Accessory work is the work that is done to assist in the main movements. For example, in powerlifting, RDLs are accessory work for deadlifts. Although they are not exactly the same thing, they are similar enough that the carry over is still there. Another example is leg press being accessory work for squats. Although the movements are vastly different, they both incorporate similar muscles. Accessory work is the little things.
“It’s the little things that are vital. Little things make the big things happen.”
– John Wooden
They Help You Improve
If you want a big bench, chances are you need to hit triceps and shoulders just as often as you hit chest. Although 4 sets of 12 military press sounds kinda crappy, and all you may want to do is hit heavy triples on bench, the accessory work will carry over. For example, a big bench press can only be supported by a strong and large upper back. Seated rows, pull ups, barbell rows, none of these things are in a competition, but they all add into a better bench press.
For Olympic lifting, Snatch Pulls and Clean Pulls are not the actual lift, and you are able to use weights much greater than you would for the actual lifts. They still carry over in both the area of form, as well as strength and getting used to moving heavier weight.
In deadlifting, the best accessory work for the sumo deadlift is the conventional deadlift. They focus on different areas, and each will make you stronger in the area the other is weak.
This one is a special type of accessory work called General Physical Preparedness, or GPP. GPP is what makes up the end of many workouts, and is an absolute essential to any quality workout program. Although it may not be fun, any work that prevents injuries is work worth doing. It can come in the form of core workouts, or things like arm bars for stability.
It may also come in the form of isolated work to strengthen specific areas that are lagging behind like the rotator cuffs. These areas are highly susceptible to injuries when for breaks down, largely because everything around it gets hit, but they are never targeted.
It Can Make You Look Better
Bicep curls obviously don’t serve nearly as much purpose as any of the other areas covered in this list, but they do make your arms look nice. Accessory work is where you can get away with throwing in hypertrophy movements in a powerlifting or weightlifting program. It never hurts to get bigger and look more jacked.
Things like face pulls, seated rows, and ab wheels are all great for building strength as well as building some muscle. Don’t have ass them just because they are at the end of the workout and your heavy lifts are done.
Although accessory work can be mundane and boring, it has a purpose. Sure you can get away with skipping it from time to time, but doing so adds up. By keeping the intensity high throughout the workout, including accessory work, you put yourself one step ahead. Small things add up over time to large impact, that is the compound effect at work. It is not going to happen overnight, but following a program to a t, from the beginning to the end, will pay off in the long run.
Don’t skip the small stuff, it’s really what matters.