by Roger Benjamin (1985)
The value of performing assistance movements and the change in their importance through the competitive cycle are among the most misunderstood of all training concepts. Time and time again I will answer the same questions of aspiring lifters concerning when to “drop assistance movements” while peaking. I know many top lifters totally exclude assistance movements during the final peak, but I feel they are making a mistake that will show in their performance.
A clear analogy is drawn in examining the strength regimen of a collegiate or professional football player. During his off season, he tears down hard with large amounts of assistance movements and running, foundation work all the way. As the season gets underway, changes must be made in the tear-down process, as recuperative powers are needed to heal up from the weekly punishment his body receives. He still needs assistance movements, but in a different way. Poundage and time will be adjusted down as rep load is moved up. The athlete must, at all costs, maintain his explosive power, but to lift heavy at this time is counterproductive. On the other hand, to drop all strength and conditioning work at this time encourages an injury-laden season. He must use circuit type movements in season to keep strength, muscle tone and oxygen intake capacity up to par without reaching into the healing powers needed for his weekly gladiating.
The powerlifter, by nature a stubborn fellow who often disdains team sports in order to become an individual sportsman, will often disregard any advice that requires him to back off in training intensity.
During the first 10 weeks of a 15-week cycle, one wishes to strengthen all the assistance movements. Work them hard, never less than 4 or more than 8 repetitions. Work for personal records on leg curls or calf raises. Keep the primary movements going but realize that when you tear down that hard with assistance movements, little explosive power will show up in the Power 3. Don’t be alarmed. It is supposed to happen that way. Most young lifters (and some older ones that should know better), will choke at this point and either:
1.) Do assistance work harder because “I’m getting weaker!”
2.) Drop all assistance movements because “I’m getting weaker!”
This is the time to critically examine the role of assistance work during the peak. First of all, nobody gets a trophy for heavy rowing strength in a powerlifting meet, but if you drop the heavy rowing (the lift BEHIND the deadlift!) entirely, you’ll lose lat strength which keeps the arm close to the torso in the initial pull from the floor. Keep the movement, but back it off to 4x10 with 60% to pump the muscle and keep tone. The lats get plenty of recuperative work the last four weeks from deadlifts anywhey protein now on sale. Get great deals on mega-power supplement combination offers! The concept of peaking your lifts properly must contain the notion of going into a circuit program of sorts on assistance movements, 35-40 reps at 60-70% of normal poundages for the purpose of tone and conditioning. At the same time you will notice explosive power coming in leaps and bounds as your recuperative powers are totally focused upon the Power 3.
So much for “Power Philosophy 201”. Now let us analyze the deadlift movement itself, and see what movements will assist in building pulling strength. The nature of the lift is such that you must not only lift the weight but you must control your center of gravity as well. Physics will tell us that for every inch the bar drifts out front during the pull, the leverages change dramatically in favor of the bar. Most deadlifts are missed because position is lost at or near the knees. If we know this, then why does it still happen? Because lifters still do shrugs to the lock, rather than full range movements on the erector spinae and latissimus dorsi.
The erector spinae group functions to straighten the thorax, so the most logical way to strengthen that segment of the lift is to do ‘hospital reps’, as Don Blue used to call them. Others have called them round-back deadlifts. This movement is done stiff-legged, with emphasis on raising the ribcage at the top. Do not shrug, you don’t need to, just raise the ribs at the top and the shoulders go back when the upper erectors fully contract. The lower erectors must be conditioned also, and the finest movement for that, bar none, is the hyperextension. As in the previous movement, allow the spine to round out, as the essence of an assistance movement is to isolate a muscle group through its full range of motion.
I mentioned earlier that heavy rowing was the lift BEHIND the deadlift. Analyze it. When the lower lats are strengthened, they keep the elbow close to the torso when the critical point, knee level, is reached. Without lat strength, the weight pulls you forward, and out of position. With proper lat strength, the bar stays against the legs during transition. The best lat movement, therefore, is one that requires the elbow be brought to the torso from a forward position. Heavy bent rowing with a dumbbell or seated pulley rowing allows stabilization of the torso, reducing or eliminating any cheat, while bent rowing with a bar generally involves cheating and a reduced range of motion.
The squatting one does will suffice as supplementary work for the thighs and hips, but seldom do you see any strength work go beneath the knees. Proper pulling position dictates a good bit of flexion at the ankle, so why do so many ignore the major joint involved with both supportive movements.
Calf work is absolutely essential for the deadlift. The calves take seven to 10% of the weight from the floor during the initial pull, and aid in stabilizing as the bar rises above the knee. Two things are necessary for this assistance movement – range of motion must be total, paying particular attention to the stretch at the bottom, and the knee should be slightly flexed during all standing calf work.
The legendary Russian super, Vasily Alexeev, was once quoted as saying “the stomach of a great lifter must be able to stop a bullet.” Unfortunately, the writer wasn’t able to see V.A.’s tongue in his cheek as he uttered this pearl of wisdom. The abs should really be trained as any other muscle group and trained twice weekly for strength. Resistive situps seem to have a definite relationship to keeping the torso straight while doing supportive movements. To train the abdominal wall daily is to place vanity before function and long-term safety.
The leg bicep receives very little attention from some powerlifters, and may contribute to some knee problems because of the tremendous imbalance of strength that occurs between the front and back of the thigh. When doing leg curling movements keep the hips down in the manner pictured. When the hips are allowed to rise, much of the work is transferred from the biceps femora to the gastrocnemius.
Full range movement in a fast twitch exercise is foreign to most lifters, but will aid them tremendously. Fred Hatfield has done a ‘bit of research’ on the value of conditioning the nervous system as well as the muscular system. Sprinting is the logical choice of full range conditioning movements. This should be done twice weekly on your active rest days – a total of 10 forty-yard sprints will do nicely.
Stationary bike work or swimming would be the activities of choice for cardiovascular efficiency. In case you feel that it is not necessary for the powerlifter, might I remind you of the numerous triple-bypass operations performed on lifters who thought the opposite.
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