Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Assistance Exercises - Ken Leistner

Mike Bartlett

In the last issue of IRONMAN, I made the following points about assistance exercises for the three competitive powerlifts: 

1) Training time and energy are limited, thus each movement must be chosen in accordance with each individual's needs.

2) One must realistically evaluate their strengths, weaknesses, leverage factors and impact from previous injury before choosing assistance exercises for each lift.

3) One must choose assistance exercises within the context of available equipment.

General Considerations

Some exercises are more popular than others for both positive and negative reasons. Certainly there are those movements that have a long history of bringing results and are thus widely utilized. However, some of the most popular powerlifting assistance movements are not very productive and in some cases may not bring any results. The fact that "everyone does it" is poor rationale for choosing an exercise that one is not suited for or which could be dangerous based on a lifter's physical proportions. Some exercises, in the truest sense, have been and continue to be overrated and are done only because trainees simply perpetuate them.

There is a tendency to do too much assistance work.

A competitive lifter must demonstrate his "strength" via three specifically prescribed movements; the bulk of the work must go into learning and refining those three lifts. This is not to say that one should overtrain those lifts. But it is senseless to boast of skyrocketing poundages in assistance movements if the three primary lifts remain stagnant or are fraught with technical errors.

The Bench Press

Although I do not consider the bench press the "most important" of the three lifts, the majority of lifters, even those who should know better after years of competing, have a certain reverence for it. Make no mistake, ego enhancement has contributed considerably to the popularity of the bench press especially since both athletes and the non-lifting public equate great strength with a good bench press. Because of this and the fact that the musculature stimulated by the bench press is "obvious," most lifters tend to devote more time and training energy to the bench press and its assistance work.

If one diligently pursues the bench press, the assistance work does not have to be extensive. An excellent movement is to follow the regular bench press with a close grip bench press (one or two sets) which stimulates the triceps in particular. Using a thick bar for this movement makes it even more effective as it then becomes impossible to press "in the groove" that is used during the competitive movement. One has to rear back and shove!

Dips and overhead presses with a bar, machine, or dumbbells will work the primary musculature used in the bench press. There are advantages to using these very basic and effective exercises as an adjunct or substitute for the bench press. But it must be kept in mind that adequate pre-meet time must be spent honing the skills of the competitive lift itself.

Triceps Involvement

If one relies on dips and/or presses as one of the major pressing movements in any particular weekly workout, direct triceps work may or may not be needed. I do not care for the triceps extension movement - lying, seated, or standing - because of the stress placed upon the elbow joint. Even with "moderate" weights, the elbow tends to demonstrate an inflammatory response over time. Many lifters who demonstrate a relative weakness in the triceps, mistakenly believe that they should do extensions because "heavy weight" can be used relative to pressdowns or other specific triceps movements. One trains the specific skills of the bench press by doing the bench press. Assistance work will contribute to the development of increased muscular strength and/or size; but it will not, and in fact, should not contribute to the skill aspect of the lift. Thus, one should choose a triceps movement or movements that are safer.

The triceps pressdown, using any type of overhead pulley, is an excellent choice because the triceps is taken through a relatively complete range of motion, and forearm extension can be achieved without calling upon the intervention of other muscle groups. The pressdown is also easier to control than most other direct triceps movements, making it an effective assistance movement. There is ample opportunity to handle heavy weights during the performance of the bench press, dips, close-grip bench press, and pressing movements. Thus, it is hardly necessary to use relatively heavy weights in the triceps movement, for many it would be dangerous to do so.

Other Pressing Movements

Some lifters utilize dumbbell bench presses, incline dumbbell presses, and barbell incline presses, although the dumbbell movements are not quite as popular as they were in the late '60s. If one is benching heavily once a week, doing another heavy pressing movement on another workout day, attacking dips once or twice a week in an all out moaner, er, manner, and perhaps including at least one direct triceps movement once per week, or even per workout, I feel it is redundant to do dumbbell bench presses. They can be valuable and enjoyable during those times of the year when the bench press is eliminated from the program. But they will most often lead to overtraining when also performing the competitive movement.

