The DO’s and DON’Ts of Assistance Training

Assistance training can be a great tool for coaches and athletes to add quality muscle, improve movement patterning, and address specific faults and performance leaks.

In earlier articles, I discussed various assistance training options for weightlifters, muscle hypertrophy, and corrective movement, each targeting individual concerns and circumstances. Here are some of them:

In this piece, however, I have laid out six fundamental DO’s and DON’Ts of assistance training that all strength, power, and fitness athletes and coaches should adhere to.

DO Address Technique

Assistance lifts are great at addressing specific technical faults or bringing up weak links in one’s movements.

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Often, technical training in can be addressed using moderate loading, as well as strengthening and adding positional strength across movement variations (such as these snatch assistance lifts).

DON’T Over-Program

There are infinite variations and assistance lifts to choose from, each offering benefits to a lifter. While coaches and athletes may differ on what lifts are the best, we all can agree that doing too much and too many can backfire. Understand that with training, there is always a point of diminishing returns. If you adhere to your programming, monitor your main lifts, and allow your body to recover, you will be headed in the right direction. It is important that there many lifters will experience different training stresses and adaptations, and therefore recovery and progress should be monitored on an athlete by athlete basis.

DO Increase Volume

Muscular hypertrophy, skill development, and movement based corrective/rehab exercises are best done with moderate loading for moderate to higher volumes to drive adaptations.

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By keeping the loads manageable and reps moderate to high, athletes can develop a stronger foundation for movement and athletic capacities.

DON’T Impede The Main Lifts

Assistance training is there to assist the main aspects of your training, either to enhance technique, muscle hypertrophy, or movement patterning. While training assistance lifts through moderate to higher volume schemes are key to muscular hypertrophy and development (not near competition phases), their should be a proper balance in training so that it does not impede with one’s ability to train the core lifts (squats, pulls, pressing, cleans, snatches, etc). The progression of those main lifts is dependent upon the coaches and lifters ability to program and adhere to concurrent training of both the main and assistance lifts.

DO Train Unilaterally

For the sake of optimal performance, muscular development, and injury prevention, build unilaterally training into your assistance lifts. Unilaterally training can address faulty movement mechanics, strengthen limbs individually, and increase injury resilience.

DON’T Neglect Main Lifts

This may be a no-brainer, but many lifters may find themselves performing more variations and assistance lifts in workouts rather than getting under a heavy barbell. For power and strength sports, there is strength-specific skill that needs to be developed, often through performing moderate to heavy loaded repetitions (75-90% of 1rm) for moderate volume (3-8 sets of 1-5 reps). Sometimes lifters may find themselves neglecting this type of training (because it’s hard) and instead opting to train at too low of intensities and/or with lifts that may not translate the best to overall power and strength performance.

Final Words

Assistance training is a great way to add muscle, increase injury resilience, and promote long-term progress. Coaches and athletes must recognize the individualized approach needed to maximize a lifters performance to best address faults, weaknesses, and  monitor fatigue and recovery.

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.