There’s more to the story in weightlifting than just the snatch and clean & jerk. If you want to get better at the lifts, practicing them over and over again won’t cut it on its own. You should still train them every workout, but the end of your sessions is when you get specific with accessory exercises.
Accessory work usually consists of smaller, high-repetition movements. You train each muscle group by focusing on one specific motion at a time. Think of your presses, core movements, bicep/tricep work, etc. They complement the high-intensity compound movements of everyday weightlifting like the snatch or squat.
Credit: Riley Stefan
There are tons of different accessory exercises out there, but some are better than others. For the best results, you need to stick to what’s important and what works for you. These are the best accessory exercises for overall success in weightlifting, organized by lower body, upper body, and core.
Best Accessory Exercises For Weightlifting
In the lifts, your legs do a lot of the work. These are three of the best lower body accessories for doing the Olympic lifts the right way.
Your legs produce most of your power in the Olympic lifts. You should first be able to use your full power without the barbell, and a good way to do so is by practicing the box jump.
This accessory trains your explosiveness and challenges you to produce your fastest footwork.
Benefits of the Box Jump
- It improves the precision of your leg power.
- The hip extension translates to extending in the Olympic lifts.
- It works your landing stability for catching lifts later on.
How to Do the Box Jump
Set up with a box at roughly kneecap height. Plant your feet under your hips near the box. Stand still to get set. Make a slight bend in your knees, followed by an explosive jump off both feet onto the box. Land with your whole foot on the box and a bend in your knees.
Barbell Hip Thrust
Glute strength is key in weightlifting. Most of the lifts are glute-dependent because of how much hip extension force you must produce to launch a barbell. As such, you should do some extra glute work so that they work properly in the lifts.
This exercise is the best option for making sure your glutes are contributing to their fullest potential.
Benefits of the Barbell Hip Thrust
- Your glutes work without assistance from your quads or lower back.
- Controlling your hip angle against weight trains your core strength.
- The fully extended position of your hips strengthens the extension of your Olympic lifts.
How to Do the Barbell Hip Thrust
For this exercise, you need a barbell and a flat bench for your shoulders. Sit in front of the bench with your upper back pressed against it. Place the loaded barbell over your hip crease. Bend both legs so that your feet are flat and parallel to each other, hip-width apart. Once set, bridge up against the weight to extended hips by contracting your glutes.
Snatch-Grip Romanian Deadlift
Your hamstrings have to be strong for the lifts, especially when pulling from the floor. The Romanian deadlift is a style of the deadlift in which your hamstrings take the focus.
Weightlifters make it their own by adding the wide snatch grip, which works your hamstrings to an even higher level.
Benefits of the Snatch-Grip Romanian Deadlift
- Holding your back flat with straighter legs works both your back and hamstrings together.
- It exaggerates your hamstrings’ contribution when pulling from the floor.
- It works the mobility of your hamstrings by lengthening them more than a normal deadlift.
How to Do the Snatch-Grip Romanian Deadlift
Take the bar up to your hip in a wide snatch grip. Press a small bend in your knees and pull your shoulders back so that your back is tight. Take your vision to eye level.
Hinge at your hips and descend the barbell towards the floor. Keep the bar as close to your legs as possible. Only go down as far as you can with a flat back, then return to a standing position. Your legs should hold the same bend for the entire rep. It’s normal to feel a stretch in your hamstrings at the bottom.
In the lifts, your upper body has to keep the bar close and hold heavy weights overhead. Build bulletproof upper body strength with these three main upper body accessory movements.
When you pull on a snatch or clean, your lats help keep the bar close to your body. Rowing is one of the main ways to build tons of lat strength.
The barbell row is great for your lifts, but weightlifters can perform it in a better way. The Pendlay row is a specific style of barbell row made for the Olympic lifts. In this style, you pull explosively and return the weight to the floor in between your reps.
Benefits of the Pendlay Row
- You can use more weight than the regular barbell row by resting between reps.
- Returning to the floor takes the pressure off of your back when holding the bent-over position.
- The horizontal torso better isolates your lats for pulling.
How to Do the Pendlay Row
Start with a loaded barbell on the ground. Place your grip comfortably outside of your legs. Go to the start position by lifting your hips and finding tension through your back. Your torso should be as horizontal as possible with two straight arms.
Once set, pull the barbell to the height of your ribs by guiding your elbows up and back. For a true Pendlay row, return the weight to the floor between repetitions.
Behind-the-Neck Snatch Grip Press
Upper body strength in weightlifting helps you access the right positions when the bar is overhead. As such, you should be comfortable with pressing from behind the neck during your training.
Behind the neck lifting is not comfortable at first, but once you get familiar, it becomes easier to use to your advantage. You should practice the behind-the-neck press often so that you’re equipped with the skill of pressing from your shoulders.
Benefits of the Behind-the-Neck Snatch Grip Press
How to Do the Behind-the-Neck Snatch Grip Press
Unrack the barbell on your back like you would for a squat. Then, slip your hands out wide to your snatch grip. Stand upright and tuck your chin slightly. Pull your elbows down so that they’re directly under the bar, brace your core, and press the bar straight up.
