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        10 Accessory Exercises to Maximize Your Workouts

        10 Accessory Exercises to Maximize Your Workouts

        Over the years, I realize that the best strength training programs are a combination of main lifts and accessory exercises.

        But what are the best accessory exercises that can maximize your workout? Certified personal trainers swear by a few accessory movements which, if performed correctly, can help you build a powerful and impressive physique.

        If you want to get the most bang for your buck out of your strength training program, keep reading. I’m going to describe 10 accessory exercises that will help you achieve your training goal, whether it is to run faster, prepare for football season, lift heavier, correct muscle imbalances, or become the best powerlifter in your gym.

        Here’s my in-depth guide on accessory exercises.


        What Are Accessory Exercises?

        As the name suggests, accessory exercises are “accessories” or complementary to your main lifts. They complete your strength training and help you gain muscle mass in the same muscles that are worked by the primary exercises.

        Doing the movement patterns of these accessory exercises along with your main lifts will help you gain strength, shed fat, build muscle, improve range of motion, and gain core stability, shoulder stability, and hip mobility. 

        Main lifts, also known as core lifts, big lifts, or primary exercises, are compound movements.

        They help you in building muscle and gaining strength.

        Examples of main lifts include:

        • Squats
        • Deadlifts
        • Bench presses
        • Overhead presses

        Here’s the thing... Most people who are training to be powerlifters focus on 3 main lifts in the weight room — the squat, the deadlift, and the bench press.

        There is no doubt that these compound movements are the primary focus for lifters.

        But to do only these main lifts is not the right approach. To overcome your weak points and improve upon your strengths in primary exercises like deadlifts, you also need to do a range of accessory exercises or secondary movements.

        This gives you a more rounded workout and helps you add weight to your main lifts.  

        To make true progress in your strength training program, you need to train the same muscle groups that are used in these primary exercises with accessory exercises.


        Why Do You Need Accessory Exercises?

        Accessory exercises are beneficial for several reasons.

        Firstly, they bridge any gaps in muscle development left by a primary exercise. 

        Secondly, they add variety to your workouts, thereby strengthening any weak links. 

        Thirdly, they strengthen accessory muscles, thereby preventing injuries.

        Fourthly, accessory exercises increase training volume and enhance your overall performance.

        Here’s a scenario to demonstrate all these benefits.

        For instance, let’s say you are doing squats as your main big exercise for the lower body. Now, while squats have many benefits, they are limited in that they work the quads more than the hamstrings.

        So, if you do only squats to train your legs, you can end up with muscle imbalances (stronger quads with weaker hamstrings).

        Over time, this can undermine your lockout strength and overall performance in the gym.

        If you include an accessory exercise like Russian kettlebell swings in your workout, however, you can increase hamstring strength and muscle mass. Therefore, Russian kettlebell swing is considered an effective accessory exercise to squats.


        Best Accessory Exercises

        1. Pull-Ups

        How-To:

        1. Grip an overhead bar.
        2. Lift your body until your chin is above the bar. 

        Muscles Trained: The main muscle groups worked by pull-ups are:

        • Latissimus dorsi (the large upper back muscle)
        • Trapezius
        • Infraspinatus
        • thoracic spine muscles

        This accessory exercise also strengthens the arm and shoulder muscles and improves grip strength.

        How It Helps: Pull-ups are essential to increase the power of your bench presses. This is because pull-ups strengthen back muscles and back muscles help you control the weight when you’re lowering the barbell during wide or close grip bench presses.

        2. Side Lunges

        How-To:

        1. Take a big step to the side.
        2. Turn the leading foot so that it is at a 90-degree angle to your standing foot.
        3. Twist around so that your chest is facing sideways from the original position.
        4. You then lower your body until the knee of your leading leg is bent at about 90 degrees, making sure to keep the trailing leg straight at all times. 

        Muscles Trained: Side lunges work your:

        • Quads
        • Hamstrings
        • Inner thigh muscles
        • Glutes

        How It Helps: Just like hip thrusts, side lunges or lateral lunges help you achieve hip stability and improve leg strength. This is helpful in exercises like leg presses and squats.

