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Stronglifts 5x5 with accessory work [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Jul 20, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Image result for accessory work

Stronglifts with Accessory work

This post will walk you through why I think that there is not enough accessory work in Stronglifts 5x5, which options are out there, and which of these I personally see best fitted to create a well around an athlete for strength performance. The main points 5x5 misses in its programming are the lower back and posterior chain. Utilizing the good morning and glute ham raises to compensate for that instead of pull-ups and dips as recommended by Stronglifts. 

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What is Stronglifts 5x5?

Stronglifts 5x5 is a beginner's program for lifters that have been made popular by Mehdi. You will train three times a day, squat every day, and utilize the deadlift, bench press, barbell row, and overhead press in addition. The program starts with an empty bar and usually finishes after 8 - 14 months progression depending on your personal physique around a 120kg - 150kg squat. One of the major downsides of the Stronglifts 5x5 program is that there is not enough emphasis and advice for accessory work given. You still have some and can buy an add-on to the app itself, however, this post is geared towards people who are about three months into their 5x5 program and want to work on the weaknesses which are showing.

Why do accessory work?

Accessory work are lifts and exercises which help you to train the weak points in the bench press, deadlift and squat. These movements usually use a lot of muscle but are less taxing on the joints and nervous system. The accessory work you do should be picked as close as possible to your main three lifts to ensure maximum carryover. The more specific the accessory work, the more carry-over you get, the more time-efficient and effective you train. This means that if you want to improve your back squat personal best, fartlek runs might not be the preferable choice for accessory work.

In each lift, you will find that over time it will show som weaknesses. Be it the lock-out on the bench press, breaking ground on the deadlift or driving the weight out of the hole in the squat. Most lifters do not do enough accessory work and lack the objectivity to find their weak links. In commercial gyms, I also find that you might feel embarrassed if you do some of these weird movements to become a stronger athlete. Real professionals usually do a ton of accessory work to iron out their weaknesses. The point at which a chain break is always the weakest one. So your weaknesses become the limiting factors of your performance. Accessory work is, therefore, a good way to built all-around toughness and constant performance in the gym, on the platform or wherever else you find to achieve the latest and greatest.

How often should I do accessory work?

That depends on the intensity of your main sessions. Most lifters do not put enough effort into their accessory work. While this is the lazy extreme it is also not to be recommended to make it a case of majoring in the minors. Accessory work is a supporting, not a supplementing exercise, to the main big compound lifts.

The frequency of your accessory work is determined by the intensity of your main sessions. The more intense your main session, the less accessory work you do. The less intense your main session, the more accessory work can be done. The intensity of your main session is determined by the following factors:

  • How often per week do you train?
  • How many sets do you have per session?
  • How close are you operating to your one-repetition maximum?

The more you train the closer to your maximum at higher volume, the less fuel in the tank there will be for accessory work. Therefore the question of how often you should do accessory work highly depends on your overall workload and specific strength and weaknesses. So for anything that works at 80% to 95% percent in the main session, it would be wise to follow up with low-weight high-rep accessory work. Wherever you go in the area of 50 - 75% of your maximum go for the heavy accessory with lower repetitions.

Generally most recommended accessory work

Once you enter the world of accessory work you will most likely find that the multitude of options is seemingly endless. I have done some of the legwork for you by reading the 20 most popular blog posts based on Google search and the accessory work which comes up most often are:

  1. Good mornings
  2. Box squats
  3. Glute Ham Raises
  4. Curls of various sorts
  5. Pull ups and Dips
  6. Rack pulls

Generally, you want your accessory work to be as close to the movement you want to improve. The less the accessory lift looks like the original movement, the more likely it will be that there is little to no carry-over. Most repetition schemes for accessory work are programmed in the 8 - 12 repetitions per set at 3 - 5 sets for heavy accessory and 4 - 6 repetitions at 3 sets for heavy accessory work.

While Good mornings, box squats and rack pulls are more suited to powerlifting and strength purposes, glute-ham raises, curls, pull-ups, and dips are good for any athlete who wants to get generally fit.

