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Default Keep it Simple Stupid Part 2: Assistance Work
by BendtheBar 09-23-2011, 09:39 AM

Keep it Simple Stupid Part 2: Assistance Work

Keep it Simple Stupid Part 2: Assistance Work

In part one of this series, I discussed the need for athletes and lifters to be simple in their selection of max effort exercises. As a competitive lifter it is critical to be a master of the competitive lifts, and raw lifters need to be performing them on a regular basis. For athletes, there are two reasons why it is key to be simple in your exercise selection. First, you do not want to use your bioenergetic stores on the development of lifting technique because you need to reserve that for the technical development of your sport skills. Second, the less frequently you change your main exercise, the less soreness you will incur, which is key when having multiple sport practices per week. There are many benefits to performing the competition lifts exclusively as your main exercises. However, there are risks as well. One risk is the development of muscular imbalances, which can lead to developing weak points. Your body wants to allow its strongest movers to handle the weight and will transfer the stress there. So, if you have strong quads and weak hamstrings, your body will force you into being a quad dominant squatter. Over time, this will limit your potential. To avoid this from occurring, you need to be smart about organizing your assistance work.

Assistance work should be divided into two groups. The first group is supplementary work, these are variations of the competitive lifts designed to address specific weakpoints or sticking points;. The second group is assistance work, which is training for specific muscle groups that will increase hypertrophy and maintain muscular suppleness. This will help avoid overuse injuries by bringing balance to the physique.
Supplementary Work

Supplementary work consists of using variations/varying intensities of the competition lifts to address different weak/sticking points and build special work capacity. However, while supplementary work is important, it does not take precedence over competition lifts and the loading strategies should reflect that. Similarly to your main lifts, it is critical not to rotate supplementary work too frequently because will not have enough time to let them serve their desired purpose, nor will you be able to truly gauge their effectiveness on your strength. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite supplementary exercises and the functions they serve.

Speed Squats - For the raw lifter, speed/dynamic effort work should be done at a higher percentage than the 45-60% normally prescribed for geared lifters. A good range is 60-75%. Focus on locking in your technique and pushing the bar with maximal force. Make sure to keep your rest periods short during your speed work (45-90 seconds). A great way to build special work capacity early in a training cycle is to use speed sets used after your main lift. I performed as many as eight triples of speed work after my main work sets. Chains and bands are acceptable to use during speed work, but should be reserved for when straight weight is no longer yielding a positive training effect.

Dead Squats – Dead squats are the best way to build power out of the hole and are a staple in my training program. Dead squats should be done for singles. Depending on where you are in the training cycle, two to 12 sets should be performed. When earlier in the training cycle, lighter weights and short rest periods (30-75 seconds) should be used. Once the weights increase, take the necessary rest intervals to perform the work. Read more about Dead Squats in Josh Bryant’s article, “How to Win Meets and Influence Squats and Deadlifts.”

Safety Bar Squats - A common problem among squatters is falling forward because of upper back weakness/lack of tightness in the setup. The safety squat bar will remedy this problem quickly because of its ability to accentuate any lack of tightness or weakness in the upper back due to the forward bar position. Make sure you are pushing your head back into the yoke as hard as possible to keep your head and chest up. Stay between three and eight reps per set for two to three sets. Your ability to keep a good posture through your squat should really improve.

Speed Bench – Good bar speed is the number one way to avoid sticking points. The faster the bar is moving, the less likely you are to stall at any point during the lift. Triples are the best option here, and varying your hand position is also advisable. Follow the same percentage guidelines that I outlined for the speed squats.

Paused Widegrip Bench – If your shoulders are healthy, paused widegrips are a great way to build power off of the chest. Just move your grip one inch out from your competition grip and perform the same way that you would a regular bench. Do not go below four reps in this exercise

Dead Bench – Another great exercise from Josh Bryant, which you can read about in detail is “Bring Your Bench Press Alive with the Dead Bench.”

Closegrip Board Presses – The closegrip bench is a staple in all big bencher’s programs to build lockout power. A 2 or 3-board coupled with the closegrip board press is a great way to overload the triceps even more. You can put your thumbs on the smooth part of the bar, or pinkies on rings. Reps should be singles to sets of eight.

Seated Military Press to the Top of the Head - Strong shoulders are critical to a powerful raw bench. So are healthy ones, which is why I prefer to perform my military presses to the top of the head, as opposed to in front or behind the head. The seated military press will build great shoulder strength/stability and tricep strength. Use sets of one to 10 reps, depending on where you are during your training cycle, for two or three work sets.

