From time to time, I get e-mails asking me what assistance exercises I use, like or value in my programming. Assistance exercises should reinforce technique, correct muscular imbalances, create symmetry between the limbs, develop strength and develop muscle mass in key areas. Assistance exercises should not tire you to the point where you can’t put your energy where it matters (the lifts) unless you are in a training phase where it is acceptable (General phase). All my replies to those e-mails have included the following 6 exercises. I thought I would share it with all of you.
1. Kang Squat
What it is : My friend Stephen Powell showed me this exercise and I have been using this exercise with my lifters to a great extent. Rack the bar on your shoulder as in a bar squat. Initiate a good morning (Bend forward while pushing the hips back, until your back is close to parallel to the ground). From this position, descend in the bottom of a squat and come back up to the ”good morning position”, and finish with a back extension. Video : Mie Yoshinaga doing Kang Squat with great technique
Why I like it : First, it hits pretty much all of the key position in weightlifting. Second, coming up of the hole into the good morning loads the hamstring, glutes and back extensors a lot. These muscles are often greatly overlooked but they need to be strong to hit good pulling positions. Finally, you don’t need a lot of weight to actually have a good training stimulus which is good. Less spinal loading is always a bonus.
How/When I program it : I usually program Kang Squat after heavier sessions since they require the use of less weight. Sometimes I will have athlete- who have really weak posterior chain strength – do it first thing in the workout with lighter weights to kind of activate these muscles and mobilize their body. I usually stick to 5 reps.
2. Push press/jerk in a split position
What it is : In your regular split jerk position, with the bar in the front rack, you dip and push the weight up with a slight jump (as in a push jerk).
Why I like it : The slight dip improves the flexibility of the hip flexor on the same side as the back leg. The slight jump forces the athlete to really stabilize the weight – in a jerk position- as he lands and forces the athlete to replicate proper foot positioning all the time. Finally, less weight can be used to have a good training stimulus which means its a useful drill to do before jerks.
How/When I program it : I only use this exercise if the athlete needs to learn how to stabilize the weight in the jerk, be more consistent in their foot positioning or transition better under the weight. As said before, I’ll use it before the jerks portion of the training, mainly for 3-4 reps and a few sets of lighter weights. Don’t over do this exercise (weight wise) because the base of support (the split stance) could create asymmetry.
3. Snatch Grip presses (behind the neck) in the bottom position of a squat
What it is : The bar is on your back, and you use your snatch grip. Descend into the bottom of a squat. From there, press the weight up while staying at the bottom of the squat.
Why I like it: Many people actually have bad mobility in the bottom of a squat. They somehow snatch a lot, but they can’t press a barbell in this position. It strengthen the shoulders, upper back and makes the whole base of support more stable. Also, it teaches to push hard against the barbell in this position, which has to be done when you receive the bar in the snatch.
How/When I program it : I mostly use this exercise as the first exercise of the training session with athletes with below than average mobility. I stick to 3 to 5 reps, and we go as heavy as can safely be handled (and for most beginners, an empty bar is ”as safely as can be handled”). If the athlete has bad mobility, he will be doing this every time he trains. For maintenance, I’ll program it once or twice a week.
4. Push back lunges
What it is : Barbell on your back, step forward and do a lunge. After the ascent, the front leg comes back (You push back to the starting position).
Why I like it : Having the ability to push back with the front leg is quite useful for the jerk. Doing so requires a lot of glute strenght. The quads are still worked, but I don’t program push back lunges for their development. More importantly, it actually balances the strength of both legs which is a must if you split jerk. It balances out hip and leg muscles.
How/When I program it : At the end of the session, I will have the athlete do push back lunges usually for 6 to 10 reps on each legs. The athlete warms up to a working weight (at least 3-4 sets before the working weight) and then does 3 sets. I program them for blocks of three weeks, where the first week the athlete does 3×6, 3×8 on the 2nd week and 3×10 on the 3rd week (same weight based on the 1st week). Most of the time, doing these once a week is enough.
5-6. Squats and Pulls
Not worth going into details here, Squats should be the number one assistance exercises and pulls should be worked in from times to times depending on your weaknesses. I will just say that I rarely let my athlete grind out reps. I like to see smooth and controlled reps for pulls. For squat, I want the same thing plus explosiveness.