With the Open getting near, I know many people are really starting to focus on movements that have historically been in the Open and have historically given them loads of trouble. Movements such as toes-to-bar, chest-to-bar pull-ups, muscle-ups, wall balls, box jumps, thrusters, and burpees (just to name a few) have all made appearances in the last three Opens and I’m willing to bet large sums of cash (serious inquiries only please) that we will see all of these again this year. If high repetitions of any of these movements give you the heebie jeebies, don’t worry I can guarantee you’re not the only one!
Accessory exercises are a fantastic way to target a specific weakness. Whether it be your overhead strength, poor midline stability, or if you want to increase those sets of pull ups from 5 reps at a time to 10, a few sets of these exercises pre or post workout a couple times a week will help you cross those weaknesses off your list one at a time.
Okay, so these aren’t really the top accessory exercises based on any sort of Forbes List scoring system, but they are however some of my favorite post workout exercises to help attack those weaknesses. Please note that these are not listed in any specific ranked order, it’s like a parent with multiple kids, you love them all equally right?
Alrighty, lets get to it!
1. Pendlay Rows
Okay I lied, this one is first on the list for a reason, this is the golden child. The Pendlay row is my go-to lift for building strong lats (your human wings) and a strong upper back. This lift will help improve those pull-ups, muscle ups, and anything to do with retracting your shoulder blades. For this I recommend 4 sets of 6-8 reps.
2. Overhead Dumbbell Tricep Extensions
This one is a throwback to my college weight room days when I was trying to get my arms to look like cannons (I failed). I like this lift to help build some strength in the triceps, which are some of the primary movers in dips and also any movement in which you push with your arms (i.e. push up, push press, push jerk, etc.). For this I recommend 3 sets of 8-10 reps.
3. Glute Bridge
This next one may look a bit silly but I promise, people won’t be laughing for long when your squat, snatch, and clean numbers start surpassing theirs (Don’t forget to smile and wave as you go by, it’s only polite). The glute bridge is a great way to build stronger glutes and also strengthen the lower back. It will also help you hit that full extension position your coach is always nagging you about! For this I recommend 3 sets of 8-10 reps, feel free to add a slight pause and/or squeeze at the top of each rep for good measure.
4. Bulgarian Split Squat
If you think you’re legs are strong now, just wait until you work these into your training. This single leg movement done correctly will help improve your squat, increase your explosiveness, and without a doubt help with those nasty pistols that always light your legs up like the 4th of July. For this I recommend 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps per leg. For this you can either grab a pair of dumbbells, kettle bells or just back rack a barbell, shooter’s choice!
Do you struggle with handstand push-ups or any other overhead movement? Well look no further, the seated dumbbell press is not only an excellent accessory lift it is also a great scaling option for HSPU’s during workouts as well! This is a great way to build some raw shoulder strength. For this I recommend 3 sets of 6-8 reps.
*Note: These set and rep numbers don’t apply when using as a scaling option. Choose a weight and rep scheme appropriate for the workout.
6. Hammer Curls (Bicep Curls)
A slight variation on the old-fashioned lady killer (Curls for the girls!), the hammer curl helps target the brachioradialis, which aids in flexion of the elbow. This is a great way to help build more strength and endurance in your pull-ups and kettle bell swings, plus they make your arms look good! Ain’t no shame in that! For this I recommend 3 sets of 10-15 per arm.
7. Banded Tricep Pull Down
Yet another great exercise for the triceps, except I like this one to build endurance rather than pure strength like we were doing with exercise #2. Done correctly this one is challenging and totally legit! If you get blown out of the water every time you do Elizabeth because you’re just staring at the rings waiting for your arms to work again, then this is for you! For this I recommend 4 sets of 10-15 reps.
8. Hip Extensions (aka Back Extensions)
If you’re feeling abnormally sore after a deadlift workout or your back can’t make it past the second round of a five round metcon without turning into a boulder then some of these should be in your near future. This is a great way to strengthen those erectors in your lower back so they can withstand all the forces we place upon them on a regular basis. We are going for both strength and endurance with this exercise. For this I recommend 4 sets of 10-15 reps. (Can easily be weighted by holding a plate close to the chest)
“I can string together one or two toes-to-bar and after that they just die on me.” – Almost every new CrossFitter, except for the few genetically gifted ones
I think most everybody goes through this phase at some point early in his or her CrossFit career. A few sets of these spicy sit-ups will definitely aid in your quest for unbroken sets of toes-to-bar, a stronger midline during lifts, and washboard abs. For this I recommend 3 sets of 10-20 reps.
10. Banded Good Mornings
Here we have another great way to build some endurance in the lower back as well as the hamstrings. This exercise is no secret but I feel it is definitely underutilized. This can be used in a couple of different ways, it can be a warm up for your hamstrings before some heavy deadlifts or you can use it to lengthen and strengthen the hamstrings. For this I recommend 3 sets of 15-20 reps.
And last but certainly not least we have…
11. Strict…Anything You Can Kip
Yes it’s as simple as that and yes kipping is great for increasing your work capacity over broad time and modal domains, but if you honestly want to get better at a movement the best thing you can do is lose the kip and do a few sets the old fashioned way. We’re talking about pull-ups, push-ups, toes-to-bar, ring dips, handstand push-ups and so on. By doing the strict movement you will be recruiting and strengthening the exact muscles in which you would like to target. For this I recommend 3 sets of max effort sets. Feel free to add weight, but remember STRICT is the key!
I hope this list of exercises is useful to many people and I hope it gives those of you who are on the fence about signing up for the Open, or any competition for that matter, the strength in your movements and a newfound confidence to sign up and give it your all! And I know many of you OG diehard CrossFitters are thinking to yourselves, “These aren’t functional movements!? I’m not doing these! These are stupid!” And to you I say, fine don’t do them. But while you sit there and refuse to do the extra work, there are others out there busting their butts, attacking weaknesses, and getting better ever so slowly, and one day they are going to blow right by you in a workout and this time they might not smile and wave.