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The 8 Most Underrated Accessory Exercises for Weightlifters

Weightlifting programs are more than just the snatch and clean & jerk. During practice of the lifts, you tend to find other things to focus on that can benefit your performance. This is where your accessory training comes in. Accessories are segmental exercise movements that isolate smaller muscle groups or ranges of motion. 

The most effective accessories are both purposeful and individualized. There are tons of exercises that you can practice, but some are better than others. Not only are these 8 exercises highly effective for weightlifting, but they’re under-recognized when it comes to their level of support and benefit to your training.

man doing snatch pull
Credit: The Art of Life / Shutterstock

These niche accessories can make all the difference when you’re designing your lifting plan

Underrated Accessory Exercises for Weightlifting

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Snatch-Grip Back Extension

Weightlifters worship the hyperextension for how effectively it trains the posterior chain. The unweighted version of the exercise is great for strengthening your glutes, back, and hamstrings, but adding the barbell makes it even better.

Setting up this exercise is more difficult than it seems because you either need a GHD machine or a training partner to hold your legs in place. In the case of this exercise, the extra setup is worth the benefits, especially when you add the barbell into the mix.

Benefits of the Snatch-Grip Back Extension

  • Pulling the barbell into your hip engages your lats
  • It applies weight to an already intense back exercise for productive hypertrophy.
  • It’s a functional core movement resulting in increased trunk stability. 

How to Do the Snatch-Grip Back Extension

Find a barbell and place it within reach. Secure your legs in a prone position and fold at your waist. Your ankles should be set in place so that your torso hangs with your head towards the ground. 

Grip the barbell in a wide snatch grip. With a flat back, hold the bar with straight arms down towards the ground. Lift your chest against gravity by contracting your posterior chain, and simultaneously sweep the barbell into your hip with straight arms. At the top of the rep, your trunk should be straight, with the barbell at your hip crease. 

Weighted Push-Up

When your goal is improving the Olympic lifts, you might wrongly avoid lifts like the bench press because pushing in the horizontal plane isn’t relevant to a vertical bar path. Yet, your chest and arms should still be acknowledged in your accessory routine. Push-ups are a direct way to do so, and applying weight to the movement makes it even more intense.

The push-up is a versatile exercise because while it does train the upper body, it also greatly targets your core. When you apply weight to the movement, you need much more core strength to hold your body in the right position. Even small amounts of weight added to the push up make a significant difference in total body work. 

Benefits of the Weighted Push-Up

How to Do the Weighted Push-Up

For weighted push-up practice, either a weighted vest or a weight plate will suffice. When using a plate, either carefully place it on your back while laying face down, or have a partner set it on your back for you in your plank

To start the rep, lift to a straight-arm plank, and center your shoulders over your wrists. Make sure the applied weight is balanced on your back. To increase the core intensity, center the weight over your glutes rather than your shoulders. Bend your elbows close to your sides and bring your chest towards the floor, holding your core tight. Push away from the floor back to straight arms to finish the rep. 

Barbell Hip Thrust

Weightlifting requires strong glutes. They have the potential to be one of the strongest muscles in the body, but yet, weak glutes are a very common limitation in weightlifting. If you don’t give your backside some love from time to time, the quads tend to take over and naturally do more work than your hips. 

The barbell hip thrust is a great way to load up weight for glute strength. The more popular glute exercises such as banded glute bridge and clamshells activate your glutes using body weight, but miss out on the intensity that this exercise brings. This lift lets your glutes do all the work when moving a heavy barbell. 

Benefits of the Barbell Hip Thrust

  • It strengthens the glutes’ contribution of fully extending your body for your Olympic lifts. 
  • Heavy glute training can be therapeutic for low back pain. 
  • The change in hip angle while controlling the barbell works core stability. 

How to Do the Barbell Hip Thrust

To set up, you need a barbell and a sturdy bench for your shoulders to lie on. Sit right in front of the bench with your upper back resting on it. Position yourself seated underneath the loaded barbell. Plant your feet hip width apart, parallel to each other, and bend your knees. 

Position your upper back on the bench, and place the barbell onto your hips crease. Contract your glutes to extend your hips. The top of the rep should look like a glute bridge. Complete the rep by hinging your hips and controlling the barbell back to the floor.

Barbell Prone Row

In weightlifting, every day is back day. The lifts require you to keep the barbell close to you with an upright torso, which requires that your back stay tight against the weight. Because of this, rowing with the barbell is a staple in the accessory library of most weightlifters. 

The prone row works nearly the same muscles as the traditional bent row, which is why it sometimes gets forgotten when choosing a style of row. Its value goes beyond the bent-over row, though, because the bench supports your trunk to completely isolate your lats. It requires more work when setting up the equipment, but it’s worth the stability that comes with it.

What’s more, it’s a great way to train your upper back without fatiguing your legs, hips, or lower spine. 

Benefits of the Barbell Prone Row

  • This rowing style eliminates the core strain of holding your torso in place.
  • Rowing in a horizontal position isolates your lats. 
  • Using heavier weights works your grip strength

How to Do the Barbell Prone Row

For this exercise, you need a barbell and a flat bench. Place the loaded barbell underneath the bench. The bench must be tall enough that your arms can be fully straight with the barbell resting on the ground, with a comfortable grip. If available, you can load plates under each side of the bench to raise the height. 

Lay in a prone position on the bench and find an even grip. When set, pull the barbell in towards the bench with your elbows close to your sides. The barbell should pull to the height of your ribs. Control the descent back to the floor to finish the rep. 