The incline press is almost always included in the "bench press program" of football players and is often used by many lifters. I believe that it is only effective if done at an angle of approximately 30 degrees. If additional deltoid strength is desired, one should put the effort into overhead pressing movements. I often recommend the barbell decline press as a "major" pressing movement because it affords most lifters a greater range of motion than the incline or regular bench press exercise. And since it's not done that often, it will add variety and enjoyment to one's program. Try it for a six to ten week period. A surprisingly heavy weight can be used in this underrated movement.

Raises and Flyes

Because most athletes and lifters feel that the general public, as well as their peer groups, are favorably influenced by heavily muscled pectorals, flye-type movements are a popular part of most programs. One needs a certain amount of pec strength to bench well, but it is more important to fully develop the anterior deltoids and triceps. The inclusion of flyes into most powerlifting programs is usually the most common factor leading to overtraining. Most lifters' weaknesses in the bench press can be improved by concentrating on areas other than the pectoral muscles. For this reason, I do not believe most lifters can benefit from flyes especially considering the other exercises that can be performed.

Lateral raises are excellent for developing the deltoids, primarily the lateral head. But more benefit for the bench press will come from using the front raise. I recommend the use of some sort of

I just can't resist this . . .


 And After
Yes! Gain Weight to Build Your Arms.

I recommend the use of some sort of back support to prevent excess swinging of the weight and undue stress upon the lumbar spine. Machines, barbells, dumbbells, or a pulley can be uses as long as the emphasis is on proper form, using muscular contraction instead of momentum to increase resistance. A sensible program will give adequate work to all of the major muscle groups involved in the bench press. The primary emphasis will to into learning the skills of the competitive lift, and learning to perform it with "heavy" weights, although the majority of one's bench press training should be low-force/high intensity. The specific assistance movements should be chosen to overcome weaknesses in those muscles that inhibit the expression of one's full strength in the lift while avoiding the common error of overtraining.

Another Deadlift Program

The deadlift is perhaps the most dreaded of the three competitive powerlifts and is often avoided by the casual fitness enthusiast. Improvement comes with very hard work on a limited deadlifting program, a limited amount of "assistance work," and a lot of time for recovery.

 Deadlifts Can Be Fun

I have known few men or women who actually looked forward to their deadlifting workouts. Ray Rigby, a former Olympic team member from Australia, and one of the world's finest powerlifters, impressed me with his desire to improve his deadlift and the enthusiasm that he brought to each deadlifting session. I can honestly say it was contagious.

I had corresponded with Ray for approximately a year and had given him some training advice. In order to best prepare for the World Championships, Ray moved into our home for four weeks. The training sessions we enjoyed were intense. Ray trained two times per week for most of the year preceding the World Championships. He deadlifted once a week, employing one or two top sets per workout. Ray's drive and dedication certainly allowed him to make great improvements in this lift, but it was his attitude that brought him above the level of most other great lifters. He enjoyed his rigorous training because he enjoyed the satisfaction that comes with improvement. His deadlifts, though brutal and tough while actually being performed, gave him a very positive feeling because of continuous improvement and eventual level of achievement.

I have always tried to keep this image in sharp focus. The discomfort that comes with a great deadlifting effort in sets of 10, 15, or 20 reps is more than offset by the gains in upper and lower back musculature and strength in the hips and thighs. Knowing what the results of intense deadlifting can be, it became the one exercise that I most looked forward to doing. This is as it should be. The movements that "hurt" the most, in that they bring about those telltale feelings of nausea, dizziness and exhaustion, are signs that an intense set has been completed - that the athlete has made a great effort towards improvement in his or her strength and muscle tissue mass. I thank Ray for serving as a reminder to enjoy each and every difficult exercise each and every time I do one. The eventual results of consistent, intense training bring rewards that make the discomfort worthwhile and yes, almost fun!

