Ahh accessory work, or, as I like to call it, bitch work. The seemingly useless or downright gross movements that the coach or trainer prescribes in your workout that you scratch your head and think, “Why do I have to do this?”
I thought the same thing because the coach never explained its purpose and it was programmed inconsistently. I would be given the movements and they’d say “okay, go do this for X amount of time and see how you do”.
Sorry, a few questions:
- How do I know I’m doing the movement correctly?
- What muscles do I need to activate?
- Why am I doing this after I’m already exhausted from this grueling workout?
- When am I actually going to see results?
Let me help all of you out by explaining the purpose of accessory work, how you can identify weak areas or muscles imbalances, and when the movements should be incorporated into your workouts.
Why the Hell am I Doing This?
The purpose of accessory work, whether prescribed in CrossFit, bodybuilding, or sport-specific training is to get stronger. Wow, shocker, Les.
In actuality, accessory work digs deeply into your weaknesses and forces you to correct them. According to Dani LaMartina from EliteFTS.com, specifically, accessory work improves points in a lift that breakdown as your body fatigues or as the weight increases, and the form of your movement compromises.
Accessory work should help you become more aware of how you perform a lift or movement and where the power is coming from for that lift so that you can correct inconsistencies with a trainer’s help (I highly recommend working with a personal trainer and shelling out the money. So worth it).
How do I Identify my Weaknesses?
If you’re new to lifting or to your sport, it might be difficult to identify some of these weak points because you lack proprioception, or body position awareness. Don’t worry, this skill develops the more you lift and work with a professional, so don’t worry if you can’t identify the little tweaks you need right away.
If you’re newer and aren’t working with a trainer, take a video of yourself doing a lift and then compare it to another athlete on YouTube. Compare them side-by-side and notice the differences. Do you roll onto the balls of your feet rather then your heels? Are your knees caving in? Are you lifting your chest up? Are your feet too narrow or too wide? These are all things to consider.
As you improve and understand your body better, think about where your fatigue is occurring during the lift, where you feel shaky or experience a compromise in your stability (LaMartina notes this is likely the weakest point in your lift and can put you at risk).
Break down the movement into individual parts and feel the tightness, weakness, or watch for the break down in form, then Google some corrective exercises and add them into your routine during that day. Video yourself from a few angles and watch where your form is less than stellar.
When do I need to Add Accessory Movements?
In reality, you can make an entire workout from accessory movements, as long as you truly address the weaknesses you’re experiencing in larger, compound movements (squats, deadlifts, bench press, Olympic lifting movements, etc).
Incorporate them in your warm up to help blood flow get to the weaker muscles; during your workout after larger compound movements (a great ratio is 2 isolation movements for every 1 compound movement), or at the end of the workout to fill in the gaps.
The important note here is to not half-ass your accessory work. If you half-ass your accessory work, then your improvement will also be half-assed. So, take it as seriously as you would any major lift. If you need an ego stroke, go ahead, do something you’re already proficient at.
But to be honest, no one else cares that you suck at one movement or another, even if you’re a pro-athlete. You’re only as strong as your weakest link, so if your worst weakness isn’t far off from your greatest strength, that’s something to be more proud of than a heavy bench but a shitty squat.
Your body will adapt to the stress placed upon it. You will improve if you put in the work. Your body will reward you with the skills and ability to do anything if you work for it and nourish your body with good food, laughs, and rest.
Working out is a lifestyle, not a punishment.