        3. Reverse Lunges

        How-To:

        1. Step back with one leg.
        2. Bend the back leg so that the back knee is nearly touching the ground and the front knee and thigh are parallel to the ground.

        This exercise works on the leg that is planted in front. 

        Muscles Trained: Reverse lunges work you:

        • Quads
        • Hamstrings
        • Glutes
        • Calves 

        How It Helps: Reverse lunges help you develop core stability and strengthen the legs without putting too much stress on the joints. This is useful when you do primary exercises like squats and deadlifts. 

        4. Stability Ball Hamstring Curls

        How-To:

        1. Lay down on the floor with your feet on a stability ball and knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
        2. You then lift up your hips off the floor and extend your legs out in front of you
        3. Curl your legs back in, pulling your heels towards your buttocks and moving the ball nearer to your body until the soles of your feet are touching the ball. Make sure your hips stay up throughout the entire movement and you squeeze your abs.
        4. You finish the exercise by extending your knees and lowering your hips. 

        Muscles Trained: Stability ball hamstring curls primarily target the hamstrings, but to a lesser extent also work on the glutes, abs, and lower back muscles.

        How It Helps: If you have weak hamstrings, this is one of the accessory exercises that you must add to your workout. It can enhance your squat performance by strengthening the weakest link in your body. 

        5. Dead Bugs

        How-To:

        1. Lie face up on an exercise mat with your arms raised above your torso and your legs in the air with your knees bent at an angle of 90 degrees.
        2. You then slowly lower the opposite arm and leg towards the floor in a controlled manner. 
        3. After you return to the starting position, you repeat the movement with the opposite arm and leg. 

        Muscles Trained: Dead bugs target the:

        1. Deeper core muscles
        2. Abs
        3. Spinal muscles
        4. Pelvic floor muscles

        How It Helps: By strengthening and stabilizing your core, dead bugs help to improve posture, balance, coordination, and range of motion, which will be beneficial in every main lift you do during strength training.

        6. Bent Over Rows

        How-To:

        1. Lift the bar from the rack.
        2. While keeping your back straight, bend forward at the hips with a slight bend at the knees.
        3. You then lower the bar towards the floor until your elbows are straight, keeping your back flat as you pull the bar towards your torso.
        4. To finish the exercise, you lower the bar slowly to the starting position and repeat.

        Start with less weight and build up as you get stronger.

        Muscles Trained: The main muscle groups worked by bent over rows are the back muscles, including:

        1. Lats
        2. Traps
        3. Rhomboids

        How It Helps: Bent over rows train many different muscles and improve strength in the upper and lower back, hamstrings, glutes, and shoulders, all of which can be sticking points in the big lifts.

        These accessory exercises help to improve your performance during upper body primary exercises like bench presses.

        7. Kettlebell Swings

        How-To:

        1. Pick up a kettlebell and move it like a pendulum between the knees, raising the bell to eye level or overhead.

        This exercise can be done with either one hand or both hands. 

        Muscles Trained: This exercise targets the:

        1. Pecs
        2. Shoulders
        3. Abs
        4. Glutes
        5. Hamstrings
        6. Quadriceps

        It can also benefit your grip strength (you can use the kettlebell to do farmer’s walks as well for this purpose).

        lady doing bilateral kettlebell swings

        How It Helps: Kettlebell swings provide a full-body workout that benefits many muscle groups. These accessory exercises are helpful in most of the big lifts, such as a bench press, split squat, and deadlift with heavy weights.

        8. Dips

        How-To:

        1. Sit on the edge of a chair or weight bench.
        2. You grip the bench next to your hips with your fingers pointing towards your feet.
        3. With your legs extended, feet hip-width apart, and heels touching the ground, you slowly lift your body and slide forward so that your buttocks clear the edge of the bench.
        4. Then, you lower yourself until your elbows are bent at an angle of 45-90 degrees.
        5. To finish the exercise, you push yourself back up until your arms are straight.

