You check your programming for the day’s session and are stoked.
Strict handstand push-ups, again!
You love handstand push-ups…they’re soooo easy!
But then you check the second part of the workout…bar muscle-ups.
You hate bar muscle-ups…they’re sooo hard!
Wouldn’t workouts be more fun if nothing was “sooo hard”?
If you’re serious about making this improvement, it might be time to lay off the handstand push-ups and to push your CrossFit accessory work into overdrive!
Let’s take a look at what CrossFit accessory work really is, what it can do for you, and some of the best accessory work for CrossFit.
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Benefits of CrossFit Accessory Work
In a way, a lot of CrossFit exercises can be classified as accessory movements. Depending on the workout, a movement that is usually classified as CrossFit accessory work might be the required movement.
By incorporating CrossFit accessory work into programming, you enjoy two related, yet distinct benefits:
1. The direct benefit of the exercise (doing strict pull-ups help us to get better at strict pull-ups).
2. The supporting benefit of the exercise (doing strict pull-ups helps to develop better body awareness and strength which will improve our kipping and butterfly pull-ups).
CrossFit accessory work has the potential to be extremely efficient when programmed appropriately. The result is movement-specific improvements, oftentimes for multiple exercises.
An example of this the pull-up bar dead hang. Dangling from the bar for :30-second intervals doesn’t seem like it would be doing much to help your deadlift, or any other lift for that matter.
Athletes prematurely drop off the bar in big sets of butterfly pull-ups because their forearms are on fire.
Dead hangs can help to erase these grip deficiencies.
CrossFit accessory work can erase A LOT of deficiencies.
CrossFit accessory work is also beneficial for isolating and attacking weakness areas. An athlete might have excellent core strength and can get very low when catching the bar in the squat clean.
The problem is, they can’t get the bar off the ground with any kind of intensity.
Instead of focusing on squat cleans, the athlete would be better off developing greater latissimus dorsi (“Lat”) strength. They could work lat pull-downs and/or rowing exercises into their programming to achieve this.
9 of the Best CrossFit Accessory Work Exercises
CrossFit accessory work is most beneficial when it directly complements training goals.
If developing overall strength is your thing, you will likely select certain exercises. Want to become a gymnastics wizard? Your exercise selection will probably look a bit different!
We’ll break down the 3 best accessory movements for different fitness goals.
Top 3 CrossFit Accessory Work Movements for Gymnastics
– Strict Movements
Want to knock out huge chunks of ring muscle-ups or to simply develop a good rhythm with your butterfly pull-ups? If so, performing strict gymnastics movements is essential.
The strength developed with these movements will transfer over to their kipping counterparts. As you grow more fatigued, you can better rely on this strength as opposed to depending on increasingly erratic form to gut through a workout.
– Hollow Hold and Hollow Rock
When you put yourself into the Hollow positions, you are closely mimicking your body’s position as you prepare to kip.
Training your body to get comfortable in this position while grounded will transfer over into increased body awareness and control when you’re grasping the bar or rings.
– Active Hangs
Many people find it difficult to “activate” the muscles necessary to perform gymnastics movements.
Welcome to active hangs!
Active hangs promote the focused use of these muscles, improving body awareness and muscle recruitment. They also develop mobility, improve upper body range of motion, and like their deceased brother (Dead Hangs), improve grip strength.
Top 3 CrossFit Accessory Work Movements for Explosiveness
– Slam Ball
Slam Ball exercises always need to have an * next to them since it is easy enough to pick the ball up and to simply let it drop to the ground.
Assuming you actually want to develop your explosiveness, you’re going to wear yourself out pretty quickly, slamming the ball into the ground as hard as possible.
The manner in which your hips “pop” in generating this force will transfer into your Olympic weightlifting movements.
– Glute Bridge/Glute Raise
If you break down the starting position of this exercise, you are essentially in a hang position. The bar is across your waist, similar to where it sits just prior to executing a clean or cluster.
This positioning, along with the heel drive and hip opening necessary to drive the bar forward will improve your clean (and grow your…glutes!)
– Kettlebell Swings
One of the most popular accessory exercises of all, kettlebell swings are all about the “hinge”. Hinge movements emphasize maximizing the use and movement of the hip with little knee movement.
Swings develop hip power and drive with every rep. Opt for the “Russian Swing” to ensure that you are focused exclusively on the hinge without having to worry about anything overhead.
Top 3 CrossFit Accessory Work Movements for Overall Strength
– Bulgarian Split Squat
The bench support allows you to include a surprisingly large amount of resistance and the targeting of single legs. With almost all of the resistance resting on one leg, the Bulgarian Split Squat absolutely blows up your glute and quad development.
You can opt to hold dumbbells in each hand or to set a barbell on your back when performing these. It’ll be good CrossFit accessory work, either way!
