What Are Assistance Exercises – A Definitive Guide!

Assistance exercises are very important, for many, many reasons. Whether you’re using them for strength, hypertrophy, increasing your long distance running time; you name it! In this post, I will be explaining what an assistance exercise is, their relation and benefit in your training, and how you can implement them within your training. Let’s learn about assistance exercises!

What an Assistance Exercise is:

An assistance exercise is something that supplements a main movement or goal. It is something that often times works on building up a main lift or weak points in a physique. Let’s put this into context so you can really understand the role of an assistance exercise.

Let’s take an assistance exercise with strength training in mind. If you wanted to increase your squat, one of the major things you need to be doing is assistance exercises. These will allow you to target different areas of the squat, focus on weak points and provide a different stimulus. If a weak point of yours was getting out of the hole in the squat, then you could implement an assistance exercise like the box squat. I typically like to call assistance exercises that look similar to the main movement, variations. However, they are still assistance exercises. Another beneficial assistance exercise for the squat may be something like the bulgarian split squat. This could benefit your stability through the hips and help work on muscle imbalances you may have.

Let’s put assistance exercises in the context of hypertrophy. I typically like to call these accessories as they aren’t used so much for improving your main lift, rather additional exercises for volume, variation and working on weak points of a physique. When training for hypertrophy, you are typically still performing 1-2 main lifts. However, the subsequent lifts will be performed to focus more on hypertrophy and building muscle mass, rather than improving your main lift(s). For example, you may perform a bench press, and then an incline dumbbell press as your main lifts for hypertrophy. Your other lifts (accessories) may consist of exercises that target weak points in your physique, increase volume and add variation. These could still consist of pressing movements, or other things such as flies, machine work, or even body weight training.

Assistance Exercises Relation & Benefit Within Your Training:

Assistance exercises are very important when it comes to your training, whether you’re trying to develop a main lift, certain parts of your physique or other goals of yours. They’re great for targeting weak points and strengthening an exercise or muscle group as a whole, adding volume and targeting specific muscle groups, as well as managing fatigue. The list goes on and on.

When it comes to targeting weak points, this could be in a main lift, or your physique. Assistance exercises are what allow you to do this. An example being a weak point from the floor with a deadlift or developing your upper chest. There are assistance exercises that can help work on these weak points. Assistance exercises are good for more than just targeting weak points though. They can help strengthen the lift as a whole by breaking it down. This allows you to isolate different areas of a lift or physique and develop them, which in turn, will develop the lift or physique as a whole.

When we talk about adding volume or targeting specific muscle groups, this is typically related to hypertrophy. We know assistance exercises allow us to target specific muscle groups. However, assistance exercises are also typically better suited towards higher rep training, which is great for getting in volume. You may perform a main lift like the bench press, then do something like a machine press. While you may have gone heavier in the 6-8 rep range for the bench press, the machine press may allow you to perform more reps. I often times do machine presses in the 8-12 rep range.

When talking about assistance exercises, we also have fatigue management. This is huge because if you can’t recover, chances are it’ll be tough to gain strength and size. Although main, compound movements should make up the foundation of your program/routine, you can’t/I wouldn’t suggest doing only those. Not only will this have its drawbacks, in the form of it being difficult to develop a lift or muscle group. It also will make it extremely difficult to recovery properly, assuming you are performing these lifts with the right effort. Assistance exercises are typically less taxing on the body, this helps to manage fatigue.


The Implementation of Assistance Exercises in Your Training:

As I said before, primary, heavy compound movements should lay the base of your routine. However, when implementing assistance exercises we need to know how to do so properly. This includes implementing them with your goal in mind, your volume and level of recovery needed, and implementing them to work with the main movements.

When thinking about our goal, the assistance exercises need to correlate with it. If our goal is strength, we need to be picking assistance exercises that will target our weak points on the main lifts, and ones that will build it as a whole. This may look like performing the bench press for something like a 5×5. Then utilizing a variation like the paused bench for a 3×3 if a weak point of yours is coming out of the bottom of the lift. From there, something like a dumbbell bench press may be beneficial to work unilaterally which helps with stability and targeting muscle imbalances. After this, something like a cable fly may be beneficial to get some targeted chest work in. From their, shoulder work in the form of side lateral raises and triceps work with the triceps pushdown may be beneficial. The amount of this work you do will depend on your training and volume needs, and how you recover.

To give an example for hypertrophy, the same guidelines follow, however, they will be put into practice differently. With the goal of hypertrophy, we would still be using a main movement like the bench press, the rep scheme may look something like a 4×6-8. From there, if you wanted to include another main movement, an incline dumbbell press may be beneficial. This could allow you to feel your chest working more, and target a weak point if the upper chest is one of yours. You may consider doing this with a 4×8-10 rep scheme. After that, something like a machine press may be beneficial. This will likely help you to isolate the chest, and get in some good volume. Consider performing this with something like a 3×10-12. To finish off your chest, consider a cable fly. Performing this in the 10-15 rep range, possibly with a drop set will allow you to get in some good volume, get lots of blood flow and finish of your chest. Maybe you want to do some biceps after this, this will make for a fresh muscle to work, rather than doing triceps which would be fatigued after a good amount of chest work. This would follow the same principle, only they would likely all be isolation exercises. It would come down to starting with the ones you can perform heavier and selecting exercises that are effective for you.

The Scoop on Assistance Exercises:

After reading this article, you know what an assistance exercise is, how they can benefit your training, and how there are different things to consider when implementing them within your routine.

I thank you for reading this article, and I look forward to you being able to benefit from this information! As always, if you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to leave them below and I will be sure to reply!


Until Next Time,


Kohl Johnson

Please refer to my liability disclaimer to ensure you know who is responsible for use of this information after reading.


Support is much appreciated if you benefited from this:

Kohl Johnson

I am a 16-year-old fitness fanatic! I have learned nothing but quality training and nutrition information from the utmost well-respected individuals in the field. Now, my only focus is to share this knowledge with you for your benefit, in the most honest way possible. We are all in this together! LET'S GO!

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