More on Assistance Lifts
The choice of assistance lift pales in importance to the proper execution and loading of the key lifts. Too many younger lifters major in the minors, and they’re called assistance lifts for a reason. That’s the main point I was trying to make. When evaluating whether an assistance lift has a place in your program, it helps to consider that assistance lifts are intended to accomplish a few specific goals:
• Prevent strength imbalances.
• Build muscle.
• Strengthen weak areas.
• ASSIST the basic lifts (squat, bench press, overhead press, and deadlift; or whatever lifts you deem important in your training).
Let’s take a look at the key lifts and what needs to be strong to do them:
Squat — abs, low back, hamstrings, quads.
Deadlift — same as squat, plus upper back/lats and grip.
Bench Press — chest, shoulders, triceps, lats/upper back.
Overhead Press — same as bench press, plus low back/abs.
So with this in mind, we have to have assistance work that compliments these lifts and provides balance. Here are some of the best assistance exercises for each area of the above:
• Abs — sit ups, ab wheel roll-outs, hanging leg raises.
• Low Back — good mornings, back raises, reverse hyperextensions.
• Quads — lunges, leg presses.
• Chest — dips, dumbbell presses, dumbbell flyes.
• Triceps — dumbbell presses, dips, triceps extension/pushdowns.
• Shoulders — any pressing exercise.
• Hamstrings — glute ham raise, good mornings, back raises, leg curls.
• Lats/upper back — pull-ups, bent rows, dumbbell rows, shrugs.
For the grip, just perform Kroc rows (high rep dumbbell rows) or high rep shrugs (no straps).
You’ll notice a lot of overlap with some of these exercises because we’re trying to do more with less. That’s training economy, a very good thing; better results with less time in the weight room. Now you don’t have to perform all of these exercises in one workout — just pick one for each group and hammer it home. Some exercises may work better than others but you have to give it time to work. I see people do an exercise for three weeks and fail to put 80lbs on their bench and label it a big failure. As for volume of the assistance lifts, that tends to vary from person to person and therefore it’s hard to program on paper. When in doubt, push the main lift and do assistance work based on however you might feel that day. Truth is, I tell seminar attendees all the time that a training program rarely fails due to improper assistance exercise selection. It will fail from poor programming, a lack of consistency, and failing to accommodate the ups and downs of life. In other words, a program must allow you to adjust a bit when you have a particularly good or absolutely shitty day.
It’s not as simple as “Do this.” You have to rely on that thing that rests between your ears.
Got a question for Jim Wendler? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Legitimate questions will be answered via the website/blog. All older questions will be answered in time via www.JimWendler.com. If the answer is clearly answered in any of the 5/3/1 books, your question will not be answered.