        Muscles Trained: This accessory exercise trains the triceps and strengthens the arm and shoulder muscles including the deltoids in the arm, the pecs in the chest, and the rhomboids in the upper back.

        How It Helps: Dips can help you lift heavier weights during a bench press and improve athletic performance in sports.

        9. Cable Lifts and Chops

        How-To:

        There are many different ways to perform cable chop and lift accessory exercises.

        A cable machine is the best piece of equipment with which to perform chop and lift accessory exercises. This equipment allows you to pull up a cable from a low pulley or pull down a cable from a high pulley.

        You do not need heavier weights for this exercise because it involves many muscles. The diagonal movement patterns of the upper body are done in the half kneeling or tall kneeling postures.

        Muscles Trained: The chop and lift moves recruit the muscle groups of the core as well as the lower and upper back. 

        How It Helps: Cable lifts and chops can help you develop power, build strength, improve stamina, improve stability, correct muscle imbalances, and at the same time strengthen the core and lower back.

        Most lifters find these movements help to improve maximum weight during a deadlift. 

        They help you add more weight to upper body primary exercises like the bench press, shoulder press, board presses, and row variations.

        10. Glute Bridges

        How-To:

        1. Lie facing up with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
        2. You then slowly lift your hips off the floor until your knees, hips, and shoulders are in a straight line.
        3. You squeeze your glutes and draw in your abs to avoid overextending the back.

        Muscles Trained: The main muscle worked by glute bridges is the gluteus maximus, the biggest muscle in your butt.

        How It Helps: Glute bridges help to tone your glutes and build strength in these muscles, which is beneficial during lower body primary exercises like squats and split squats.


        The Takeaway

        Only a small handful of people who are into powerlifting understand the immense importance of accessory exercises.

        By including them in your own workouts, you can overcome any weakness you might have, build on your strong points, reach your fitness goals faster, and elevate your training program to a new level.

        Doing accessory exercises will also help you avoid injuries while lifting by strengthening all the different muscle groups involved in your big lifts.

        Plus, performing accessory exercises adds fun and variety to your workouts. Ultimately, accessory exercises will go a long way in making you the bodybuilder and athlete you aspire to become.

        Why You’re Not Gaining Muscle: 10 Possible Reasons

        Why You’re Not Gaining Muscle: 10 Possible Reasons

        Are you working out, eating right, and still wondering - why am I not gaining muscle?

        Here’s the thing. You could do weight training until a point of exhaustion and follow a diet plan religiously, but unless you do it right and make some changes to your overall lifestyle, you won’t gain muscle mass. 


        So, what do you have to do for lean muscle growth? Gaining muscle mass can be tricky, but it is possible. If your goal is muscle building and getting rid of excess fat, you’ll have to fine-tune your diet and learn exactly what type of workouts to do.


        Continue reading to find out the many reasons you’re not gaining lean muscle mass and what you can do about them.


        I’ll share some tips and tricks to build muscle mass that are simple and easy to incorporate into your daily workout routine and nutrition plan. 


        1. You’re training inconsistently.

         

        Consistency is key if you want to accomplish your workout goals, whether it is building more muscle or something else.

         

        Muscle growth is a slow and steady process - it doesn’t happen overnight. When you exercise inconsistently, your body has a harder time adapting. It is more challenging to form good habits. 

         

        Consistent training, on the other hand, helps you increase your stamina. You start exercising with greater efficiency and can achieve the muscle gain that has been eluding you. 

         

        The best way to go about it is to set a realistic goal. Planning to hit the gym six days a week may be a tall order. Instead, aim for something like exercising 3-4 days a week and building up from there.

         

        As you see results in skeletal muscle tissue growth, you’ll become motivated to be consistent.

         

        2. You’re not lifting heavy enough.

         

        You probably know that lifting weights is the best way to gain muscle. But did you know that you need muscle hypertrophy for building muscle?

         

        In other words, you need muscle tissue growth at a cellular level.

