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 northofvag@gmail.com. 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.

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  • Comment by Mark — October 17, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

    Haha, best of luck with that wish!
    I’ve come to the conclusion that minimum assistance is best. Pick one lift to oppose the 5/3/1 lift and let rip in whatever set/rep scheme. Anytime I start added in more I get beat up after a few weeks.

  • Comment by Taylor — October 17, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

    This exactly why I have made the decision to live breath and eat the 5 3 1 Wendler way of life and lifting. Doing this has made me bigger, stronger and a lot less stressed. I have quit reading just about every other site because that was the exact thing that fucked me up. One strength coach would endorse another coaches new product but that product contradicted what the first coach was teaching “selling”. I feel better and I am a lot fucking stronger. I eat, lift, run and strentch not read about why organtic milk is so much better. I made the commitment to this sight and live by it. Later

  • Comment by Reginald — October 17, 2011 @ 8:21 pm

    what is your opinion on kettlebell swings for assistance work?

  • Comment by James — October 17, 2011 @ 11:18 pm

    I definitely agree with the bit on volume and how you’re feeling that day or more specifically with that particular exercise. For a while I fell victim to the strict set / rep scheme of a program without seeing much improvement in my core lifts. After I ditched that shit and went with the exercises that motivated me the best, kept my state of mind positive, and also assisted my main lifts, I started to see better gains. Simply put, the muscle / mind connection is pretty powerful and a lot of times gets overlooked.

  • Comment by Barry — October 18, 2011 @ 8:19 am

    Taylors’ thoughts are exactly mine.

  • Comment by Jim Wendler — October 18, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

    As stated in the 5/3/1 book, this is fine.

  • Comment by Scott — October 18, 2011 @ 11:41 pm

    Taylor says it best. I’m in the process of decluttering my bookshelf of meaningless books I have bought over the years. Jim, in addition to 5-3-1 and starting Strength, what other books or authors do you recommend, training wise or just in general?

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  • Comment by Zen — October 22, 2011 @ 8:25 pm

    I think people would have less problems with the assistance lifts, if more people read the book! Its amazing how many people on the forums claim to have read the book when its obvious they haven’t.

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