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July 9, 2023

How to Progress Accessory Exercises

Out of curiosity, I looked up the actual definition of Accessory Work so I could paint a clear picture of what we’re discussing in today’s blog. 

My name is Annie Miller, certified strength and conditioning specialist and I help you learn as you train and enjoy your lifts again.

Today we do that by covering a few ways to progress your or your clients’ Accessory Work within your workout programs. These concepts apply to a templated program or one-on-one individualized training.

Note: You can watch the video version of this blog post here:

The three ways we are going to cover how to progress your accessory exercises are specific to exercise selection. 

Of course we can manipulate other training factors like load, sets, reps, tempo, rest periods, etc. Today we are focusing on the actual exercise selection, and how you can progress that from one training phase to the next. 

For the sake of context, I consider a training phase or block to be 4-6 weeks in length, of the same programming in terms of exercise selection.

There is an endless toolbox of exercises to choose from. Which is what can make program design so overwhelming…

Today I want you to focus on preference within a group of exercises that works the muscle you’re trying to stimulate. 

If you’re working your triceps, maybe you prefer tricep kickbacks while someone else prefers cable tricep push downs. Similar movement, both will hit the triceps in the same manner, it just comes down to preference.

We should all do exercises that strengthen our weaknesses, or that we don’t enjoy doing from time to time. But if muscle growth is your goal, choosing exercises that you feel the best connection to is likely going to get you the best results. 

Don’t be afraid to modify a program where needed. 

If it’s an exercise that you either don’t enjoy doing, and you could do something else to accomplish the same thing… Dot the one you enjoy! Or it’s an exercise that you don’t particularly respond well to, and you know that there’s a better substitute for you individually, do it! 

How to Progress Accessory Exercises #1: If It Makes Sense, Increase Range Of Motion

Why increase the range of motion? How is that progressive?

When we increase the range of motion a few things can happen, not guaranteed, but can happen. 

If you keep the velocity the same, then you’re going to get more time under tension through having to travel a longer distance in the movement. This is definitely like adding pennies of time under tension, but those pennies add up.

Secondly, you’re possibly recruiting more muscle fibers. As the muscle stretches further in that eccentric phase (eccentric is a lengthening contraction), muscle fibers in a different area of that muscle may be recruited. 

This is a huge win if hypertrophy or strength is the goal.

Say we have a super set of Reverse Lunges and Hip Thrusts. Increasing ROM (Range of Motion) for hip thrusts doesn’t make sense but for reverse lunges we have options.

>> From a Reverse Lunge TO a Reverse Lunge from a deficit. 

The knee now drops below the “floor” and the glutes and maybe the quads are stretched to new ranges. Therefore demanded to WORK in those new ranges.

How to Progress Accessory Exercises #2: Change Up Exercise Based On Stressing From A New Angle

The same idea applies here as the increase in range of motion when it comes to fiber recruitment. Fibers are recruited by many different demands. You can create a new bias and work a different area of the muscle, or different group of fibers by changing the angle. 

This is why you see bodybuilders train a single muscle group from as many angles as possible. They’re wanting to fatigue as many of those fibers as they can, in hopes of growing them!

Again the thrust doesn’t work the best here, but lunges still do. 

>> From a Reverse Lunge TO a Curtsy Lunge for a glute bias.

You could also make it a short step from front to back or add a decline wedge in the front, and a short step for a quad bias.

How to Progress Accessory Exercises #3: Add Another Exercise To An Existing Superset

In these examples, I’m adding a more isolated movement to the muscle groups being targeted by the superset. Same goal – muscle fiber demand increased in some way, shape, or form.

So adding onto the Reverse Lunges and Hip Thrusts… Add in new Lateral Band Walks to further tax the glutes and add in frontal plane (lateral) movement.

To further tax your Quadriceps, you could add a quad extension

To further tax your Hamstrings, you could add RDLs or a Nordic Curl.

Now To Wrap This Up:

In conclusion, progressing accessory exercises in your workout program is essential for continued growth and development. By focusing on exercise selection, you can make targeted improvements from one training phase to the next. 

Remember that exercise preference plays a significant role in achieving optimal results, so choose exercises that you feel a strong connection with and that work the targeted muscles effectively.

There are a lot of other ways that you can progress your accessory exercises, but I hope that those three were helpful.

Join The Discussion:

I’m curious to know your favorite area of the body to train with Accessory Work? Which area do you just love to demolish? For me, it’s quads and shoulders. Drop yours in the comments below.

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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.

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