It can be pretty overwhelming trying to remember and understand the words or ‘terms’ used if you’re new to strength training!
One term you’ll often hear is ‘accessories’. Over time, learning the meaning and function of these will help you get the most out of every workout. But what exactly are they?
What are accessory exercises?
Accessory lifts are exercises that help you to strengthen smaller muscle groups. But before you understand their importance, you need to understand primary or compound movements, aka ‘the big lifts’.
A compound exercise is any movement where you’re using more than one muscle group at a time. Examples of these include deadlifts, squats, press, and clean. These are, without doubt, the fundamental lifts for overall strength training. They provide significant results in getting stronger and changing body composition.
While these form the basis of any good strength training routine, we shouldn’t overlook the importance of accessory work. These are the other smaller and more focused movements that help you do primary exercises better, with improved form, efficiency, and results.
For example, a squat uses multiple muscle groups: glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, and abs. Accessory exercises to help improve these would include step-ups, lunges and split squats.
What’s the purpose of an accessory exercise?
Accessory exercises allow you to focus on different muscle groups – or hit specific muscle groups in different ways – than primary exercises. As a result, they ultimately reduce weakness and imbalances and make you more robust. When used correctly, not only will accessory exercises make you more adept in a variety of movement patterns, but they’ll also help you improve your primary exercises.
Why are they important?
One of the main reasons to include accessory exercises in a routine is to improve the primary movements. But how and why?
Build Strength, Lift More
By complementing primary exercises, they strengthen the supporting, smaller muscles and those imbalanced or weaker than others. That means you get stronger overall. New PB, anyone?!
Reduce Wear and Tear on the Body
Training the same five or six movements can take its toll on the body. By switching things up with accessory exercises, you help to protect your joints, muscles, and connective tissues. As a result, you will be less tired, perform better, and reduce injury risk.
Break Through Plateaus
Progression for someone who has just started lifting happens rapidly. Newbies quickly move to heavier weights, see their body change and overall, feel fitter. But those with more experience know that as you get stronger, progression gets more complicated. Anything you can do to push the body a little further or in a slightly different way can lead to improvements and help break through a plateau, none more so than incorporating accessory exercises into your routine.
Improve Functional Movement
Primary movements with perfect form are fundamental, but you don’t use that kind of form in daily activities. Instead, you still strengthen by adding accessory exercises using different movements and methods, improving functional movements in everything you do, meaning less pain and reduced injury risk.
Correct Muscle Imbalances
Poor technique, injuries and movement limitations can lead to imbalances that only worsen over time if not addressed. For example, during a press, the bar may travel unevenly. You can use an accessory exercise like a single-arm dumbbell press to help build up that weaker side.
Calling them assistance instead of accessory exercises may help make their purpose much clearer! Still, they ultimately plug the small gaps left when you do significant, compound movements regardless of this.
They help correct muscle imbalances, fix weak links, reduce your risk of injury and, in turn, increase your performance. So focus on the big lifts but be sure to supplement them with just the right accessory exercises. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, after all.
Need help perfecting your form or unsure where your sticking points are? Get in touch now to elevate your strength gains to a whole other level!