         

        The easiest way to accomplish this is by lifting heavy weights with fewer reps because muscle hypertrophy occurs when the skeletal muscle tissue enlarges through resistance training. 


        If you find you can easily do 12-15 reps with lighter weights, it’s time to move on to a heavier weight.


        Experts recommend doing pyramid training when you lift weights. A pyramid workout means you start weightlifting with a weight you can easily lift for 8 reps, then move on to heavier weights that you cannot lift for more than 6 reps, 4 reps, and so on.


        Bottom line is, if you can’t do more than 4 reps, it’s too much weight. If you can easily do more than 10 reps, you should add more weight.


        3. You’re not allowing enough recovery between sets.

         

        To build muscle, you need to perform multiple sets of resistance training. However, you also need to sit it out for a while and avoid overtraining. This gives time to the muscle fibers to recover.

         

        Muscles recover pretty quickly, getting back up to 85% of maximum capacity in under 20 seconds. 

         

        For efficient muscle building and an enviable physique, it’s a good idea to allow at least 2-3 minutes between sets. 

         

        4. You’re doing too much cardio.

         

        If you are eating too little, adding cardio to your workout regimen will mean you are expending more than your calorie intake. This will make gaining muscle mass near impossible.

         

        Of course, doing the right type of cardio is essential to build muscle mass and lose body fat, but your priority needs to be resistance training

         

        Feel free to add in a cardio session once in a while, but don’t do it at the expense of recovery for whatever muscle group you’ve worked on.

         

        5. You’re training wrong.

         

        Whether you’re working with a personal trainer or going solo, if you are not able to gain muscle, here are some things that could negatively impact your workout.

         

        One, you could be lifting heavy and doing too few reps in the gym.

         

        Second, there may be a big gap between your workout days.

         

        Third, you might not be consuming enough calories.

         

         

        Before you move on to lifting heavier weights, make sure you are doing between 3 and 12 reps. Here’s why.


        Less than 3 reps will help you gain strength and power but not build muscles. More than 12 reps will increase endurance but limit the growth of muscles.


        Ideally, you should aim for around 6 reps during your workouts.


        Also, ensure that there are no more than 3 rest days between training. You should be working out 2-4 days per week. If you are not consistent in this, muscle building will occur at a much slower rate.


        Lastly, make sure you are eating enough. Err on the side of a small surplus in calories rather than a deficit.


        6. You’re not eating enough protein.

         

        To stimulate the growth of muscles, you need an adequate amount of protein. Proteins contain amino acids that are the building blocks of muscle cells. Yet, most people don’t eat the amount of protein they need to stay healthy, let alone build muscle.

         

        Indeed, protein is one of the most deficient macronutrients in diets across the world. People think they consume enough protein but they’re wrong. 

         

        The recommendations for protein intake are 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight for overall health maintenance. However, in athletes and in people who want to build muscle, the body needs 1.3 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

         

        You should eat enough and include a variety of proteins into your post-workout nutrition, such as:

         

        • Eggs
        • Greek yogurt
        • Lean meats
        • Chia and flax seeds
        • Whey protein isolate

         

        In general, natural food sources and animal proteins tend to be better choices than supplements like casein protein.

         

        7. You’re not eating enough carbohydrates.

         

         

        This might sound counterintuitive because fitness experts routinely advise people to cut carbs from their diet. In fact, it’s a sticking point with many fitness gurus. So you might be under the impression that eating healthy means cutting carbohydrates because they prevent you from gaining muscle.

         

        However, the truth is that high-intensity weightlifting requires energy, and carbs are the body’s fuel. A low carbohydrate diet can lead to low glycogen levels and impact your athletic performance. 

         

        In order to gain muscle and keep energy levels up, make sure you eat enough carbs. They are crucial to gain strength and repair and build muscle cells. You can work with a registered dietitian if you find you’re not making progress. They will help you find the right amount of carbs to consume on a daily basis.

         

         

        8. You’re not drinking enough water.

         

        When you don’t drink enough water and stay well hydrated, you starve your muscles of a critical nutrient.