Concentrating the Effort

The key to deadlifting well is to have the proper body mechanics for the lift. As most people don't, the only other way to foster improvement is to "attack" the deadlift. Because it takes so much out of the lifter to do so, it is important to understand that one must limit the amount of deadlift assistance work and leave enough time to recover from the work that was done.

Previous deadlift programs from The Steel Tip relied upon the deadlift and the stiff-legged deadlift performed on alternating weeks for varying repetitions. The following program offers a bit more in the way of adjunctive movements, but it must be remembered that the major effort must go into the deadlift itself.

This is a 13-week program that will require a week of rest before either beginning another program that includes the deadlift, or competing in a powerlifting meet. In fact, we usually suggest a ten day rest after the last deadlifting session before lifting in a meet. During the first six weeks of the routine, the stiff-legged deadlift is the only form of deadlift to be done. During weeks one through three, the stiff-legged deadlift is to be done two times per week for one set of 15 reps each session. This one all-out set should follow a brief but adequate warm up. During weeks four through six, the stiff-legged deadlift is done once per week, for one all-out set of 15 reps.

Weeks seven, eight and nine find the athlete shifting to their regular deadlift style. It's suggested that one use the conventions or sumo stance based only upon their own particular leverage factors and limitations produced by previous injury. During this three week period, one set of six reps will be done. The following two weeks will have the lifter reduce the reps to three for two top sets. These two sets should be performed with no more than two minutes rest between them. The final two weeks of the program will also find the lifter doing two top sets, but these will consist of two reps each, and only one minute will be taken between these two sets. the deadlift will be performed only once per week during all but the first three weeks of the entire routine.

The Deadlift Program

Week 1:
Stiff-legged Deadlift (SDL), warmup, then 1 x 15 two times per week.

Week 2:
SDL, warmup, then 1 x 15 two times per week.

Week 3:
SDL, warmup, then 1 x 15 two times per week.

Week 4:
SDL, warmup, then 1 x 15 once per week.

Week 5:
SDL, warmup, then 1 x 15 once per week.

Week 6:
SDL, warmup, then 1 x 15 once per week.

Week 7:
Regular Deadlift, warmup, then 1 x 6 once per week.

Week 8:
Regular Deadlift, warmup, then 1 x 6 once per week.

Week 9:
Regular Deadlift, warmup, then 1 x 6 once per week.

Week 10:
Regular Deadlift, warmup, then 2 x 3 once per week.
Note rest times between sets are given above.

Week 11:
Regular Deadlift, warmup, then 2 x 3 once per week.
Note the change in rest time between sets given above.

Week 12:
Regular Deadlift, warmup, then 2 x 2 once per week.

Week 13:
Regular Deadlift, warmup, then 2 x 2 once per week.

Follow with one week of abstention from the deadlift before beginning another program which includes the deadlift.

Assistance Work

In a properly designed program, one will be working all of the major muscle groups. Included in the program will be high-intensity exercises for the hips, thighs, trapezius, and other major muscular structures. But it is recommended that the leg press (preferably using the Nautilus Leverage Leg Press) be done at least once, but no more than two times per week, for 10-12 repetitions during the first 10 weeks of this program if one is a competitive lifter; and for the full 13 weeks, otherwise. In addition, using the shrug in some form should be done once per week, for 1-2 sets of 12-15 reps.

For those with excellent recovery ability, deadlifts in conventional style should be done from the power rack or blocks on weeks four, seven, and 11, immediately following the regularly scheduled stiff-legged or regular deadlifts. After a brief warmup, one intense set of 5 reps should be done. If the rack deadlifts are done, it is suggested that shrugs be eliminated from the program that week.

There are a number of ways to increase the deadlift, but patience and perseverance are the keynotes with this particular movement. As important as the actual training is, one must budget adequate recuperation time in order to prevent injury and/or overtraining. 


Blog Archive