What is Accessory Work?

Accessory exercises, sometimes referred to as secondary exercises, generally follow on from the so-called ‘primary’ or ‘compound’ exercises. They often allow you to focus on different muscle groups or hit certain muscle groups in different ways. When used properly, not only will accessory exercises make you stronger and more adept in a variety of movement patterns, but they’ll also help you get better and stronger at your primary exercises. However, accessory work can also be done as a standalone session too, as part of a rehab/prehab session.

Why do we need it?

Accessory work is important to everyone, as they almost help any deficiencies you may have within the body that may be hindering your bigger movements or even your everyday movement, which if ignored can lead to injuries. 

Who needs it?

Accessory work is pretty much a one-size fits all, in that everyone should be doing it. However, each person’s accessory movements will be different to others, based on their strengths, weaknesses, goals etc. For example, a basketball player who is recovering from an ACL injury will be doing completely different accessories compared to a sprinter who is in-season. Remember just because you see a movement social media, doesn’t mean its necessarily applicable to your client or yourself, at that time! 

Example …

Truth be told, a lot of the accessory exercises out there, even some that are quite popular aren’t all that beneficial. They either don’t offer much benefit, or there are safer options available which are just as effective, if not more. For example, machine-based exercises, such as chest press, leg extension etc. Although these are often popular machines in most commercial gyms and do have their benefits (I mean they are better than nothing) do not allow the same range of motion and stability that free weight alternatives offer. Thus, these free-weight options are often smarter and more functional. These could include movements such as:

  • Lunge Variations
  • Deadbugs, Birddogs, Planks
  • Single Arm Presses and Pulls
  • Pull Ups
  • Cable work

Its’ place within a structured workout?

Accessory exercises are typically performed for more reps than primary exercises. Many effective workouts often follow this rough order:

    • Warm-up (15-20mins)
    • One or two primary exercises (3-6sets of 2-6reps)
    • Two to three supersets* of accessory exercises (3-5reps of 8-15reps)

*A superset is a training method that calls for performing a full set of an exercise to completion, then performing a set of one or more other exercises to completion without a break between them. After you complete one set of all included exercises, you enter a rest period.

Grouping accessory exercises that alternately target agonist and antagonist muscle groups is a good idea. For example, pairing pushing movements, with pulling movements. These help to even out the anterior dominant people and reduce asymmetries. 

Benefits …

Ultimately accessory work reduces your weaknesses and imbalances/asymmetries and makes you a stronger, more resilient and robust and less prone to injury in the long run.