You can do Farmer’s Carries, overhead carries, bear hold carries, suitcase carries, or any other type of creative carry. Each of these will target a more specific muscle and create a different stimulus.
Your forearms will benefit from Farmer’s Carries while overhead carries will put a load on your shoulders. All carries create a constant strain that your body must combat which ultimately leads to increased body stability.
Like carries, rows come in many shapes and sizes. Whether you opt for machine rows, barbell rows, dumbbell rows, or putting some time in on the rower, you will build your lats, traps, and deltoids with every rep.
Rows also strengthen the posterior chain a key muscle group for any exercise that involves getting the barbell off the ground (ex. Cleans or deadlifts).
What to Consider when Selecting CrossFit Accessory Work Exercises
The accessory work for CrossFit you choose can be general in nature. However, there are numerous reasons why you should be more intentional about your exercise selection.
We all have movements that we know could use some work. When we identify these weaknesses, it is important devote more attention to the actual movements.
We also have to hit the accessory movements.
I know it is really fun to do the exercises that we are already good at as often as possible, especially in a WOD where we know we will blow past the competition.
However, there will be days where the tables will turn.
You will find yourself struggling to hit a heavy snatch or to do a muscle-up while your competition is crossing the finish line.
“Shoulda done that accessory work…” you’ll be muttering as Toomey just edges you out for gold!
I suggest taking the Kaizen Approach. This is a project management term derived from two Japanese words which together mean “continuous improvement”.
With this approach, you identify your weakest point.
Then you improve it until it is no longer your weakest point.
Then you identify your new weakest point.
Assuming you have a family, job, and other regular responsibilities, you only have so much time to spend at the gym. Even when your gym is in your garage or basement, you’re going to have to emerge at some point to start dinner, pick up the kids, or head to the office.
Because our time is limited, it makes sense to be as efficient and as intentional as possible with our gym time. Instead of slogging away with countless accessory exercises, rotating out a select few will provide the most “bang” for our gym time.
Wear ‘n Tear
If you’re one of the lucky few who is able to spend hours and hours in the gym every day, congratulations.
However, this doesn’t mean that your body necessarily recognizes this abundance of free time.
When your body gets tired, it gets tired.
Like many, I have been guilty of loading up my programming schedule with a number of accessory exercises.
“Why not fix all of my weaknesses in a weekend?” I surely thought to myself.
I can assure you that the meager benefits I accrued were more than cancelled out by the fatigue my body built up and the ensuing missed workouts.
Had I simply focused on getting better at one thing, and organized my workouts accordingly, I’d probably be a master at all of my (still) weak spots.
Other CrossFit Accessory Work Exercises to Tackle
We covered 9 of the best CrossFit accessory work exercises above. Take a look at some other goodies that you can start doing today!
How to Work CrossFit Accessory Work Into Your Workout
So how should you actually incorporate these exercises into your workouts?
A few things to consider:
(Remember what I mentioned above about not burning yourself out with accessory work? Make sure to hold me (and yourself!) to that statement here!)
- Identify the one area that you want to improve on at the present time. This area does not need to be your “weakest” area, but it makes sense to follow the Kaizen Approach mentioned earlier. You’ll always be working on your weakest area.
- Aim to spend somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes working on your accessory movement(s). This is enough time to get some practice in and store some muscle memory in the bank, but not so much time that it becomes a full workout segment.
- If you’re not already doing it, write down your programming for the entire week coming up. Ideally, everything will be written on one big board or sheet. You can also have workouts written in consecutive pages of your notebook.
Just make sure you can easily see everything.
With everything listed in front of you, it will be easier to identify opportunities.
- Consider what else you have going on each day.
If you end a session with some grip-intensive movements, it makes sense to move your strict muscle-ups to the beginning of the workout.
- Be honest with yourself about what is realistic for you.
Back in my Globo Gym days, I knew I had to do abs near the beginning if not at the beginning of every workout that worked them. If I didn’t, I’d finish my barbell and dumbbell work, see that I had a few sets of leg raises or crunches, shrug my shoulders and head to the locker room.
My abs were pretty…amorphous for a long time.
If you know you’re going to hit that last rep in your metcon, collapse for a minute, and head out, don’t plan accessory work last.
Actually doing your accessory work for CrossFit is much better than simply writing it in your training log…and never doing it!
There is a good chance that you current programming includes a number of the accessory items discussed in this article. If these happen to overlap with your weakness areas, you might just need a little workout structural tweaking to optimize these movements.
If you know that doing some of these accessory movements can start alleviating problem areas, don’t hesitate to work them in!
Why cringe every time a wall walk or strict chest-to-bar pull-up shows up in a workout (and you know they will!)?
Kill your weaknesses with accessory work and dominate your workouts!
Still finding your deadlift to be a “weakness”? Maybe it’s just all in your head! Check out our analysis of deadlift strength standards to see where you fall in the pecking order (don’t worry; you’re probably strong!)