         

        Water plays a key role in the transport of nutrients that form protein and glycogen for muscle growth. It is also needed by nerves which control muscles.

         

        Staying well hydrated should be your first priority when fine-tuning your health.

         

        How much water should you drink to gain muscle? A good guideline is 50 mL or 1.7 fl. oz. per kilogram of body weight consumed throughout the day. Or aim for 16 cups or a gallon of water. 

         

        Pro tip: A gallon might seem a lot, but if you drink 2 cups with each meal and snack, it should be doable. And try to get your water intake done earlier in the day, so you’re not waking up during the night to pee.

         

        Also, keep in mind that alcohol is dehydrating. It also suppresses the central nervous system and immune system. Studies have shown that when you drink alcohol, it interferes with protein synthesis pathways as well. This is all bad news if your goal is muscle building.

         

        Skip the drinking sesh with friends and opt for something healthier. If you do have a few drinks, be sure to pay attention to your nutrition to make up for the damage.

         

        9. You’re not getting enough sleep.

         

        A healthy diet, focusing on one muscle group at a time, and high intensity training are all very well, but if you’re not getting enough shut-eye, you’re going to have trouble increasing muscle size.

         

        Getting adequate rest is a critical component of healthy functioning!

         

        Sleep is the time when your muscles recover and repair themselves. The levels of human growth hormone are highest when you’re sleeping. Stress hormones are known to break down muscle, and a high stress hormone level (cortisol) is directly linked to lack of sleep.

         

        When you are sleep deprived in the long run, it is at the expense of your recovery. This is why it can be impossible to gain muscle if you’re not getting enough rest. 

         

        Focus on not only the amount of sleep but also quality sleep.

         

        Pro tip: Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Stick to a fixed time for going to bed and getting up. If natural methods don’t work, consider taking a supplement like melatonin. 

         

        10. You’re gobbling down your food.

         

        It may sound silly, but when you eat too fast, you prevent yourself from building lean muscle. 

         

        Here’s what happens: When you eat super fast, your body doesn’t get enough time to process hunger cues. As a result, you don’t realize you’re overeating and end up with a calorie surplus. 

         

        You probably know that how many calories you eat plays a critical role in muscle building. While enough calories are necessary to build muscles, more calories can be detrimental.

         

        TL;DR -- don’t eat to the point of gastrointestinal distress.

         

        Slow down, switch off the TV, stop looking at your phone, and truly savor your food. Chances are you will eat less crap and feel fuller sooner.

         

        The Takeaway


        Dedication and more frequent trips to the gym are not the only things that will help you with lean muscle growth. You need to pay attention to the full range of nutrition and exercise to increase muscle mass and make gains effectively.


        Now that you know the common reasons for not building muscle mass, you can fine-tune your workout, diet, and lifestyle to get the results you want.

        How Many Workout Clothes Do You Actually Need?

        How Many Workout Clothes Do You Actually Need?

         

        Most people wear workout clothes to exercise. Some even wear gym clothes around the house or while running errands or shopping (they’re cute and comfortable, I understand!).

         

        But it can be difficult to figure out just how many sets of workout clothes you need. You don’t want to wear sweaty clothes and put yourself at risk of yeast infections. But you also don’t want to run out of closet space with too many workout clothes. 

         

        The question is how many workout clothes are enough? One thing to keep in mind is how frequently you exercise. The other thing is the types of physical activity you participate in.  Weather also plays a role. Last but not least, your personal preference.

         

        Continue reading to get a sense of how many workout clothes you need. This will help you keep your wardrobe organized, yet let you have enough stuff to workout several times a week without wearing clothes soaked in sweat.

         

        How Many Workout Clothes Do I Need?

         

        If you go to the gym regularly or participate in sports activities every week, you should have a change of clothes for every workout.

         

        For instance, if you hit the gym three times a week, play tennis on the weekend, and go to yoga a couple of times a week, you will need at least seven sets of workout clothes (one for each workout plus an extra).

