Sunday, September 18, 2016

Assistance Movements for Powerlifters, Part Two - Anthony Ditillo (1979)

Both Articles from this Issue

Note: I've tacked on an article on the proper use of assistance exercises (by George Elder) that was in the same issue of PLUSA. It follows the Ditillo one. 

Assistance Movements for Powerlifters, Part II:
Bench Press Specialization
as told to A. Ditillo by Dave Shaw (1979)
Dave Shaw

Real nice Dave Shaw article/tribute here:
 Dave Shaw is a remarkable deadlifter, holding the present ('79) Junior 275 Class record with a little over 800 pounds. It seems odd indeed that this man with a leverage benefit for deadlifting should also be a topnotch bencher and it is for this reason I've chosen to use Dave's method of training the bench in hopes his methodology will aid us lesser mortals in greatly increasing our bench press.

Dave Shaw: 

"Without a doubt, just about everyone likes to do the bench press. This is one exercise, when regularly practiced, that shows obvious results. Everyone who is successful in benching heavy weights has their own system of training that allows them to continually elevate heavier poundages. Regardless of the routine you use, bench pressing is the cornerstone of basic upper body power.

A beginner may find 3 days per week on the bench as quite adequate for continued power and gains, providing max singles are used once per week. On such a routine I gained 60 lbs. of bodyweight and registered 420 on the bench within four years. Here then was my first bench routine:

Mon - Wed - Fri:

1) Bench Press, 5 x 5
4 warmup sets and a final max set of 5 reps.

2) Dumbbell Pullover, 4 x 10.

3) Wide Grip Chin, 6 x 12.

4) Lateral Raise, 4 x 12.

5) Barbell Row, 4 x 10.

6) Barbell Curl, 4 x 8.

From here on in I've basically switched to benching twice a week - reps on one day and singles on the other - and I switched the assistance movements to continually maintain training enthusiasm and continue progressing. Example: 


Bench press - 7 sets of 5 up to a maximum 5.
Inclines - 5 x 5 up to a max 5.
Bentover Row - 5 x 5 up to a max 5.
Curl - 6 x 10.


Bench - to max single.
Incline - to max single.
Rows - 5's, try for a heavier weight than on Monday.
Curls - 5's.
I've also used Dumbbell Benches, Dumbbell Presses, and Triceps Pressdowns from time to time to stimulate deeper fibers as well as training interest.
When benching always try to use the maximum grip available (within legal limits), and use strict style without arching or bouncing. If done properly, the upper body will gain a thick muscular impressiveness which virtually ALL trainees desire. All that's necessary is patience and hard work."

Here's that George Elder article:

The Proper Use of Assistance Exercises
by George Elder (1979)

It is all too often that competitive lifters seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on assistance exercises. I know of one individual who did 4-5 sets of flyes, 4 sets of narrow grip benches, 4 sets of lockouts and 4 sets of wide grip benches as an adjunct to his bench workout. This comes out to 16 total sets. Assuming a rest interval of about two minutes between sets our lifter takes over thirty minutes just to complete his bench assistance exercises. It is small wonder that his bench has not improved for a long time.

This obvious excess of assistance exercises is, unfortunately, not all that common amongst many of our Power and Olympic style lifters. Too many times we see people doing these exercises for the mere sake of doing them rather than for the need to do them. This is not to say assistance work is unnecessary, but we should only do those exercises that work a particular weakness an individual might display at any given time.

Competitive lifters usually know where their weaknesses are in a particular lift. It may be at any one of numerous points throughout the range of motion required to perform that lift. What each lifter should do is analyze his lifts, figure out his weakness and design a specific assistance exercise arrangement to work this particular weakness. This can usually be achieved by doing one or two forms of assistance exercises for 3 to 5 sets each, twice a week.

Please note that this should be a dynamic process. As we advance in our lifting our weak points in any given lift might change. We should adjust our assistance work to meet that change. As an example, let us assume we have an individual who initially displays poor lockout in the bench. After two to three months of doing narrow grip benches and triceps extensions, he notices that his increased lockout has improved his bench by 30 pounds. Unfortunately, he is now having trouble starting the weight off his chest. It would be beneficial to have his start doing flyes or long pause benches to alleviate his poor starting ability. He should cut back on his triceps work and institute his pec work.

The reason he should not concentrate on both triceps and pec work is that too much work can be detrimental to his orderly progress. Very few people have the capacity to handle great quantities of work with regards to specific muscles or muscle groups. Indeed, we have all experienced the feeling of burning out a muscle group. This causes trouble because recuperation phases between workouts are often inadequate.

It makes little sense to attack a general area such as the upper body as in benching and then devastate it by doing so many assistance exercises so as to make recuperation before the next workout unlikely. Too much work can be as bad as too little. Remember, quantity of work does not predicate strength gains alone and can be a hindrance to good strength gains.

What it all boils down to is that we should only do specific assistance exercises that work a specific weakness. It is not practical to do work that we may not need and that can, indeed, hinder our progress rather than enhance it.

Let us also consider that assistance exercises should be designed in a most specific fashion. IF we have problems in any given range of a movement we should try to isolate that problem area and work it in such a way as to mimic how it is to be used while performing a particular lift. I have found close grip benching to be an excellent tool for increasing lockout in the bench press. The reason being that close grip benches tend to work the triceps in the proper benching groove so as to allow a more specific transfer of increased triceps strength potentials to the bench press movement.

This can also be done with many, but not all, of the other lifts. Deadlifts in the rack or on a box, partial squats or partial (upper portions, lower half only, bottom up etc.) range squats, high pulls and the like are but a few examples of what I call specific assistance exercises. They are designed to mimic a movement and isolate out one particular phase of that movement. All to often we do assistance exercises that do not really work us in the proper groove and this tends to limit their usefulness.

Another subtle form of assistance work that is all too often ignored is simply to 'clean up' movements. When benching use long pauses; it improves power off the chest. Good depth in the squat can help alleviate problems at the bottom of that lift. These are all forms of overcompensation that can help alleviate problems before they occur. The great benefit of doing 'clean' movements is that it takes little extra time to do in the course of a workout and can possibly save one from having to do an excess of time (and energy) consuming assistance work.

In closing, we should all remember that assistance exercises are merely a means toward an end. They are NOT an end in themselves. They are a necessary adjunct and should be treated as such. No amount of assistance work can ever improve any lift as much as the act of performing that lift properly can.           

Blog Archive