Here’s a look into one of my deadlift training sessions. Notice the wide variety of supplementary work I use to address different portions of the lift.

Speed Pulls – As with the squat and bench, speed is the best way to avoid sticking points and missed lifts. Utilizing speed pulls with sets of two to four and short rest periods are a great way to build your special work capacity, dial in your technique and increase lower back strength. I performed as many as 10 sets of four reps of speed pulls with 500 pounds (about 70%) after my heavy deadlift sets.

Deficit Pulls – Deficit pulls are a great way to build power off of the floor in the deadlift and accommodate your body to the longer time under tension that max singles often require. They will also force you to improve your hip mobility, which will allow you to get into better positions to start your pull. Sets of three to eight in the defecit pull will build your strength from the floor.

Pulls against Bands – For athletes who struggle at the top of the lift, add accommodating resistance. It is a great way to both overload the top portion of the movement, and to teach the athlete to impart maximal velocity to the bar through the entire movement. Bands can be set up in a number of ways. They can be quaded around the base of a power rack/platform, stretched between dumbbells, or simply wrapped around the bar and then placed under your feet. Reverse band pulls are also a good option here.

Isometrics - Isometrics are a powerful tool in your training that must be used with great discretion, as they are very taxing to the CNS. To set up an isometric, just set the pins in a power rack wherever your sticking point is, and then pull the bar loaded with 50-60% of your max. Hold this against the pins for four to 10 seconds. I perform these during my last three weeks before a meet, and then deload all pulling for two weeks before competing.

That covers my favorite supplementary exercises for each lift. Assess your weak points and pick an exercise from this list to attack them. I will use two to four variations of a given lift within a single session, which far out from a meet can add up to 20 work sets between my main lift and supplementary variations of it.

Here’s a look at my bench training template from May 29.

1. Bench: worked up to 425 x 3 (paused)
2. Speed Bench: 325 for 8 sets of 4 (one minute rest)
3. Widegrip Bench: 320 for 2 sets of 8 (paused)
4. Dead Bench: 335 for 8 sets of one (45 seconds rest)
5. Assistance Work

Assistance Work

Now that we’ve covered supplementary work for the “Big 3,” let’s take a look at assistance work. As I mentioned above, assistance work is to bring up lagging muscle groups and retain muscular suppleness. Assistance work should promote blood flow into the muscles and be relatively easy work. Don’t worry about setting PRs in assistance work each week because it will detract from your ultimate goal, which should be to improve the “Big 3.” Performing one to five sets of eight to 20 reps for a few of the exercises from each of the following lists, should suffice for assistance work. I often like to set my watch for 15-20 minutes and perform all the assistance work I can during that time period to avoid dedicating too much time to this relatively insignificant aspect of training.

* Single Leg Squats
* GHRs
* Single Leg RDLs
* Walking Lunges
* Barbell/Dumbbell Step Ups


* Dips (I go heavy here and below eight reps)
* Front Raises
* Lateral Raises
* Flies
* Curls (Yes, these matter. Look at the training and guns of any old-time powerlifting stud).

You’ll notice that I didn’t list any back work here. Back work is tremendously important for a big bench, but I like to perform my back work after my deadlift sessions or dedicate a separate day to it. Chest supported rows, lat pulldowns, pullups, chinups, reverse flies and band pull-a-parts, are my preferred back exercises to improve the bench.

* Bentover Rows (I go heavy here and below 8 reps)
* Pullups/Chinups
* GHRs
* Shrugs
* Back Extensions
* Glute Bridges
* Band X Walks

Obviously ab strength plays a huge role in excelling in powerlifting.

My favorite ab exercises are:

* Ab Wheel
* Hanging Leg Raises
* Side Bends
* Decline Situps
* Situps on GHR
* Spread Eagle Situps

There’s my simple guide to supplementary and assistance work. Stick with an exercise for a few months and really start pushing some weight with it on your supplementary lifts. Don’t let your accessory work take on such a priority that it detracts from your max effort work. Getting crazy strong is about dedication, consistency and patience…not magic exercises. To learn more about how Chad built his U.S. No. 1 Powerlifting total check out The Juggernaut Method and the soon-to-be released “9 Day Work Week.”

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Old 09-23-2011, 10:46 AM   #2
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That was a really good one! Lots of good information and easy to read.
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Old 09-23-2011, 11:13 AM   #3
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