Accessory Work

By Mikey Hodges

Do you continue to battle the same nagging injuries? Do these same injuries seem to pop up every few months? If so, you are definitely not alone. Many athletes will experience some sort of setback in their training due to injury. Injuries can occur for a number of reasons, however they are commonly due to underdeveloped muscles, muscular imbalances and poor core stability. This is where accessory work comes in! Accessory work is a broad term that includes a wide range of movements and exercises that can help correct imbalances, prevent injury, and improve strength.  

Muscular imbalances are very common, and do have the potential to cause injury and promote poor movement. The most common imbalance I notice is with the glutes. Many athletes have one glute that struggles to activate as well as the other one. This can cause a shift in our squat or deadlift movements that could ultimately lead to hip or knee injuries as well as stalled progress in both compound lifts. Lower body accessory work, done a few times a week, can address this issue and lead to better movement, an increase in strength, and lower the chance of injury. Typically when addressing imbalances, unilateral work is the way to go! Unilateral work is single-leg or single-arm exercises that allow you to focus on each side of the body independently. If you notice a shift in your squat, start adding in split squats, single leg squats, and single leg dumbbell deadlifts. Not only will this help correct your imbalance but it will also compliment bilateral compound lifts such as the squat and deadlift.

In my opinion, the best way to fix an injury, is to avoid it altogether. Accessory work will aid in the prevention of injury by strengthening individual muscle groups. CrossFit focuses on constantly varying functional movements, so certain exercises are not given as much attention as they deserve. Since some of these exercises are not as commonly used, certain muscle groups are underdeveloped, which can lead to injury. The most underdeveloped muscle group that I see in the CrossFit community is the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles consisting of the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. These muscles play a big role in keeping the shoulder stable and allowing for proper range of motion. If you experience shoulder pain or weakness there is a good chance that the rotator cuff muscles are being neglected and need some more attention. Even if you are not currently dealing with shoulder issues, implementing banded pull aparts, rear delt flies, and face pulls to strengthen the rotator cuff will promote a stronger, more stable shoulder and prevent future injury.

Accessory work plays a big role in correcting imbalances and preventing injuries, however it also plays a pivotal role in improving overall strength. For such a long time, accessory work involving traditional bodybuilding movements such as bicep curls, lateral raises and dumbbell rows were frowned upon in the CrossFit community. As you may have noticed on social media, these movements are starting to become more accepted, and frankly, in my opinion, should be encouraged to athletes. Using accessory work to increase strength is a simple concept. The more muscle you have, the stronger you will be. For example, tricep extensions will allow your triceps to help finish off a push press or strict press, while dumbbell rows can strengthen your back to make strict pull ups a little easier.  Of course this comes with a caveat. If promoting hypertrophy, or muscle growth, compromises mobility or proper range of motion, than it will do you no good. Using traditional bodybuilding exercises as accessory work will help build hypertrophy in groups that are secondary movers in many exercises, allowing for added strength and stability.

Accessory work is something that all athletes should be doing more of. It does not have to be every day and does not need to be 5 or 6 sets. 3 sets of 8-12 reps, a few days a week, will go a long way in preventing injury, correcting imbalances, and increasing overall strength. Do not be nervous to start implementing some of these movements into your training, after all it is 2019, nobody will judge you for doing bicep curls in a CrossFit gym!