Good mornings are performed by going into the back squat starting position. Instead of folding at the knees, you fold at the hips and bent forward until your upper body is parallel to the ground. Once parallel to the ground you return to the beginning position. This counts as one repetition. Good mornings can be performed using a regular barbell or a safety bar. If you go heavy on good mornings a safety bar is a very good option to make the movement less strenuous on your lower back if your local gym provides one. This exercise is beneficial to build a strong core. This will help you to utilize your weightlifting belt better for the last parts of the movement of the squat once you managed to get out of the hole (lowest position of the squat). If you fail your squats because you can not lock out your hips, this is the accessory exercise to go for. Good mornings are a movement that is more suited to intermediates who have a good feeling for their body and know how much load they can handle. Beginners might expose themselves to too much risk doing them, when unsupervised.

Box squats will help you to improve performance out of the hole or the lowest position in the squat. You can adjust a box squat based on the height of the box you choose to squat down on. A good rule of thumb is to pick somewhere between 50 - 70% of your one-repetition maximum on the back squat for this exercise. Here you perform 8 - 12 sets of two repetitions. The downward movement is controlled and slow. If you crash onto the box you will fuck up your spine! (sorry for the strong wording, but DON'T be stupid, spine injuries are no joke). Once you have made it to the box your aim is to get under tension and shoot up from the box as quickly and controlled as you can back to starting position. Rest should be 30 seconds to 1 minute between sets, not more. A good box squat session will make you sweat heavily. This will train your explosiveness to improve the downward to upward momentum change in the squat. So if you usually fail at this point in the movement, box squats are your friends. Box squats are also more suited for intermediates if done unsupervised for mentioned reasons.

Glute ham raises are often overlooked as many commercial gyms do not have the equipment for it. They will help you to strengthen your lower back and thighs. As this is an exercise which can be done without a barbell and load this is more suited to beginners than the good morning and box squat. Glute ham raises are performed on a glute ham raise machine. If you follow the link you will see Mark Bell explaining how this exercise is done. 

Curls of various sorts are also often mentioned for accessory work. I will not enter the world of dumbbell exercises and machines which involve curls too deep, as this would make this post way to long. Generally speaking, curls tend to isolate muscle groups as they are not multi-joint movements (which most of the other accessory exercises on this list are). If you use curls for your programming be aware of that you are more likely to enter the bodybuilding realm, rather than the power and strength development sphere of lifting.

Pull ups and Dips are the accessory work that Stronglifts 5x5 themselves recommend for the program. Pull ups and Dips are great exercises to build your arms and lats even further while maintaining the good feel of your body. For dips and pull ups for strength purposes perform them strict. This means that you do not get any momentum out of your legs and hips and use the full range of motion by going fully down to the lowest point on the pull-up and extend fully to lock at the elbow for the dip. While the movement for pull ups and dips are easy, the strength levels necessary to perform these for 5 to ten repetitions for multiple sets are quite high. The heavier you are, the harder these will be. Therefore I do not generally see them as an exercise for beginners.

Rack pulls are a very good weapon to improve on your deadlift. Rack pulls are being performed by making use of the safety pins in the rack and letting the barbell rest on them. Utilising this you can influence how far you have to pull the weight and knuckle down on specific areas in the deadlift that give you trouble. Furthermore, rack pulls can help advanced lifters to bring up the training volume without putting too much stress on their lower back.

 Stronglifts with accessory work

All in all, it depends on your personal strengths and weaknesses which kind of accessory work you pick. Hopefully, this post gave you some ideas to look into. I personally think that accessory wok is the biggest weakness of the 5x5 program. The recommended pull-ups and dips seem to have mainly been implemented so that teenagers would be satisfied that there is some biceps development going on in the program. If you are a real beginner the pull-ups and dips will also be too hard for you and you will have paid some extra coin (not a lot but still) on the app to enable this feature. If I could do my ten months of Stronglifts 5x5 over again the accessory I would pick would be good mornings and glute ham raises. This will make sure that you will hit your core and posterior chain also when being a beginner because that came back to bite me in at a later stage for having too weak a core. If you are to implement these movements, be very careful to not overload them. 

Further reading


Topics: Stronglifts 5x5, Powerlifting, Bodybuilding, Strongman