6 Best Accessory Exercises For Olympic Weightlifting
The sport of Olympic Weightlifting is extremely demanding. It is demanding on an athlete’s time; it is demanding on the athlete’s body; it is demanding on the athlete’s mind. It requires time away from friends, countless hours in the gym and on the platform repetitively completing the same two movements over and over and over again. And then just to really hammer the point home, the sport asks the athlete to do those same synonymous movements the very next day, the very next week, the very next month for years to ever be any good. More weight, more volume, all in an effort to push adaptation.
The sport of Olympic Weightlifting contains multiple lifts, namely, snatch, clean and jerk, squats and pulls (in all their various forms) that can beat up the organism’s joints. Joints can really get damaged and inflamed, causing a ton of pain leading to an inability to perform at the desired level or, even worse, not train at all because of injury. In addition, some Olympic Weightlifters get beat up for various reasons such as mobility issues and, the worst of them all, improper training protocols.
Proper training through periodization of accessory movements within programming is a big factor to remedying bodily dysfunction stemming from wear and tear of the marathon demands within the sport of Olympic Weightlifting.
We know the sport of Olympic Weightlifting includes the snatch and clean and jerk (the competitive lifts) that need to be performed frequently in training for sport performance preparation. Here at Garage Strength we also use variation lifts, which are lifts that emulate and are very similar to the competitive lifts, simulcras of a sort--think power cleans, power snatches, low hang cleans, pause below the knee snatches and lifts off boxes, to name a few frequently used variants. The list of variations can become endless if you want to trek down that rabbit hole, but they are primarily used for noise creation within the movement to impact technical and neural adaptations, as well as cleverly moderate intensity. The next movement we see athlete’s use in training are the strength movements: squats, both back and front, and pulls for both the snatch and clean. Pretty simple how the strength movements factor into training and periodization. And that folks brings us into accessory exercises.
So, what are accessories? How do we at Garage Strength define accessory movements? And most importantly, what accessory exercises are best utilized to positively impact performance in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting?
Let’s curl on in and find out!
Accessory Movements: The What And The Why
Accessory movements can be thought of as body building movements that are used to strengthen certain areas that tend to get banged up over the course of training and competing in Olympic Weightlifting.
That sounds like a thorough, precise definition. Like, d’uh, heard that before. We figured that isn’t new information, but how about considering this point:
How do we know which accessory exercises to use within training?
The answer is pretty straight forward when deciding which accessory exercises to use within training. Begin by asking this simple question: “What joints are going to get beat up from frequent use training and competing in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting?” and work backwards from there. So if you are doing a snatch or jerk, we can see that the elbows and shoulders can get inflamed and have to deal with a lot of stress repeatedly. Along with that, Olympic Weightlifters are going to be pulling from the floor frequently and quite often, so the lower back may start to get banged up, coaches start hearing murmurings of aches and pains emanating from the diaphragms of athletes. And of course, what gets pulled must be caught, resulting in athletes’ knees, ankles and achilles starting to get banged up from the catch and stand of all those kilos working in tandem with gravity.
Equipped with such information, we can take a step back and see, very easily, that we got to focus accessory work on shoulders, elbows, lower back, knees and ankles to make sure the athlete’s structural balance is in check. This way the body can adapt to all the stress that needs to be put on it to make an athlete become a champion weightlifter.
Here are six accessory movements we prioritize for use training our Olympic Weightlifting athletes.
6. Pull ups
At Garage Strength we like to have our lifters do pull-ups a lot of the time. There is a skill known as a co-contraction. Our theory is that if our lifters can co-contract and create a very stable shoulder girdle, a lot of which has to do with how well the athlete’s lats are firing, so, if we have weightlifters with very strong lats, they will be able to keep the bar tighter and help them be more stable overhead. A lot of this comes back to being able to bang out a set of pull ups worthy of a wrestler.
Garage Strength Olympic Weightlifters hit pull ups on the reg. Even the heavier weight classes (male 102, 109 and the +++ ; female 81, 87, and the +++) are still going to be doing upwards of 10-12 reps to help maintain a healthy shoulder girdle and can support the stress the shoulders are going to take.
We recommend doing this accessory exercise one to two times a week, for four to five sets with rep ranges varying from five to twelve reps. Also, don’t be scared to add a little bit of weight, vary the grip and attack the movement in various ways to create positive adaptations for the athlete.
5. DB External Rotation
Piggy-backing on the pull up, the DB External Rotation is another movement that helps stabilize the shoulder and help prevent any serious injuries within the shoulder from either the snatch or jerk.
The DB external rotation movement can be done from a multitude of positions. The accessory movement can be done standing, against the wall or sitting down with the knee elevated almost directly in line with the shoulder. Whatever position the movement is done from, just make sure it allows for a complete range of motion to externally rotate the shoulder.
Now, a couple key concepts. We recommend that when doing the external rotation to utilize a four to seven second eccentric to help prevent any build up or inflammation in the shoulder. This built in eccentric will also strengthen the shoulder tremendously. We recommend doing anywhere from three to five sets of five to ten reps.
Added bonus, don’t be scared to add this movement into an athlete’s warm-up to help in the further prevention of injuries.
4. Spanish Squats
There are a ton of variations of squats to be used in a weightlifting program. A lot of long legged lifters tend to get a little more banged up in their knees than short legged lifters. We’ve all seen a long legged lifter get smashed in the catch of a clean. They’ll collapse in the bottom of the squat, their chest dives forward, followed by the knees and then the heels start to pop, driving all that stress right into the knee joint.
