Saturday, August 19, 2017


Once again, the internet has forced my hand into pedantry.  It’s time to explain the difference between assistance work and accessory work, and why you should be doing the former vs the latter.  I’m honestly shocked that I need to do this because really; who wants to do something called “accessory work”?  Accessories are what you wear to put together a smart outfit because you and your girlfriends hit the mall for Orange Julius while complaining about how you’re just too fat.  Assistance, though not the most masculine of terms, at least implies that something is helping in some way, whereas an accessory is just kinda hanging on in the background as part of an entourage.  But let’s get started here.

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Christ, it's not the 90s anymore.  Do people even go to malls?  Is Orange Julius still a thing?

What we’re primarily getting at here is the value of mentality when it comes to selecting exercises in a program.  Typically, you have your core lifts, which are the handful of lifts that you want to get stronger.  For a powerlifter, these are the big 3.  For a strongman, it’s a wider handful, but typically a small grouping of indicator lifts that let the athlete know that they are getting stronger at their sport.  For the weightlifter, it’s the snatch and clean and jerk.  You get where I’m going.  After these core lifts, you have supplemental lifts; those lifts that build the core lifts.  For some trainees, this is just the core lifts again with a different volume pattern.  For others, these are variations of the core lifts built to address specific weak points.  Once you have hit the supplemental lifts, NOW we get into the assistance work.

Assistance work are those lifts that assist the trainee in meeting their goals without directly contributing specifically to the core lifts.  For example, a big and strong back contributes greatly to pressing and squatting, but those aren’t “back exercises”, thus, when we do chins and rows, we do them as assistance for pressing and squatting rather than as supplemental work.  Strong arms help keep the bar stable when benching, but we don’t consider the bench an arm exercise, so when we do curls, we do them as assistance work.  You get the point.  These are the movements in the program that, though not directly building our core lifts, they are essential in assisting the development of the core lift.

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You knew this was coming

So what the hell is an accessory?  An accessory is just a movement that gets tacked onto the program “just because”.  Lateral raises just because.  Calf raises just because.  Farmer’s walks just because.  Etc.  They have no intended effect, they have no purpose, and they are not planned for the sake of making anything else stronger.  People just throw them into the program because they “want to”; because somehow, for some reason, they enjoy these lifts.

No, let’s be real; people do these things for hypertrophy.  Almost 100% of the time, that’s the reason for accessory lifts.  People still think this is something to be ashamed of, and tend to hide this goal with flowerly language, but people like their lateral raises and calf raises and whatever else because they believe it promotes muscular growth and they are of the opinion that their current programming is lacking in the ability to deliver this.  So they just tack on movements to their programming with no consideration to the impact, positive or negative, it has towards achieving their goals.

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I mean, when has meaninglessly tacking things on ever gone wrong before?

But here is the thing; assistance work CAN promote hypertrophy.  In fact, it SHOULD promote hypertrophy.  That’s pretty much the whole point of doing it in the first place.  A bigger muscle has the potential to be a stronger muscle, and as such, when you do assistance work, you are trying to get bigger muscles for your core and supplemental lifts to make stronger.  This is why you can do 200 dips for assistance works and blow up your chest, delts and triceps.  It’s why you can backwards sled drag for assistance work and inflate your quads like balloons.  And that means you CAN do lateral raises for assistance work too.  It’s all viable; you just need to program it intelligently.

And I say that fully aware that I also say “it’s assistance work; it doesn’t matter”.  You don’t need to be losing sleep over rep ranges, true, but you can still be intelligent in your selection of assistance work.  If you have cannonball delts and spaghetti arms, lay off the raises and start hitting the curls and extensions.  If your quads are the side of watermelons and your glutes are so small pants won’t stay on, lay off the leg extensions are start hitting the glute ham raise.  But aside from that, simply focusing on working hard will carry you far with your selections here.

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Clearly needs more hamstring work

Along with that, be real with yourself about your goals.  It does you no good to pay lip service to powerlifting or strongman and then try to find some sort of mental gymnastics necessary to be able to include the shoulder shocker into your assistance work.  Be honest with yourself; if you goal is to have big shoulders, make your core and supplemental work dedicated to big shoulder and do the assistance work to match.  Once you meet that goal, THEN you can resume your powerlifting or strongman.  Don’t be a closet bodybuilder; own it, achieve it, and move on.  Or stay with it for life and do what it takes to keep hitting that goal.  Just set yourself up for success.

Just…please stop calling them accessories.  It hurts my soul.   

