box or rack squat is done in the same form as your regular squat.  The only difference is you will squat SLOWLY down and back onto the box or racks.  Do not drop down onto the box!  Such a drop will cause injury to the spine.  Once you are on the box or racks, keep all the muscles flexed except the hip muscles.  Relax only the hip muscles briefly and then explode back up with the weight.  Three sets of 2 to 4 repetitions will do.

·        Reverse leg curls

If you are looking for a different way to strengthen the glutes and hams, try doing manual leg curls.  You will need the following things to do this exercise:

·        2 to 3 assistants

·        A floor mat or several towels

Beginning Position

Kneel down on a floor mat or with your knees on several towels.  Your legs should be kept together.  Keep your back straight and cross your arms at your chest or behind the low back.  Have 1 to 2 assistants, depending on your body weight, keep your legs in place by holding the ankles.  Have  another assistant spot you from the front. 

The Downward Movement Phase

Next, take a deep breath and slowly lower your body very slowly and controlled, to the floor by extending the knee.  This is very hard to do with control, thus the reason you will need an alert front spotter.  This spotter will keep you from going face first into the floor.  If you don’t have an extra spotter, you hands may be used to break the fall.

The Upward Movement Phase

Now contract the hamstrings by flexing the knee.  Exhaling your breath at the same time to bring your body back to the starting position.  Make sure that you keep your back straight throughout the movement.

Try to do 1 to 2 sets of this exercise until failure.    For most this will only be 1 to 2 repetitions.  Warning-this exercise is very hard to do and should only be attempted after a good strength base has been developed!

·        Keystone deadlifts

The keystone deadlift is a variation of the stiff-leg deadlift.  The difference being that you will poke your glutes more outward feeling the hamstrings stretch.  Then, while

maintaining this position, slowly lower the barbell to just around your knees.  Keep the bar close to your legs during both the descent and ascent.  Do not go more than an inch or two below your knees to avoid any hyper-flexion of the spine. 

If the exercise is done correctly you should feel a burn in the glutes and hamstrings.  This exercise is not designed to work the low back so you should feel no strain or discomfort in this area.  It is recommended that you do about 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 8 repetitions.

The Bench

The accessory exercises in the bench press are done to supplement the weak points and synergistic muscle groups.  For the chest I would suggest that you supplement you work out with the dumbbell press.  Alternate between the flat,  incline, and decline bench press.  By rotating the angle of the decline from week to week we are optimally strengthening not only the chest, but we are also strengthening the connective tissue in the shoulder joint.  This is very important because experts feel shoulder joint injuries are among the most common injuries in the gym.  The best repetition range for using dumbbells is probably the 8 to 12 range for 3 to 5 sets.

·        Close grip bench

For strengthening the triceps it is recommended that you stay away from isolation or single joint exercises as much as possible.  These exercises place a lot of extra stress on the elbow joint and may lead to tendonitis.  Instead it is recommended that you stick with exercises that use more than one joint like the close grip bench press.  When doing the close grip bench, make sure the hands are spaced no closer than about chest width.  Any closer places too much stress on the wrist and may lead to surgery.  Another good exercise for the triceps would be the weighted dips.  Triceps need a good amount of weigh.  So it is recommended that you stick to a weight that you can handle for 3 to 5 sets for 4 to 6 repetitions.

·        Dips

This exercise is great exercise to train both the triceps and the shoulders.  For many, just the weight of the body will be enough.  However, weight can be added by using a special weight belt.  To perform this exercise you will need to have access to a dip bar.  Grab the bar with a grip that is slightly wider than shoulder’s width.  Keep the body straight and the arms locked out.  The dip bar should now support the weight.  The feet and legs can either hang straight down or the feet can be crossed and the knees slightly bent.  Lower the body to the point to where the biceps are parallel to the floor.  Pause briefly and extend your arms until the body is back in the starting position.  This exercise should be done with 3 to 5  heavy sets of 6 to 8.  

·        Shoulder training

For the shoulders a combination of the barbell and dumbbells can be used.  Front dumbbell raises are a good exercise to use for the deltoids.  The military press is another great exercise.  The military press can be done with either the barbell or the dumbbell.  It can also be done from a seated or standing position.  The smith machine can also be used for this particular exercise.  Since the shoulders are a pretty small muscle, it might be best to keep the repetitions around the 8 to 12 range for 3 to 5 sets.

·        The lats

Since the latissimus dorsi are used as stabilizers for the bench press, it may be a good idea to train them on your bench press day.  Effective exercises for the lats are the cable pull downs and rows, using either a cable, dumbbells or a barbell, as well as chin-ups.  The lats can take a lot of work so you might be better off keeping the repetitions around the 4 to 6 range for 3 to 5 sets.

·        Biceps

Since the biceps are an important synergistic muscle in all three lifts you may want to take some to train them a little extra.  Because these muscles are used in all three lifts, they are very susceptible to injury.  I would suggest that you do 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions of curls using either a dumbbell or barbell.

Remember as the contest gets closer and the weight used in your squat, bench,  and deadlift gets heavier, it is advisable that you may want to cut back on some of your accessory work.  Play it by ear.  If feel you don’t have any strength when it comes time for heavy singles, drop the accessory exercise and see what happens the next week.  Some lifters can do accessory week right up until their last heavy day with no problems, so can’t.

·        Abdominal Work

Of course, without strong abdominals, the deadlift would not happen as easily.  Heavily weighted sit-ups work well to strengthen the abdominals.  Try to, if possible to do these on a decline bench, otherwise use a flat bench.  Hold a heavy dumbbell at the chest and slowly descend about 1/2 way down.  Hold it there about 2 to 4 seconds and slowly ascend.  Keep tension on the abdominals throughout the movement.  It is recommended that you doing 3 to 5 sets of 10 to 20 repetitions with as