Rear Delt Fly
Your shoulders and back need to stay tight when you’re lifting. Your upper back has to be strong to hold this level of tension, which requires you to train for it in the gym.
The rear delt fly is a simple yet effective movement that trains your upper back strength and helps protect the smaller musculature of your shoulders.
Benefits of the Rear Delt Fly
- It builds your upper back for staying in place when lifting from the floor.
- It helps you pull your shoulders back tighter in the lifts.
- Holding the bent-over position works your core stability.
How to Do the Rear Delt Fly
Grab a pair of dumbbells. Start with your feet hip-width apart and a slight bend in your knees. With one weight in each hand, hinge at your hips so that your torso is as horizontal as possible. Find tension through your back.
With both palms facing each other, raise your arms out to the sides in a straight line. Hold a slight bend in your arms for the whole rep. Control the way back down between reps.
The lifts require that you engage your whole body, but your core strength is what ties it all together. These are the three most important core accessories for weightlifters.
You have to brace your core to keep it tight while lifting. Bracing means contracting your core muscles so that your torso holds together in one solid piece. A plank is a hollow body prone position that teaches you to maintain rigidity in your trunk.
Adding weight to the plank makes it all that much more difficult. Once you can hold an unweighted plank with no problem, applying weight generates more core tension in your set. The weighted version makes you more prepared for bracing against a heavy barbell.
Benefits of the Weighted Plank
- It reinforces the right way to brace your core.
- The prone position engages your shoulder strength.
- The isometric hold works the endurance capabilities of your core as well.
How to Do the Weighted Plank
Use a weight plate or weighted vest for this exercise. It’s best to have a partner nearby who can place the weight on your back once you’re in the plank.
Start on your hands and knees. Go to a plank position by planting your forearms on the ground. Go to a hollow body position by contracting your glutes and holding your back flat. Once you’re in the plank pose, place the weight plate on top of your lower back, and hold for the desired time.
Barbell Side Bend
Your core consists of more muscles than just the ever-important six-pack. While most weightlifting training involves front-to-back stability, your obliques should be ready for any errant side-to-side movement as well.
The barbell side bend is a simple but powerful exercise for strengthening your tertiary core and can help you become more resilient to unwanted side-to-side movement.
Benefits of the Barbell Side Bend
- It works the sides of your core at a higher intensity than other barbell movements.
- Strengthening each side of your core improves your core stability.
- It keeps your lower back healthy and strong.
How to Do the Barbell Side Bend
For this exercise, locate an empty barbell. Take it behind the neck as you would for a back squat and grip it outside of your shoulders. Bring your feet together with straight legs.
Complete a rep by leaning far to the right side without any bend in your hips. Return to center and then lean to the left side. Go to a standing position between sides. If you add weights, make sure to use clips.
You may not think of it this way at first, but your lower back is absolutely a part of your core. If your back is weak or underdeveloped, you’ll find it difficult to pull successfully if your lower back can’t support that kind of dynamic movement.
The hyperextension is a critical accessory for weightlifters to practice for developing a strong posterior chain.
Benefits of the Hyperextension
How to Do the Hyperextension
For this exercise, you need a GHD machine or an elevated flat surface to lie on. Lie face down with your legs on the pad and your torso hanging towards the ground. To do a rep, contract your lower back until your trunk is parallel with the ground. Your body should be in a rigid, straight line from head to toe at the top.
Benefits of Accessory Work for Weightlifters
Accessory work is like eating your vegetables. It may not be as alluring as the big lifts, but they should be a regular part of a healthy diet nonetheless.
Accessory work helps you go for your training goals. If you have issues with your performance in the gym, picking the right accessory exercise can remedy the situation in the blink of an eye.
For instance, if you have trouble keeping your back tight off the floor, your accessory training should include upper back work such as the Pendlay row or rear delt fly. Focused accessory work keeps you productive in the gym.
Accessory training helps your joints move the right way. To lift weights correctly, you have to be properly coordinated. General strength training via accessories familiarizes your body with how to move through positions such as the squat, press, and plank, which are the foundation of your Olympic lifts.
Sometimes, it’s worth sweating the small things. Too much “big lifting” with barbell exercises like the snatch or jerk can sometimes develop small weaknesses that you won’t notice at first and can’t be fixed without smaller, individualized work.
At such times, you should turn towards your accessory work and focus on using smaller movements to make big gains.
Accessories are the finishing touch on your training. If you want to get better at weightlifting, accessory work is your secret sauce for success. The final 10 to 30 minutes of your training session can often be the deciding factor between making progress or being stranded on a plateau.
Don’t be the athlete who habitually skips their accessory training. While you’re stuck with the snatch and clean & jerk as a weightlifter, your accessory training is the place to experiment and be creative with how you exercise. Start with any of these nine exercises, you’ll be glad you did.
Featured Image: Riley Stefan