         

        Different types of workouts such as weight training, dancing, kayaking, biking, and running all require different types of workout clothes. And your location also matters--  if you’re exercising outdoors in the cold, you need a sports jacket. In hot climates, you can forgo it. 

         

        In the following paragraphs, I’ll describe in more detail the different elements of workout apparel and how many of each you need. 

         

        Sports Shoes or Sneakers

         

         

        For someone who plays tennis or golf once a week, one pair of sports shoes is enough. On the other hand, if you go to the gym almost every day, it’s worth investing in at least two pairs of sports shoes.

         

        It makes more sense to buy one pair of high-quality sports shoes than several pairs of low-quality ones. Your running shoes are more than a fashion statement after all. They protect your feet and prevent injuries. 

         

        Running sneakers should have good cushioning and lateral support and be flexible and lightweight.

         

        You might need an additional pair of sports shoes for specific physical activities, such as treadmill, floor exercises, cycling, hiking, weightlifting, HIIT, or agility training. 

         

        Sports Bras

         

        How many sports bras do you need? It depends on how often you work out.

         

        If you go to the gym five times a week, buy five sports bras.

         

        Just like you wouldn’t wear the same clothes again without putting them in the wash, you shouldn’t wear a sweat-soaked sports bra-- you could end up with uncomfortable skin irritation or infection from bacteria. 

         

        And don’t make the mistake of wearing a regular bra during your workout routine!

         

        Sports bras are an essential element of workout outfits for women. A sports bra provides proper support and prevents breasts from sagging. Many women wear a sports bra like a top, in which case they might need an extra pair or two.

         

        Check out the KFT sports bras here.

         

        Athletic Wear Tops

         

         

        Overall, five tops should be enough if you are a regular gym-goer, assuming you do laundry a couple of times a week. If you wear your workout tops as regular shirts, then you might need to purchase more. 

         

        A workout top is a key element of your workout gear. Before you invest in many sets of workout clothes, figure out what types of tops you need.

         

        Some people prefer long sleeve shirts, others short sleeves or sleeveless. It is a good idea to have a mix of workout tops in your wardrobe for every weather condition and type of activity. 

         

        The next thing to consider is the fabrics. Some folks find synthetic tops like Spandex best as they are light and can withstand a lot of wear and tear. Others prefer cotton because it can absorb moisture. 

         

        Here are some of my favorite KFT tops to wear when I'm working out.

         

        Gym Bottoms

         

         

        On average, most people do well with three to five pairs of workout leggings, shorts, or a combination of the two.

         

        More than how many sets of workout clothes you have, it’s important to have comfortable, high-quality gym clothes in your closet that are suited to your workout routine. 

         

        When you’re putting together a gym outfit, you need to figure out the type of bottoms you’re going to wear. Some people wear leggings and others wear shorts. There are also special bottoms like yoga pants or pilates pants made of material that can be stretched. Those who are into weight lifting might want workout bottoms that provide support. 

          

        Athletic Socks

         

        How many pairs of socks do you need? I’d say around seven pairs, although if you do laundry a couple of times a week, you can get by with 5 pairs.

         

        An essential part of gym clothing is your socks. I recommend cotton socks that wick moisture and keep your feet dry. The best sports socks cover the ankles and provide a cushion against sneakers. 

         

         

        The Takeaway

         

         

        There is no single right answer to how many sets of workout clothes you need, but I hope these guidelines help you decide how many should you have in your closet.

         

        Most people do well with three to five pairs of tops, bottoms, and sports bras plus five to seven pairs of socks and a couple of pairs of sneakers. You might need more or less depending on your workout routine and laundry schedule.

         

        The important thing is to not overrun your wardrobe with gym wear. Rather, choose fewer items of high-quality sportswear that enhance your performance, are comfortable, and look good.

        5 Assistance Exercises For Overhead Press

        5 Assistance Exercises For Overhead Press

        What are the best assistance exercises to make your overhead press stronger? The obvious answer is to do more overhead presses consistently, of course. After all, practice makes perfect. But you can also train supporting muscles with accessory exercises to build a bigger overhead press.

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