View Full Version : I'm not sure I understand how to do assistance exercises

08-26-2009, 02:53 PM
I've decided to do 5/3/1 and stick with it for a bunch of cycles. I understand the basic 5/3/1 percentages for the main lifts, but he's very vague as what you are supposed to do about the assistance lifts. I have the "3 days a week" book, and he gives a whole list of all the lifts to do for each day, and he also gives a VERY WIDE set/rep range to choose from. For instance, he'll say something like choose one exercise, and do 3 to 5 sets of 6 - 20 reps....Now that's a pretty broad range to choose from.

See I've been doing 2 - 3 assistance lifts each day, and I plan on sticking with the lifts I chose for a few cycles before changing anything. For sets/reps, I usually just "wing it". I'll either do 4 x 8 or 3 x 10, or 4 x 10, or 3 x 15, or whatever......

The thing is is that I'm not sure I'm using the assistance lifts in the manner that they are supposed to be used, which is to help weaknesses and to target specific muscles which are involed in the main lifts. My concern is that doing high reps:

1.) Increases volume, which may hinder recovery
2.) "tears down" the muscle, which is more of a BBing thing as opposed to gaining strength
3.) doesn't directly lead to strength gains???? Or does it???

See I figure in order to get stronger, why not lift HEAVY weight, LOW reps, right? But doing MODERATE weight, HIGH reps seems counterproductive....Or is it the hypertrophy aspect that the higher volume/higher reps thing is aiming for.

Does anyone have a good link or possibly an explanation about this?

Thanks a lot!

08-26-2009, 03:03 PM
I wouldn't over think the assistance work. Do what works for you and your goals. This is right out of the book...

Assistance exercises accomplish four main tasks. In no particular order, they:

Strengthen weak areas of the body.
Compliment and help increase the four basic lifts.
Provide balance and symmetry to your body and your training.
Build muscle mass.

08-26-2009, 03:07 PM
Jim's 5/3/1 book lays out a variety of assistance programs to use. A couple of the more popular seem to be "Boring But Big" and the "Triumvirate." Basically the "Boring But Big" entails doing 5 sets of 10 of your main lift at about 40% of your max as your assistance work. The "Triumvirate" has you only doing 3 exercises total. Basically you do the main movement and then pick 2 exercises to use as assistance. So for example on bench day you might do barbell bent-over rows and dips. Basically you stay away from isolation movements and pick big compound movements since you are only doing 3 exercises. As far as intensity and volume goes, I think that is mostly up to you and your goals. Just remember to make sure that your assistance work benefits your main lifts.

08-26-2009, 06:55 PM
Thanks guys. I don't have the 5/3/1 book, but I do have the "3 days a week" book, which has a section dedicated to the 5/3/1. I understand how to go about exercise selection. It's just choosing the amount of intensity and volume that I don't understand. It's like adding "Bodybuilding" stuff at the end basically w/ the moderate weight/higher volume....It would make more sense to lift HEAVY if you wanted to strengthen a muscle group I would think. But that's where I was confused.

Sean S
08-26-2009, 07:52 PM
You can't train every movement heavy all the time. You use the main movement to get stronger, then the accessory work to build some muscle mass for the muscles involved in the main lift. Remember some increase in muscle mass will help you get stronger. Unless you are challenging for a world record in a certain weight class, adding some muscle mass is a good thing. You're making things too absolute. Higher reps will build some strength and lower reps will build some muscle mass. Just because some of your accessory work has 15 reps or more doesn't mean you will somehow get weaker.
You're overthinking this whole thing. Pick two or three movements that work the muscle groups involved in the main lift and do 3-4 sets of 10, not going to failure. The point is to get some quality work in, but you don't have to kill yourself.

08-26-2009, 08:12 PM
If your doing high rep accessory work that doesnt mean you are only body building. You will get stronger as well as long as you keep upping the weight every few weeks or so.

08-26-2009, 08:22 PM
the thing to remember is that wendler set this up as a marathon, not a sprint. the majority of lifters want to increase/overload on what seems like a daily basis.

I've done 5/3/1 & bbb for 4 cycles (20 weeks). my lifts have all increased (based on reps & weight) and I've put on @ 16 lbs (not all muscle).

the "don't overthink it" is good advice. do compound lifts, eat & rest.

08-27-2009, 08:19 AM
Thanks guys. Yes, maybe I was overthinking things a little. I understand the basics of the "5/3/1" sets....every cycle your "max" increases by 5 or 10 lbs. Each cycle lasts a month, so basically you are increasing maxes every month, which is slow progress.....but that's cool because as said above, "it's a marathon, not a sprint". So I'm all about slowly getting stronger and stronger. That's the easy part.

The points made about increasing muscle mass, and providing balance and symmetry make sense.

I'm new to this type of training. Prior to this, EVERY lift in a session was a MAIN LIFT....I usually did full body type things like SS.....So just having one main lift per day and assistance to compliment that main lift is new to me.

Thanks for the replies.