Programming Assistance Work
Listen to Pyramids
This originally was going to be used for the 5/3/1 Rest Pause stuff but I was able to use it for just about every other program that I’ve written. Just to be very clear, assistance work is NOT supplemental work. Assistance work consists of movements such as DB bench, rows, triceps extensions, abdominal/low back work, curls, etc. Supplemental work is First Set Last (FSL) and the 5×10 of Boring But Big (BBB). There is a big difference between the two.
Now before I get into this, I want to make something extremely clear when using this style of programming for your assistance work. You do use a Training Max. However, the TM has nothing to do with your max nor do you have to test anything. The TM is only used to manipulate the numbers of the work sets. The TM for the assistance work HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOUR MAX for the exercise. Remember that this is just ONE way program your assistance work, not the only way.
Using the standard 5/3/1 program, the three week assistance program is as follows:
- Week One – 70%x10, 85% x work set(s)
- Week Two – 75%x10, 90% x work set(s)
- Week Three – 80%x10, 95% x work set(s)
Obviously, if you are using the 3/5/1 style of programming, the first and second week will be switched.
So how do we use this? First, remember that I originally had done this for the 5/3/1 Rest Pause program. So what I did was program (for example) the T-Bar Rows and did one warm up set and one all out set. Before I started programming the numbers, I already knew approximately where my strength was for the T-Bar Row. So I played with a TM until the numbers looked good. Now remember, as long as you are pretty close with the TM you will be fine. And as always, err on the side of “too light”. No one with an IQ above 6 wants to fuck up their training with going too heavy on assistance work. Remember the simple mantra: Main Lifts = Movement, Assistance = Muscle. So choose a VERY appropriate TM for your assistance and use your best judgment.
With the T-Bar Rows, let’s pretend we are doing the Rest Pause program and have a TM of 300 pounds.
- Week One – 210 x 10, 255 x 17 (one all out set)
- Week Two – 225 x 10, 270 x 14 (one all out set)
- Week Three – 240×10, 285 x 12 (one all out set)
Now let’s say you are doing a “normal” 5/3/1 program and instead are doing a total of 50 reps for the T Bar Rows. This is simple:
- Week One – 210 x 10 reps, 255 x 40 total reps
- Week Two – 225 x 10 reps, 270 x 40 total reps
- Week Three – 240 x 10 reps, 285 x 40 total reps
Now you can count the first set towards your total or not. I don’t care, just be consistent when you do this. How you get the total number of reps is up to you. The TM can increase every 3 weeks (like normal) but you can play around with this depending on your goals for each 3 week phase. You may keep same TM and manipulate the total amount of reps. There are a lot of different ways to play this so don’t be afraid to try some different things out.
I have not and will not sign off on using this style of programming for chins and dips (or any bodyweight movement). There are too many variables and it becomes a huge cluster fuck. Plus, the three prong approach to chins/dips (Volume/Weight/Drop Set) is superior for these movements. (I wrote about programming these movements a couple months ago.) Here is a list of movements I used this style of programming for:
- DB pressing (all kinds)
- DB Rows
- TBar Rows
- Barbell Rows
- Leg Press
- One leg Barbell Movements (step up/lunge/Bulgarian Squat)
- Triceps Extensions (barbell)
- Curls (barbell)
- Hungarian Core Blaster (this was way too much of a pain in the ass but I did it)
Things that won’t work very well: face pulls, db raises (all kinds), pushdowns, anything that is very light or uses cables (no one should program anything with a cable). The point is this: there comes a point where you should just use some commons sense with your training and programming your neck and face pulls is just plain stupid. But this style of programming can easily make your training that much easier. For example, let’s say you are using the Triumvirate:
- Press – 5/3/1
- DB Bench – 50 total reps
- Chins – Weighted (50 reps)
- Deadlift – 5/3/1
- Step-ups – 50 total reps
- Ab Wheel/Back Raise – 100 each
- Bench Press – 5/3/1
- Dips – Weighted (50 reps)
- DB Rows – 100 total reps
- Squat – 5/3/1
- SLDL – 50 total reps
- Leg Raise/Back Raise – 100 each
Now if you are smart, you can manipulate the TM of the assistance for the first 3 weeks and maybe hit HIGHER total reps on the assistance but keep the main work 5’s PRO. The next three weeks, dial the assistance back a little bit and push for some PR’s.
Then the next three weeks, 5’s PRO again and increase the total reps of the assistance. Follow that with lowering the total reps of assistance and pushing Jokers on 3×3 and 5/3/1 week.
Again, the TM is used to manipulate the numbers of your work sets – don’t go maxing out on dumbbell bench press or try to hit a 3RM on the triceps extension. Be smart! There are two downsides to doing this with your training:
- It becomes too overwhelming. I think this is can be good for some people but many just want to program the main lifts and supplemental and let their mind/body dictate the assistance work at the time of the workout. This can be good for some people. And dangerous to others. Personally, I got tired of programming everything. Assistance work is now just about total reps, working the muscle and getting a good pump. Getting balance.
- You are weak – if your best dumbbell bench press is 25 x 8, there isn’t a lot of difference with the work sets from week to week. You are better off just doing what every other person has done before: get stronger. Don’t get bogged down with every part of your training and over analyze of over program.