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Powerlift Assistance Exercises:
Background Info

by Gary F. Zeolla

The pages listed at Powerlift Assistance Exercises provide descriptions of assistance exercises for the three powerlifts. This page discusses how to best incorporate these assistance exercises into ones powerlifting routine.

Exercises marked with an asterisk are "look-alike lifts,"  meaning they are slight variations on the powerlifts themselves. These lifts can be done in place of the powerlift on a day opposite to the powerlift itself. For instance, a lifter could alternate doing deadlifts one week and one or two look-alike deadlift assistance exercises the next week. Look-alike lifts can also be done on the same day as the powerlift, after the powerlift itself.

It should go without saying that you should not do all of the exercises listed. Limit yourself to two of the look-alike lifts if done on a day opposite the powerlift or one look-alike lift if done after the powerlift. Then do at best only a couple of the other exercises.

Choose assistance exercises that focus on where your sticking point or hardest part of the lift is. You should then reevaluate and change the exercises every few weeks. A good time for this is right after a contest. Where you miss a lift or where the hardest part of the lift is at a contest is most important, so note where that is, and after the contest pick assistance exercise(s) that work that part of the lift.

Periodically changing assistance exercises will keep the lifter from adapting to a particular exercise and thus causing it to lose its effectiveness. It will also enable the lifter to be continually working on his/her sticking point. This will change periodically, so assistance exercises need to be changed accordingly. But generally speaking, those who compete without gear (raw lifters) will need to emphasize assistance exercise that aid the bottom part of each powerlift, while those who compete with gear (suits, wraps, shirts) should emphasize assistance exercises that work the top part of each powerlift.

Gear should be worn on assistances exercises as needed or to approximate contest conditions.

March 12, 2015 Update

The above discussion about choosing assistance exercises based on sticking points was written many years ago and reflects common thinking on the subject, but I now believe it is a bit misguided. It is actually almost impossible to determine where one's true sticking point is. If a lifter misses a lift say 2/3rds of the way up, that could mean he is weakest at that point. But it could also mean he is weak in the bottom half of the lift, but has expended so much energy getting the bar through that bottom end that he is "out of gas" and thus misses the lift higher up. It could also mean he is simply not strong enough overall for the given weight and just happens to miss at that point.

As such, I now think it is best to incorporate all three types of look-alike lifts in a given routine: a bottom-end exercise, a top-end exercise, and an all-aspects exercise. In that way, all possible reasons for a missed lift will be addressed. Raw without wraps lifters will want to do the bottom-end exercise first in a workout to emphasize that part of the lift, while equipped lifter should do the top-end exercise first. Meanwhile, doing squats raw with wraps is kind of in-between these two. As such, it might be best to do the bottom-end exercise first in one workout or routine, then the top-end exercise first in the next one. If is for these reasons that the exercises on these pages are divided into Bottom-end Exercise, Top-end Exercises, and All-aspects Exercises.

I lift raw with wraps, so in my current training routine, for benches and deadlifts, I am doing a bottom-end exercise and then a top-end exercise in Week A, then the actual powerlift followed by an all-aspects exercise in Week B, alternating these two weeks. For squats, I am doing the top-end exercise first in this routine; but then in my next routine, I will do the bottom-end exercise first.

June 12, 2017 Update

After a couple of years following the philosophy indicated in the above update, my lifts are progressing well. I am now using a three-week rotation, which I call my Two-Stage Trinity Training Plan.
With it, I am able to incorporate each of the three types of assistance exercises, bottom-end, top-end, and all-aspects. And I believe that is greatly benefiting my lifting. But I am following the pattern indicated in the initial comments of doing two look-alike lifts when doing them on the two weeks when the actual powerlift is not done and one when it is done. Except, I do the look-alike lift before the powerlift in Stage One but then after it in Stage Two.

See for specific recommendations on workout schemes, see my book Starting and Progressing in Powerlifting.

Powerlift Assistance Exercises: Background Info. Copyright 2003-2005, 2014, 2015 by Gary F. Zeolla.

The above article was posted on this site August 16, 2003.
The Updates were added as indicated.

Powerlifting and Strength Training
Powerlifting and Strength Training: Powerlift Assistance Exercises

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