Organizing Accessory Exercises
Accessory exercises play a significant role in a Conjugate Method training program. Whether it is a max effort or dynamic effort training day, we always perform a series of accessory exercises immediately following our main exercise. Accessory exercises make up around 80% of our total training volume and provide an athlete with a few key benefits.
First, these exercises allow us to engage in hypertrophy-focused training to coincide with the max effort and dynamic effort training that improves specific strengths. In a traditional linear-based training program, athletes frequently dedicate a block of training to hypertrophy training. This is a tremendous waste of time.
With a properly written Conjugate program, you can focus on multiple training goals without dedicating entire blocks to only training to improve absolute strength, power, or muscular size and endurance. This enhances the rate at which an athlete improves compared to the linear approach.
Second, accessory exercises allow us to target specific weaknesses we identify within our main exercise work. Once a weakness has been identified, we can select an accessory exercise capable of addressing the issue. This exercise can be designed to increase the size of muscles and tendons responsible for the problem, or we can choose an exercise that improves strength and coordination at specific joint angles.
When building an accessory exercise workout, it is vital to ensure your workouts are laid out in the correct order, with the correct number of sets and reps selected. Here is how we organize accessory exercise workouts at Westside Barbell:
Moderate to Heavy Multi-Joint Movements
The first accessory exercise of the day is what we refer to as the primary accessory exercise. Similar to how the main exercise is the overall focus of the training day, the primary accessory exercise is the focus of the accessory exercise portion of the workout. We use this exercise to build strength and track progress.
The primary accessory exercise will always be a multi-joint movement and will be trained at a moderate to high intensity and moderate volume. This exercise is selected based on weak muscle groups or weak technical capabilities. For instance, someone with weak quads may choose front squats to address their issue, or someone who struggles to keep their chest up in the squat may decide to attach forward pulling bands to a giant cambered bar as their primary accessory exercise.
Here are a few examples of primary accessory exercises, along with basic programming guidelines.
Cambered Bar GM - 4 x 5-8
Front Squats - 4 x 5
Deficit Deadlifts - 5 x 5
Low Box Squat - 4 x 5
Push Press - 4 x 5
Close Grip Bench Press - 4 x 5-8
Incline Bench Press - 5 x 5
Standing DB OHP - 4 x 5
As you can see, the volume is kept relatively low compared to typical accessory training, performed at intensity levels just slightly below the main exercise of the day. Always use the heaviest weight you can while completing all sets and reps with the correct form.
Moderate Multi and Single-Joint Movements
After the primary accessory exercise has been performed, we move on to the rest of our accessory training. This will usually consist of 1-3 exercises that target all involved muscle groups of the training day. Lower body training days will focus on all lower body muscles, while upper body training days will focus on all upper body muscles.
We use these movements to increase muscular size and endurance, improving physical composition and conditioning levels. Here are a few exercises you will typically see fall into this category, along with a few suggested set and rep schemes.
Romanian Deadlifts - 4 x 8-10
Hack Squats - 4 x 10-12
Inverse Curls - 5 x AMRAP
Belt Squat - 4 x 12-15
Rolling DB Tricep Extensions - 4 x 12-15
JM Press - 4 x 8-10
DB Bicep Curls - 4 x 10-12
Lateral Raises - 3 x 12-15
You’ll notice some exercises are multi-joint while others are single-joint, and the volume is considerably increased compared to the primary accessory volume. The same rule on training weight applies; always use the heaviest weight you can while completing all sets and reps with the correct form.
Light Single-Joint Movements
At the end of our accessory exercise training, we frequently include an ultra-high rep exercise. These exercises are performed to improve tendon capacity and get some additional blood flowing through the muscle groups involved in the training day.
Here are a few of the light single-joint movements we use.
Band Hamstring Curls - 4 x 80-100
Seated Quad Extension w/ Ankle Weights - 4 x 80-100
Band 45 Degree Back Extensions - 4 x AMRAP (at least 50)
Band Tricep Pressdowns (One or Two Arms) - 4 x 80-100
Band Front Raises - 3 x AMRAP (at least 30)
Band Face Pulls - 4 x 80-100
Always select a band that provides a challenge while allowing you to work within ultra-high rep ranges.
Here is the basic hierarchy you should follow when organizing your accessory exercises within a Conjugate Method training program:
Exercise 1 - Multi-Joint, moderate to heavy weight at low to moderate volume
Exercise 2 - Single or Multi-Joint, moderate weight at moderate to high volume
Exercise 3 - Single or Multi-Joint, moderate weight at moderate to high volume
Exercise 4 - Single or Multi-Joint, moderate weight at moderate to high volume
Exercise 5 - Single-Joint, light weight at high to ultra-high volume
This example shows how to organize a five-exercise accessory training plan. You can train as many as five accessory exercises or as few as three. It all depends on your energy levels and current recovery burden.
For more information regarding accessory exercise programming, visit the Westside Barbell blog. To gain access to sport-specific Conjugate Method training programs, visit the Conjugate Club.
Simmons, L. (2007). Westside Barbell Book of Methods. Westside Barbell.
Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. Verkhoshansky.
Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Human Kinetics.