Strength Athletes Suck At Accessories by Alex Hall
Because I coach powerlifting at a strength gym, I spend a lot of time around athletes who train specifically for strength. My gym, JDI Barbell, is primarily made up of weightlifters and powerlifters, and I myself am a competitive powerlifter. But I can separate myself from the crowd a bit because I actually came to powerlifting late in my career, and somewhat reluctantly. I got started lifting the way just about all meatheads do—Bodybuilding. I wanted to be jacked. So maybe it’s my background in bodybuilding that has made me so adamant about this phenomenon I have noticed more and more at the gym: Strength athletes simply suck at accessory work.
If you’ve spent any time at a strength gym and you know anything about training to build muscle, then you probably know what I mean. I have literally watched some of the most technically sound weightlifters do some of the ugliest 1-arm dumbbell rows. I have seen some top-level powerlifters who dumbbell press less than me.
So what? I hear you saying. If they’re good at their sports, then who cares? Well, this is where I think we strength athletes can learn something from the bros. Building muscle is an essential and often overlooked part of strength training. So many lifters stall because they have taken their technique in the main lifts as far as it can go. And don’t get me wrong, technique work goes a long way, but after a certain point, all of the technique work in the world won’t build you the muscle you need to get stronger.
Let’s take the same emphasis we place on technique in the main lifts and apply it to building some muscle. Accessory work isn’t an afterthought. Everything in your program should have a purpose, and there is no reason to work through accessories mindlessly and inefficiently, especially when they’re there to help you build muscle.
I notice that everyone loves to throw around the word hypertrophy these days, and that’s fine. I love it too. It sounds nerdy and sophisticated. But at its essence, it’s just a fancy way of saying bodybuilding. How can we say we are truly doing hypertrophy work, if we take a half-assed, sloppy approach to bodybuilding work? Sure, the meat and potatoes of your hypertrophy program may be your 5x8 Bench Presses, but does that mean the 4 subsequent sets of dumbbell presses or the close grip bench presses on day 3 don’t matter? No, for god’s sake! That volume is contributing either to building more muscle or to maintaining the muscle that you already have. The real muscle building money comes when you apply the same meticulousness to barbell rows as you do to sumo deads when you channel your inner Arnold!
Think about it, bodybuilders have big muscles because they know how to effectively isolate them. The most effective way to train for bodybuilding is to work through full ranges of motion with a combination of both compound and isolation movements. Spend some time focusing on technique in your accessories, on your mind-muscle connection, on squeezing, on contracting, and on all of the other dirty words associated with bros. But don’t do it for me, do it because you’ll be a bigger, stronger, better lifter because of it. And if nothing else, just do it because you’ll be jacked.
Alex is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a Specialist in Fitness Nutrition. He has over a decade of experience in various strength disciplines, including bodybuilding, powerlifting, cross training, and weightlifting. He coaches Strength Groundwork and Powerlifting.