The why behind accessories



When it comes to programming for CrossFit, I like to look at things through a modified powerlifting lense. So let’s start with some basic definitions from the powerlifting world. In it’s simplest form, a supplemental lift is a movement that mimics the lift/movement. You could think of this lift as being more joint related. Accessory lifts are typical (or not) bodybuilding style lifts that focus on muscles.  Where things can get confusing is that you can separate further in to force bias exercises or control bias exercises. For example with an accessory force exercise, you hit the muscles that produce force in the target movement, as opposed to accessory control exercises which hit the muscles that provides control during the movement. 


For some this wont be knew information, for others it may make them begin to understand that picking the exercises needed to develop the key lifts you’re working on is not as simple as “well, it’s another leg exercise, so it’ll help my squat.” First you need to understand where you are going wrong. Is it a strength related issue and if so where is the weakness? Is it a control (tightness) related issue and if so where is the weakness? Or is it a technique based weakness? The purpose of these movements, long term, is to help us fine tune the details in your main lifts/movements. They help to provide solutions to above.


I implement the above ideas as follows. The first thing I look for is clearing technical weaknesses, which includes your ability to apply speed, timing, and accuracy, as well as meeting positional demands etc. Before you go saying “I’m weak in this spot” “ I need this exercise to make me stronger/tighter”, I’d step back and question how much ego you've been training over technique and purposeful practise. That’s all training is. Repeated practise of skills to become as efficient and effective in them as possible. That requires a LOT of repetition of GOOD quality reps. Not just reps. This is so hard to get in to people who always chase numbers - whether that be time, reps, or weight all the time. When you are chasing time, reps, and weight, you’re in a competitive mindset which is great for winning but not for long term growth. You need to pick your moments. My advice, use training rep maxes for percentages. And train with the mindset of practising and perfecting skills. Not just exercising. Technique is king.


In the body of the program I often choose movements that are supplementary in nature to do as a second strength piece or as a heavier movement in an emom depending on the cycle we’re in. We really push these hard in training. But then when it comes to accessory movements, my mentality changes. I look at these through a prehab/bulletproofing the athlete perspective. This is where variation in planes comes in, where I’ll target strength control in all the typical weak spots, and strength force in muscles that ‘should’ be playing a big part in our main movements but in a lot of people are not sufficiently activated and developed unless hit more specifically. Basically it’s where balance in development is looked after. I’ll often leave accessory movements to be done as extra work at the end of a training session or in “talk test” style wods. This is an easy way to force people in to doing them!  


Accessories are like your back up. They allow you to keep pushing the envelope with your target movements by keeping you more well rounded in strength, control, ability and overhall health. Obviously if you lack the mobility to perform what you want to, that’s where you start, then your basic strength building and skill work comes in. I just say that incase you think doing accessory work will save you from being hurt. If you're technique sucks, or your training your ego all the time, accessories wont help. If anything you’ll probably be a cherry picker who makes things worse by doing the movements you like to do, not the movements you need to do. The whole point of accessory work is to balance and support your training so you can do the things you want to do. It’s not so much a matter of choice, but more a necessity. 


The accessory work I tend to choose in no particular order:


*Loaded carries of all varieties

*Joint/stability work (think hips, shoulders, knees, feet, even wrists)

*Manipulation of mechanisms of hypertrophy - for slow twitch endurance, size, and strength. Either in muscles that lend themselves to controlling our target movement or in muscles that provide force to produce the movement.

*Multi-planar (particulalry rotation) work (usually resistance against rotation)

*Single limb work 

*Bracing and movement based core work.


It’s should come as no surprise that the most difficult aspects of CrossFit, the gymnastics and the weightlifting, are the aspects that have the most depth in accessory movements - and are both sports where athletes spend years building strength and skill in basics before trying to master things we look at and want to do but aren’t willing to start from scratch for. We want it now. Harder, faster, more. The general population, most of us, look at the elite and think we can just do “that”. What I mean is we see them smash out epic wod’s and we want to do that. Lift crazy weight etc. But what we don’t see is all the boring constant physical (and mental) bulletproofing that they do to allow them to perform like this. The sacrifice is beyond what most of us would ever be willing to do.


Don’t cherry pick! This exemplifies ego based training and very quickly sorts the committed few. As they say, prevention is better than cure, do your accessory work! Courtesy of Ben Bergeron… This sums it up really.