We’ve learned over the years of training that not only are Spanish Squats a good accessory but are excellent for improving blood flow before the workout. We recommend doing Spanish Squats at a very light load. Have the athlete hold a DB in the goblet position with a band attached to an immovable object. Put the band around the back part of the knees so, when at the top of the squat, press the back of the knees into the band and feel that really nice quad pump.
Remember, long legged lifters tend to have weaker quads. But what happens then by including Spanish Squats, the long legged lifters’ quads become more activated and the athlete starts to use the muscle more while training, decreasing the stresses placed upon the knees.
Use this accessory exercise for one to two sets at a nice, easy pace for a warm up. Or, use the Spanish Squat two to three times a week for three to four sets of twelve to seventeen reps to really get the quad pump rolling and good blood flow into the knee to keep them healthy.
3. Miracle Gro
This is a big one. It’s HUGE! No one ever uses it.
It is referred to as the Miracle Gro, created by the brothers Miller back in their parents’ garage in the late 90’s. The brothers Miller had no machines and basically no equipment, but they wanted huge triceps. They started playing with the dumbbell pullover, adding in elbow flexion, and VOILA! the miracle gro came into existence.
The Miracle Gro is not just a lat movement, but a tricep movement that triggers the lats and abs. Why do we like this movement? This accessory exercise protects the elbows. It trains the athlete’s elbow extensors to fire in conjunction with their lats and abs. It creates a tremendous stretch through the upper body and trunk, with the tricep and lat getting incredibly lengthened. As the athlete pulls the DB super, super deep and then brings it back over their face, the movement will hammer the triceps and, all of a sudden, the intermuscular coordination will be seismic. And that is a great way to improve the athlete’s lockout in the snatch catch and their lockout in the jerk. Better yet, it is a great way to strengthen the triceps to protect the elbow joint from the beating that they tend to take throughout training Olympic Weightlifting.
We recommend only doing this accessory exercise only once a week because they tend to make the athlete incredibly sore. It can make you sore for two to three days. With that being said, get this accessory movement into your programming ASAP, utilizing four to five sets in rep ranges varying from between seven and twelve repetitions.
2. Ironklad Abs
Now we’re going to start to target the trunk, take shots at the gut and strengthen those abs using Ironklad Abs. The key part to doing the Ironklad Ab exercise is, and this is paramount, that the athlete has to think about having lumbar flexion, meaning pushing the belly button into the bench when executing the Ironklad Ab. The athlete needs to continuously push the belly button down, down, down as the legs are raised up to the ceiling and then as the legs go forward, down below the bench, it is imperative to continue with the lumbar flexion to feel the shaking in the abs as they take a toll.
But what is really important here, is lifters start to gain more control over their abs. This, in turn, transfers really, really well when the athlete is front squatting, back squatting, pulling off the floor or dipping in the jerk. The athlete will start to fill their gut with air to push out into that belt to provide a solid foundation of support to execute the lifts as optimally as possible.
We recommend using a 7.5# to 15# at max when doing Ironklad Abs for four to five sets for eight to fifteen reps to lighten up the abs and learn how to coordinate the trunk properly.
1. Reverse Hyper
The Reverse Hyper is the best accessory movement to utilize for all Olympic Weightlifters. But it is really important that the athlete uses the Reverse Hyper properly. This means the athlete needs to get on the pad and make sure they are filling their stomach up with air. That they are trying to feel the lumbar flexion from the Ironklad Abs come into play. In addition, the athlete needs to demonstrate a decent amount of control. We know that there is swinging that goes into play when executing on the Reverse Hyper, but we don’t want a ton of swinging (we don’t want full stop either) when performing the movement.
We even recommend super setting the Reverse Hyper movement with the Ironklad Abs movement because the trunk will start to fire together properly. This will go a long way to teaching the athlete how to coordinate their posterior chain with their abs. This will lead to better pulls and better squats and better execution of the competitive lifts.
Make sure when executing the Reverse Hyper movement that the athlete has their gut filled with air, that at the top the chest rises up a little bit and that the athlete is squeezing through their abs, lower back, glutes and hamstrings. We recommend utilizing this movement for four sets of seventeen to twenty reps. This will create a huge pump in the lower back, but it is going to pay off long term. We like having athletes using the reverse hyper up to two to three times a week. Athletes that are prone to back injuries or issues, we will have them routinely use this movement before training because it does such a good job of stimulating back growth.
Recognize that with all of these accessory movements.
These accessory movements are not designed to make an athlete a better powerlifter. These accessory movements are not being programmed to make an athlete a better bodybuilder. No, no, no. Recognize that these six accessory exercises are meant to optimize Olympic Weightlifting training. That they WILL make the athlete a more capable weightlifter. And better yet, these six exercises will help with overuse issues and strengthening the most used joints to assist in injury prevention.
Remember to utilize DB External Rotations and Pull Ups to protect and support the health of the shoulder from all of the overhead stabilization needed in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting. Sprinkle in some Miracle Gros once a week to solidify the musculature around the elbows, as well as some Spanish Squats for better quad activation from the athlete to better combat the high shearing forces of stress placed on the knee. And finally, don’t forget to target that trunk, gut and back with Ironklad Abs and Reverse Hyper accessory movements to not only improve coordination, but keep that all too common lower back pain from crashing the party.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.