Single-Arm Overhead Carry

Weightlifting consists of mostly bilateral exercises, which makes it extra important to work unilateral strength work during your accessories. In symmetrical lifts, weaknesses that present on one side may be hard to notice and even harder to take action on. Single-arm work allows imbalances to be acknowledged and fully corrected. 

The single arm farmer carry is a popular exercise, but there are ways to make it more specific to weightlifting. Extending your arm overhead with a weight works the stabilizer muscles of your shoulder, and activates your core even more to boot. You should notice more stability on the platform if you practice it in the gym. 

Benefits of the Single-Arm Overhead Carry

  • Traveling with weight overhead trains the recovery phases of your lifts.
  • It isometrically trains your shoulder strength to push up against weight. 
  • Trains your balance and coordination and demands intense overhead stability.

How to Do the Single-Arm Overhead Carry

Find a weight to hold in one hand, such as a dumbbell, kettlebell, etc. You should work in an open area where you can walk freely. Lift the weight overhead in one hand to a straight arm. Secure your balance and posture, then begin walking while holding the weight above your head.

Barbell Overhead Squat Walk

When it comes to accessory training, things can get a bit exciting. The overhead squat is a difficult position in weightlifting that requires sufficient hip range of motion, and walking in your overhead squat targets exactly this quality. 

This exercise is unique and under-considered by coaches for accessory programming. Lifters who have trouble keeping their knees out in the squat, or problems balancing weight overhead, should turn to this accessory as a strategy to work overhead stabilization.

Benefits of the Barbell Overhead Squat Walk

  • It uses your full range of motion, especially your hip mobility. 
  • The movement requires maintenance of a tall spine underneath the barbell, which translates to other overhead lifts.
  • It improves the catch position of your snatch

How to Do the Barbell Overhead Squat Walk

Start with a dowel rod or an empty barbell. Take the bar to a snatch grip overhead. Position yourself in an overhead squat. While pushing up against the bar, slowly take controlled steps. Stay as low in your squat as possible.  

Single-Leg Lateral Heel Tap

In weightlifting, you’ve got to take care of your knees. Taxing your leg muscles requires healthy activity of your knees, and a lateral single-leg movement is the perfect exercise for having things covered.

This movement trains controlled flexion and extension of the knee, one leg at a time. It challenges balance, strength, and positioning through your full range of motion. Single-leg squats are common choices in accessory routines, but this lift in particular is underutilized. 

Benefits of the Single-Leg Lateral Heel Tap

  • It activates the supporting muscles of your knee joint. 
  • Trains unilateral leg strength and balance. 
  • The intensity is easily increased by adding more depth to your squat. 

How to Do the Single-Leg Lateral Heel Tap

To set up, find a short plyo box to stand on. An ideal height for starting the exercise is around a foot high. Position your supporting leg with the inside of your foot lining the edge of the box. Set up free standing, or hold onto a sturdy object to secure your balance. 

Complete a rep by bending your base leg. Flex your foot on your free leg and tap your heel to the floor. Without applying weight to your heel, change direction and push back to standing on your single leg. Increase the intensity by adding height to your box. 

Isometric Half Squat Hold

Squats are a necessary strength exercise in weightlifting. They’re typically practiced as a dynamic movement, but some static squat work, such as pause squats, are also great for increasing power and strength. This uncommon accessory takes pause squat training to the next level by requiring stillness at the most difficult part of the lift. 

Benefits of the Isometric Half Squat Hold

  • It improves tension in one of the most difficult positions of the squat. 
  • The hold requires you to push up against the barbell under fatiguing conditions. 
  • Muscular endurance is worked with longer holding times. 

How to Do the Isometric Half Squat Hold

You can do this accessory with the front squat, back squat, or overhead squat. When first practicing the exercise, the back squat is the most accessible option. Select the variation that best supports your training goals. 

Set up by squatting halfway down to the bottom and hold still against the weight, while pushing your knees outward. Maintain a total body contraction to stay in one place, and avoid sinking down lower as time passes. Designate a target time, such as 15-30 seconds, and hold. 

How to Program the Right Accessory

Properly integrating accessory work is easier said than done. It’s usually programmed at the end of your workout, making it easy to skip over. Your accessory program should be specific and realistic, as well as practical, so you get it done every time. 

When brainstorming accessories, consider your weaknesses and their corresponding muscle group or relevance. For example, if your elbows struggle to extend fully straight in your lifts, select an exercise that strengthens your triceps. Over the course of your training week, implement segmental accessory training that stimulates your entire body. 

weightlifting bar in rack
Credit: Darwin Brandis / Shutterstock

Your accessories should typically be done at a higher volume than the core lifts and with lighter weights. Perform sets of 6-12 repetitions for repeated sets, up to 4-6 sets per day. Do 1-3 accessory exercises at the end of each training session, depending on your time allotment. 

Wrapping Up

Accessory training is an important part of your program. It’s the place where you narrow in on your individuality, and work towards your goals. The exercises you choose must be perfectly matched to your needs if you want to build a well-rounded, high-performance physique for Olympic lifting. 

Weightlifting programming may be sport-specific, but is also inclusive to tons of different supportive, auxiliary exercises. Athletes grow in the sport by continuing to learn and master new training strategies. Along the way, you have to find the right accessories for you that work pay off the most. Sometimes, the best accessory for you might not be the most obvious choice at a glance.

 Featured Image: The Art of Life / Shutterstock

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