It’s Wise to Accessorize: The Importance of Accessory Work

Any girl will tell you that accessories can make or break an outfit. A simple dress can go from ho-hum to fab with the addition of a cute scarf or flashy necklace (guys who are reading, don’t tune out – that’s not the kind of accessorizing this post is about). The same goes for Crossfit – accessory work can make a HUGE difference.

Now, you may be asking yourself – what exactly is accessory work? It’s the little things that go along with lifts and Crossfit movements, without actually doing the whole lift/movement. The accessory work is designed to hone in on weakness and improve technique on the lift.

An example isIMG_2064 doing rack pulls to help with your deadlift. I’ve had rack pulls as part of my programming for several months now, and have noticed big improvements not only in my deadlift, but in my positioning coming up out of the bottom of both my front and back squats as well.

It’s no secret that I like to do “extra credit” lifting and homework outside of Crossfit classes. My current programming involves a lot of accessory work – from the aforementioned rack pulls to split squats (ugh, they suck), lunges, weighted step-ups, core stability and skills work. On any given day, I’m spending as much, if not more time on accessory work than straight up lifting.

Here’s the thing about accessory work though: it’s not always glamorous or sexy. Your working weight might be far lower than your latest 1 rep max. It’s not going to be something you walk away from saying “yes, I just hit a PR” (although it will most certainly help you get there). The first time you try an exercise, you may find yourself a) asking your coach what exactly the movement is (this frequently happens to me the first week of a new lifting cycle) and/or b) wondering what the heck this is supposed to do and how is it going to help me?

Trust your coach. Learn how to do the movement. Keep doing it as prescribed on your program. At first you may not know what you’re doing or why you’re doing it, but keep going. Surprising things will happen. You will go to hit a lift and find you don’t fail out at the same point you used to. You’ll be back squatting and suddenly realize that not only has the weight gone up, but you’re not folding forward nearly as much as you used to.

I’ve seen a lot of improvement on my front squat of late due to all the lower body accessory work I’ve been doing. As detailed in this post, I used to consider it one of my weaker lifts. I really struggled (and still do, but to a lesser extent) with my front rack position/the drive up. Then I went to re-test my 1 rep max last month and shocked myself with a 15 pound PR after being stuck at the same weight for several months. Chalk it up to the accessory work!

Want to start adding accessory work to your programming? Here are a few tips:

First of all, know yourself. Know your weaknesses. Look at the movements that you struggle with. Pay attention when you’re lifting. Is there a certain point of a lift where you get stuck or fail out? Make a note of it. Break it down and you can probably find something to work on that will help you tackle that weakness.

Secondly, work with someone who a) knows you and b) knows more than you. None of us are going to be totally objective when it comes to seeing our own weaknesses. And no one can spot all the things they need to improve on. A coach can give you the unbiased perspective you need, as well as see things that you may be missing. But don’t just go picking a coach at random. Talk to someone who sees you work out on a regular basis, and is familiar with your strengths and weaknesses. My coach knows where I excel, but more importantly, the areas I need to improve on, and has planned my accessory work accordingly. Not to mention that your coach has expertise, training and knowledge that you won’t have.

Thirdly, don’t be afraid to switch it up, BUT don’t give up. This might just mean upping the weight or changing the rep/set scheme. Or it could mean new exercises entirely. Once you’ve seen improvements in one area, it might be time to tackle another weakness. But this is by no means an excuse to give up a movement just because it’s not your favourite. Sometimes, you might have the same piece of accessory work programmed for months at a time. Keep at it! The improvement will come when you least expect it.

I have to say, that although I love lifting heavy and hitting PRs (okay – who doesn’t?), I’ve come to love my accessory work. I look forward to seeing what’s the same and what’s new at the beginning of a new lifting cycle. I kind of enjoy explaining the movements to curious friends at the gym who ask to see my programming or want to know what I’m working on. But what I enjoy most is the results I get. That’s the best part of accessory work by far.

What about you? Do you do accessory work? What kind of improvements have you seen?

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