Saturday, August 12, 2017


One of the most beneficial things I ever did for myself, both in my professional career and for lifting, as the quit assuming that I was the smartest person in the room.  In fact, when possible, I try to assume I am the dumbest person there, that I have no clue what is going on, everyone is smarter than me, and I’m just not getting it.  For one, this is fantastic for keeping your ego grounded, and you’ll come across as less pompous and arrogant and far more approachable.  However, the primary benefit of this approach is that it’s a form of manufactured empathy, and it forces you to try to understand things from the perspective of the person speaking.  Instead of assuming that the person is wrong and stupid, you operate under the premise that they are correct, and then you try your absolute hardest to figure out why, if something doesn’t make sense to you, YOU aren’t figuring it out.  There are many times where NOT following this principle has burned me in training, and judging from what I’ve seen online, a lot of others are falling for this trap as well.

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I am so happy this exists

What I’m discussing here is basically Socrates approach to philosophy; assume you know nothing.  Now, make no mistake; Socrates was VERY annoying.  Many surmise that executing him by forcing him to drink hemlock was less about “corrupting the youth” and more about the Greek public just being sick of the dude.  But as a quick summary, Socrates was notorious for claiming he knew nothing, and then, when presented with someone who DID claim to know something, he’d question their knowledge down to its most basic and rudimentary level and, in doing so, typically display the fallacies inherent in their logic and that this person ALSO knew nothing.  If Socrates intent was merely to take credit away from the wisemen in society, he was kinda being a dick, but if it was legitimately and in earnest an attempt to learn more, you could do no better of an approach.

Socrates’ approach was to remove all presuppositions and previously established paradigms and attempt to view the knowledge of others from a perspective freed of bias.  This is incredibly valuable when it comes to learning, and it’s incredibly difficult.  We WANT to believe that everything we’ve “learned” up until this point has been true and that it can faithfully provide us a frame to experience the world through, but in doing so, we can end up missing out on something due to our operating paradigm.  Because we refuse to refute what we previously learned when learning something new, we end up perverting the information to try to fit our frame of reference, and in most cases, we lose out on what is being conveyed to us.

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How do you beat the Socratic method; by actually knowing nothing

I see this all the time on the internet, but rather than call out others, I’ll call out myself.  I learned about Westside Barbell when I was about 19 or so, and immediately read up on as many sources as I could (which, at the time, was Joe Defranco’s “Westside Barbell for Skinny Bastards”, a few stray articles from westside barbell, and all the articles on elitefts).  However, I “knew” it was a powerlifting program, so of course that meant I HAD to be doing the big 3 the WHOLE time I ran it, right?  SO that meant, for my max effort work, it was always going to be bench press for upper body, and then squat and deadlift for lower body. I mean, duh.  And since it was a powerlifting program, of course I was supposed to only do singles for the max effort work, and I needed to set a PR every week.  I mean; how else was I doing to get stronger?

And of course, any of my readers who are even slightly familiar with Westside methodology are probably laughing at me right now, because I sure am.  What I just listed is the complete opposite of how the max effort method works.  But am I alone in my misunderstanding of it?  No; we see this ALL the time.  And the thing is, Louie Simmons and Dave Tate aren’t at all mysterious about this.  Yeah yeah; Louie writes like a mad-libs book, but it’s all out there clear as crystal when it comes to the ME stuff, and yet I completely dorked it up because, before I even read the material, I had already made up my mind on what the program was and how it would work, and as I read, I did all sorts of mental gymnastics to make what I was reading conform to what I “knew”.

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God only knows how this guy convinced himself that this was a good idea

So now I’ll make fun of the internet; we see this crap all the time.  People talk about how Jim Wendler speaks in riddles, when in reality, people read Jim already having an idea of what 5/3/1 is “supposed” to be, and then get mad when the cognitive dissonance hits.  Louie Simmons is legitimately hated by people who won’t take the time to understand him.  Hell, my own writings are constantly misinterpreted by people who read them already expecting me to mean one thing when I’m going in a complete opposite direction.  I’ve had people profusely thank me for a post that talked about finding your own way and sticking with it, only to turn right around, post a “rate my routine thread” and then change THAT routine 2 weeks later.

And it’s the same thing when people decide to “follow” a program.  They’ll decide that an author must really know what they’re talking about, take their program, but then turn right around and decide that author was an idiot and clearly Super Squats works better with 20 rep leg extensions.  The further along I get in my training, the more I realize that pretty much anything works as long as it’s trained with a lot of effort and consistency, but knowing this is LIBERATING, not constricting.  It means I CAN follow someone else’s routine and it WILL work, as long as I push myself.  In turn, some of the biggest favors I’ve ever done for myself was to follow someone’s program as is and watch how it works, even if I don’t understand or believe in it.  20 rep squats?  Ran it, even with the ribcage expansion stuff because hey; maybe they knew something I didn’t.  DoggCrapp?  Can you say “extreme stretching”, because I sure as hell did it every workout.  Cube Method for Strongman?  Despite DE work NEVER working for me, I STILL did it, because why not?  And in all these cases, the programs worked, and I got stronger, and nothing was lost, but I GAINED a whole lot of knowledge from being willing to swallow my ego and assume someone else might be smarter than me.

When given the chance, assume you are wrong.  You might learn something.