In a recent post I talked about the importance of compound lifts and how they are one of the most effective ways to not only lose weight, but to also add that muscle definition you won’t get if you just do cardio. So if compound lifts are the best for getting the body you want why are you going to spend a whole post talking about accessory lifts, Jen? Well, unfortunately, we are not all perfectly symmetrical human beings who were born in a bubble. We all have muscle imbalances and weak areas from birth defects, injuries, poor posture, accidents, etc. Accessory lifts can be a great tool for correcting weaknesses and imbalances before they lead to injuries.
I’ll use myself for an example! I have been in physical therapy on and off my whole life for a variety of reasons. My most recent reason was stomach and hip pain from some old scar tissue that popped up after my hip surgery and pelvic surgery. Through some tests my physical therapist was able to determine that I had a lot of weakness in my right hip and that my movement there was severely compromised by the scar tissue. My body had adapted and my left leg had been taking the brunt of all the weight when I would run and weightlift. My right quad was also overly tightened because I couldn’t tap into my right glute or hamstring. What’s the solution to this? Manipulation to help move everything back into place and break up the scar tissue and exercises that will help strengthen my right side.
Accessory lifts are called that for a reason. They’re an accessory to your compound lifts and will make them stronger by strengthening your areas of weakness. If you are continually doing squats and yet can’t get past that 200 lbs one rep max you are more than likely being held back by your weakest point. In order to strengthen your weakest point you can do accessory lifts. Below is a list of some of my favorite accessory lifts. Right now I prefer to do my compound lifts first and I follow up with my accessory lifts, but it really is just about preference. Accessory lifts can serve as a great warmup for your compound lifts, but I typically go to hard on the accessory lifts and end up under-performing on my compound lifts. You could also do all your accessory lifts on days when you aren’t doing compound lifts, but I find that type of rotation difficult because you need to make sure your muscle groups are resting at least one or two days before working them out again. The best solution is just to get in the gym and try everything out to see what works for you!
Glute bridges are great for helping building up the muscle in your derriere and you can easily add some weight onto them by using a barbell or squeezing yourself underneath the bar for the leg raise machine. You may look awkward but your dynamo booty will have all the haters taking a second look. Not only will glute bridges help you strengthen your glutes (obvs), but it will also help you strengthen your back.
- Load up your barbell to the desired amount of weight
- Find a weight bench and get into your bridge position with your back on the bench and your knees bent.
- Then take the barbell and place it across the area right below your hip bones.
- Push your bottom of the ground and form your bridge using your glutes to power you up. Then come back down.
- I recommend going light on these at first if you are not used to doing them because the soreness the next day can be a real biotch from these babies.
Bulgarian Split Squat-
Bulgarian Split Squats are one of my favorite accessory lifts because it can really help even out any imbalances you may have on your right or left leg. You’ll tell pretty quickly which is your weaker leg and you’ll want to do some extra reps on that side.
- Find a weight bench and some dumbells. Start light and work your way heavier as these are harder than you think they are once you get to around the 8th rep.
- Take a pretty good step away from the bench and put the top of your foot on the bench behind you. Finding your preferred distance from the weight bench can take awhile so if what you’re doing doesn’t feel right then try stepping a little further forward or backwards until you find that sweet spot.
- Grab the weights off the ground and get your front leg straight.
- Slowly start to squat forward on your one leg and once you hit parallel push back up.
Seated Dumbbell Press-
This is another great one for needling out any of those imbalances and strengthening them. It will also help you become stronger overall because instead of both your arms being able to push the barbell up you have to use the muscles from each arm and shoulder separately. To arms that are super strong individually will be even stronger together!
- Pick out your dumbbells of choice and find a free weight bench.
- Start with the dumbbells by your shoulders and push them up until your arms are straight.
- Then slowly lower down. Lowering slowly is key in almost every lift you do because the way down helps train your muscles just as much as they going up part!
I am one of the fortunate few whose triceps grow and show quite quickly, unlike my biceps, so I love spending time working those out and this is my favorite tricep exercise to do.
- Find a cable machine or a lat pulldown machine. If you’re using the cable machine adjust the cable so that it’s high above you and use the bar attachment.
- Grab the bar with an overhand grip and keep your arms at 90 degrees for your starting position. Keep your elbows in and then use your tricep muscles to push down.
- Once your arms are as low as they can go allow the bar to come up in a slow and controlled motion until you hit that 90 degree point. Do not allow it to go any higher as this keeps the time under tension for your muscles a bit longer and any little bit helps!
This is one of the most underrated accessory lifts. Remember that your compound lifts are only as strong as your weakest point and quite frequently your weakest point is in your grip strength. At least mine is! I could do deadlifts for days, but my grip is always the first thing to give out. Major bummer, but farmer’s walks help with it!
- Find a good distance you can walk and pick out some heavy dumbbells or kettlebells.
- Walk that length and back while making sure that you’re in perfect posture with your chest up and your shoulders back.
- Do your best to swing your arms as little as possible.
Overhead Dumbbell Tricep Extension-
Your triceps are made up of three different muscle heads so if you’re looking for more definition in your triceps or for more strength then make sure to hit your triceps from multiple angles.
- Grab one dumbbell and take a set on a weight bench. You can also stand and do this at a cable machine with the attachment set at the ground.
- Put the weight behind your head and push up slowly to an overhead position using your tricep muscles to straighten your arms.
- Slowly return the weight to behind you. If you’re using a cable machine be careful of your ponytails. This can be a hair grabber sometimes!
- Make sure to keep avoid overarching your back. If you can’t keep your back straight lower the weight. Proper form above all else!
Your bicep strength can easily get hindered by your weakest point, but 21’s are such a helpful solution. It helps you strengthen each part of your curl individually and then once your muscles are fatigued you do the full curl to get even more of a burn!
- I use 10 lbs or 15 lbs dumbbells. These will sneak up ya quickly.
- Do a curl, but stop when your arms are at 90 degrees. Repeat 7 more times.
- Then curl all the way to the top and go down until you hit 90 degrees with your arms. Repeat 7 more times.
- Finally, do 7 full curls and feel the burn!
- If you aren’t pushing through those last ones then move to a higher weight.
Goblet squats are a great accessory lift to complement your squats.
- Stand holding a light kettlebell by the horns or a dumbbell from the top.
- Squat down until you hit the bottom of your flexibility or your hamstrings are on your calves. Keep your chest and head up and your back straight. Your posture will be a lot more erect with goblet squats than they are with your regular squats because the weight is in the front.
- At the bottom position pause and push back up using your quads, glutes and hamstrings.
These accessory lifts will complement your compound lifts, strengthen your weakest points and develop more muscle definition in the areas you want. Accessory lifts are so important for preventing injuries and not only reaching your goals in the gym, but smashing past them. Again, finding what place accessory lifts have in your workout is going to be a trial and error process. Your body will tell you if it likes to do accessory lifts before or after your compound lifts. Just get out there and listen! What accessory lifts do you have to have or which ones are you looking forward to? Sound out below!