By Joe Black
You are lying on the floor, gasping for air, drenched in sweat and exhausted from just crushing your metcon. Earlier in the WOD, you worked up to a heavy set of 3 in the deadlift. You worked hard and now you’re thinking about that post-workout shake or spending some time talking with friends and rolling out.
“Don’t forget the accessory work!” shouts the coach. “Ugh,” you think to yourself, as you half-heartedly complete the work or, stealthily, sneak out the door.
Accessory work (sometimes called a “buy out”) may seem like a hassle at the end of a tiring WOD or something that you can treat as optional, but understand this: doing accessory work is tremendously beneficial for your overall health and fitness and will improve your CrossFit performance.
What is Accessory Work?
Accessory work is the little exercises that contribute to the bigger exercises. Accessory work is anything that compliments the bilateral and full-body movements that are done in CrossFit. Bilateral movements involve using both sides of the body together. Think of movements such as squats, presses, deadlifts, cleans, thrusters, pullups, pushups, snatches – the list goes on.
Accessory work may involve isolation exercises (targeting one muscle or muscle group) or unilateral movements (using one side of the body), with the intended goal of improving overall performance and helping you become a better version of yourself.
Why Should You Do the Accessory Work?
Simply put, accessory work is going to make you better at CrossFit, improve your overall fitness and lead to a sustainable, long-term fitness practice. Over time, doing only bilateral and full-body movements will result in an imbalance. Your body is going to focus on using your strongest movers (muscles or muscle groups) to move the weight. This will result in underdeveloped muscles or muscle groups, which can limit your potential, increase stress on your joints, develop muscular imbalances or, even worse, lead to injuries.
Accessory work should be done for a number of important reasons:

  • To develop a more well-rounded body.
  • To build a strong foundation of fitness.
  • To overcome weaknesses (these are your areas of opportunity).
  • They are less taxing on your central nervous system and joints.
  • They help prevent injuries.
  • They can improve current irritations in the body before they become worse.
  • They promote muscle growth (hypertrophy).

What Do Accessory Exercises Look Like & How Do They Help?
Accessory work is programmed at the end of a workout and since the beginning of April you have seen a number of different exercises programmed. Here are some that have been programmed so far and how they can help aid your full body movements (click links for examples):

  • Rows: Help build your back strength to finally get your first pull-up or muscle-up and build a strong upper back to pull heavy deadlifts and keep your elbows up in your front squats.
  • Push Downs / Kick-Backs / Skull-Crushers: Help build your pushing and lockout strength for overhead movements (press, push press, jerks, overhead squat), dips, HSPUs and handstand holds.
  • Core Work (Planks / Carries / L-Sits / Supermans / Hollow Holds): Help create awareness of what your body should feel like under tension and how to properly breathe while continuing to hold that tension, which will translate to better movement quality in most exercises.
  • Leg Curls: Help build up your unilateral hamstring strength so that when you combine both of your legs together, you will crush deadlifts, cleans and snatches.
  • Split Squats: Help you increase unilateral leg and glute strength for squatting, wall balls, rowing and high level movements, like pistols.
  • RDLs:  Help improve your hamstring, glute and lower back strength which can lead to an increase in your squat and deadlift numbers and make pulling cleans or snatches off the ground a bit easier.
  • Hammer Curls: Help build strength and endurance in your biceps, which translates into improved pulling strength on pull ups and nice beach muscles!

Making the Most Out of Accessory Work

The more consistently you do accessory work, the quicker you will see the benefits. Make a commitment to always do the accessory work and over time you will start to see your fitness improve, your body will feel better and you will continue to set new PRs. Buy-in to the buy-out work and become an even better version of you!
Here are some tips to help you get the most benefit out of these exercises:

  • Concentrate on movement quality, not the amount of weight you are doing. These are not exercises that you should be trying to PR.
  • Attack these exercises with the same focus that you have during the strength and metcon portions of the WOD.
  • If you don’t know why the exercise is beneficial, ask your coach to explain to you the benefits, so you are able to the execute with a purpose.