Monday, October 21, 2019

Strengthening the Weak Links - Mauro Di Pasquale (1988)

Mike Bridges

Assistance exercises, if used properly, will help you lift more weight in the squat, bench and deadlift. The idea behind assistance exercises is to strengthen the muscles which are the weak link in your lifts - thereby making your lifting more representative of your overall strength. 

For example, even if you can bench 600 pounds, your triceps might still be relatively weaker than your pecs or delts. By strengthening your triceps, you could likely handle more weight in the bench - until you hit your next limiting body part (which still might be your triceps if you haven't strengthened them enough, or might be your pecs or delts if you have). 

Unfortunately most lifters don't use assistance exercises properly because they don't try to analyze their lifting to determine just where they need the extra work. The first step is to analyze your lifts and determine just what your weak points are.

Lifters often identify their weak points by examining the lifts in which they hit a sticking point and miss the lift. In some cases it's a mistake to equate your sticking points with your weak points. 

Your weak points may extend through a range of motion and may involve more than one muscle group - 

the sticking point will only identify the bottom end of that range. 

The best way to find your weak points is to have someone watch while you handle a weight that will allow you to do three good reps. This way you can find out just where the lift slows down and appears harder, and what muscle groups seem to be the most actively involved.

Using these observations as your baseline, you can then try to pick those assistance exercises which will work the weaker muscle groups.

In analyzing your bench press for example, you may find that your deltoid strength is the limiting factor. You would then choose an exercise that will be most effective for strengthening your deltoids.

Picking the assistance exercise(s) which will work best is often a matter of trial and error. First pick an exercise that appears to work the muscle group you want and then decide if indeed this assistance exercise is allowing you to handle more weight - the bottom line is not how much stronger that muscle group is becoming but whether you're able to handle more weight in the powerlift you're working on.   

For example, if you're working your delts, and they're looking bigger and getting stronger but your bench isn't going up, then you need to do something else to help your bench (unless you're overtraining or not allowing your delts to recuperate by doing the assistance exercises too close to your next bench workout). 

Always do your assistance exercise(s) after your main exercise or on another day completely. If you work your delts before you bench, you won't be able to go as heavy as you'd like in the bench and the other muscle groups will suffer.

For example, if you decide to do close-grip incline benches to increase your deltoid strength, do the inclines after your regular benches, or the next day. I sometimes do inclines after the rest of my workout. That way I have recovered somewhat from that day's benching so that I'm still relatively strong in the inclines. By the time my next workout rolls around, I've recuperated enough to do a heavy workout - and see just how much the inclines are helping my bench.  

Similarly, if your grip is your limiting factor in the deadlift, work your grip after the deadlift workout and not before. By the way, if your grip is weak, don't take the easy way out and use straps to help you hold on to the weight. Although you may be able to deadlift more in training, it won't help at competitions. In fact, you'll likely deadlift less since your grip will be even weaker from not working it. 

The assistance exercises shouldn't be taken lightly; you should handle as much weight as you can and limit the repetitions. Don't make the mistake of treating the assistance exercises differently from the rest of your workout. To increase your strength you've got to work heavy and hard.

Try and use assistance exercises which work the major muscle groups. As a rule, don't do isolation exercises and don't use dumbbells - unless you're just looking for a body beautiful to match your prodigious strength.

Assistance exercises should work the same muscle groups as the three powerlifts, only with a different emphasis on one or the other muscle group. 

IF YOU'RE DOING PARTIAL LIFTS MAKE SURE YOU KEEP YOUR FORM. Try to do the lift in the same groove that you do the powerlift. For example, if you're doing deadlifts from the knees in a power rack, try to maintain the same style, the same body placement as if you had taken the weight off the floor.

Don't overdo the assistance exercises at the expense of the powerlifts; otherwise, you'll likely improve on the assistance exercises, but you won't make any progress in the three lifts.

The type of assistance exercises you do, and how much you do will depend on your weaknesses - and these weaknesses may change from time to time depending on how you've been working out. 

It's important that you experiment to determine which assistance exercises are the best for you. It's also important to figure out your priorities since the assistance exercises which will improve your physique are usually not the ones that will help you lift the most weight. It's great to have big biceps and be able to curl as much as you can bench. But if powerlifting is your primary goal, your time would have been better spent doing more appropriate assistance exercises. 

I've got some favorite assistance exercises which have helped me improve my three lifts. You may like to try them and see if they'll help you.

There's only one exercise that I have found useful for squatting - FORCED REP SQUATS. (see below)Partial squats, hacks, leg presses and leg extensions have not helped much. I've found that heavy squatting is the only exercise which improves the squat.

Once in a while you can vary your depth to a few inches below parallel or an inch or so above parallel. Be careful, however - don't get used to squatting high. In order to get your squats passed at a contest, you have to break parallel (or go a few inches below, depending on the judges). If you've been squatting parallel or a bit above, you just might bomb because you may start with a weight that you can handle easily, but one that you can't break parallel with.

The best assistance exercise for the deadlift is HEAVY ROWING - using straps for the heaviest sets. Nothing else comes close. Other useful lifts are PARTIAL DEADLIFTS OFF BOXES (or in the power rack - I prefer the boxes), STIFF-LEGGED DEADLIFTS, AND SHRUGS. 

FORCED REPS can be though of as a type of assistance exercise although some consider them an extension of the three lifts - which they are. The idea behind forced reps is to handle a heavier weight or do more repetitions than we could normally do on our own.

With the help of your training partner, you can squeeze out one, or at most two, more reps than you could normally do. For example, instead of doing one rep with a maximum weight, you would do two or three, your partner helping you with the second and third rep. Or you might use a weight which would normally be too heavy for even a single rep and do one or two reps.

If you're doing more than two forced reps you're wasting your time and effort. Those two forced reps, however, should be done with all the strength that you can muster - and your partner shouldn't make it too esy for you to finish either one. If he helps you too much you might as well not do them at all. 

In practice all powerlifters do forced reps whether they plan them or not. Every time we miss a lift and the spotters are astute enough to make the lifter work to finish it off we're really doing a forced rep.

You can use forced reps in all three lifts. 

In the bench the spotter should have his hands under the bar and only give enough assistance for the lifter to barely finish the lift. 

In the squat the spotter can stand directly behind the lifter (with two other spotters on either side - in case any problems develop) and help the lifter get through the sticking point by wrapping his arms around his waist from behind and coming up with the lifter. In essence he is doing a squat himself. 

In the deadlift the spotter can put one hand on the lower back and one on the upper chest and apply just enough force to keep the lifter in the groove and help him past the sticking point.

This, after all, is what assistance exercises are all about . . . 

keeping all three lifts in the groove and getting stronger.   

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