No matter what muscle group you’re targeting, if your goal is to build muscle and improve strength, you need to be performing accessory exercises.
Besides the core exercises: bench press, squat, overhead press, deadlift and barbell row; every exercise you do in the gym is most likely an accessory exercise. But what is an accessory exercise?
An accessory exercise is an isolation exercise where you target one specific muscle or part of a muscle group and practice muscle tension, form and efficiency. These exercises compliment the core exercises and allow an individual to strengthen their form and increase muscle growth potential.
Usually strength exercises are done in smaller rep ranges to increase the amount of weight that can be used and accessory exercises involve less weight in combination with higher rep ranges.
Throughout this article, I will be presenting the best accessory exercises for each muscle group and informing you how these exercises can improve both strength and muscle gains.
The Best Chest Accessory Exercises
The bench press is arguably the most common standard of strength among men. If someone hears that you go to the gym, the first question they will probably ask you is, “how much do you bench”?
Obviously, practicing the bench press is a great way to gain strength in your chest and improve form, but there are plenty of accessory exercises for the chest that not only help with strength but improve muscle growth as well.
- Dumbbell Chest Press – Like the barbell, dumbbells can be used in multiple ways like on an incline or flat bench. One thing that dumbbell presses do better than barbell presses is strengthen muscle stability. Using a dumbbell in each arm forces the body to control the weight more than it would have to with a barbell.
- As much as dumbbell presses help with strength, they also provide a larger contraction of the chest muscles at the top of each rep. This causes more muscle fiber activation and therefore more muscle growth.
- Dips – Dips are a unique exercise and require a good amount of effort from both the triceps and chest to perform. Whether you use a weight belt or not, dips can help with stability as well as strengthen every part of you chest.
- Tip: To isolate the chest while performing dips, lean slightly forward.
- Push-Ups – Although they are mainstream, push-ups are amazing for strengthening all parts of the chest, triceps and even shoulders. They require almost the same exact movement as a barbell bench press and are a great way to end a workout and make sure you used up all the energy in your chest.
- When performed in high rep ranges, push-ups are great for muscle growth.
Suggested Article: Time Under Tension And Muscle Growth
The Best Back Accessory Exercises
The strength of someone’s back is often overlooked and rarely talked about. Most people, like I said, will ask about someone’s bench press or squat and will rarely ask how much someone can row. Nevertheless, the back is very important to strengthen as it indirectly helps lifts like the overhead shoulder press, deadlift and bench press.
- Pull-Ups – Arguably the most common exercise for back, the pull-up is a great test of back strength. It can be performed in a multitude of ways like wide grip, close grip and you can reverse your grip and perform a chin-up.
- Depending on how pull-ups are performed, you can target different muscles. For example, wide grip pull-ups target the latissimus dorsi or lats. Done in high reps, they are great for muscle growth as well.
- Weighted pull-ups and chin-ups are also great tests of strength for the back. You can purchase a weight belt on Amazon.
- Cable Row – The cable row is another exercise that is amazing at strengthening the lats. Performed slow and controlled, this exercise provides excellent muscle growth potential and improves pulling strength.
The Best Shoulder Accessory Exercises
Being the largest muscle group in the upper body, the shoulder muscles should be a priority in everyones’ muscle/strength building program, but sadly, they are commonly under worked. In my opinion, the overhead shoulder press is one of the most challenging exercises and requires a lot of effort to improve, which makes shoulder accessory exercises ESSENTIAL.
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press – Similar to the dumbbell bench press, the dumbbell shoulder press allows for greater contraction of the shoulder muscles. The main difference, is again, more focus on muscle stability.
- Going slow and controlled (like in every exercise) will enhance muscle growth.
- Front/Side Lateral Raises– Front and side lateral raises are great for hitting the anterior and posterior heads of the shoulders. To be performed effectively, a lightweight should be used and slow and controlled reps should be performed.
- These two exercises will help broaden your shoulders as well.
- Arnold Press – One of the BEST shoulder exercises out there. The Arnold press is amazing for working virtually every muscle in the shoulders because it requires you to rotate the dumbbells as you press them up.
- Shoulder Shrugs – The trapezius muscles, better known as the traps, play a huge role in someone’s ability to overhead press a lot of weight. Large traps are also a great addition to anyone’s physique, which is why shoulder shrugs are key to strong and muscular shoulders.
- To perform shoulder shrugs, you can use either dumbbells, a barbell or cables.
The Best Leg Accessory Exercises
Legs make up a whole HALF of the body. They are vital to anyone’s physique and strong legs indirectly help with most upper body exercises. The squat and deadlift come to mind as the two main standards of strength for the leg muscles, but there are plenty of similar accessory exercises that can assist these lifts tremendously.
- Bulgarian Split Squats – As tough as they are, Bulgarian split squats are probably the best exercise, other than squats, for leg strength and growth. They can be performed with either two dumbbells or a barbell and work every muscle in the leg with special emphasis on the quadriceps.
- Calf Raises – Although it doesn’t seem like it, calf muscles play a role in the strength of your legs and should NEVER be neglected. In addition, large calves are a must have for a good physique.
- Romanian Deadlifts – Also known as RDL’s, Romanian deadlifts are a killer exercise that target the glutes and hamstrings. The Romanian deadlift is a great compliment to the traditional deadlift and can greatly improve deadlift performance.
The Best Arm Accessory Exercises
Arms are indirectly hit in every upper body exercise. When you perform a back exercise, you also work biceps and when you perform a chest or shoulder exercise, you also work triceps. So, the need for accessory arm exercises is not as important as it is for the rest of the muscle groups, but strong arms can have a great impact on the amount of weight you are able to lift on the core exercises.
- Close-Grip Bench Press – The close-grip bench press is great for taking tension off the chest and putting a majority of the weight on the triceps. You aren’t going to be able to do as much weight as you normally bench press, but getting stronger on the close-grip bench press will undoubtedly improve you bench press strength.
- Overhead Tricep Extension – Although not as beneficial for strength as it is to muscle growth, the overhead tricep extension is great for working all three muscles in the tricep.
- Reverse EZ Bar Curls – Most bicep exercises are going to involve a curl of some sort. What is unique about the reverse EZ bar curl, however, is that it requires the opposite motion of a curl but still targets the bicep. This exercise is great for targeting the biceps and a lesser known muscle called the brachialis, which is located underneath the bicep.
- Concentration Curl – The absolute best exercise for isolating the biceps is the concentration curl. There are many ways to perform this exercise but the whole idea is to isolate you bicep and curl a weight you can handle. This forces the bicep to do all the work and cuts off any help from surrounding muscles.
In conclusion, aside from the core exercises listed in the first paragraph, accessory exercises will take up most of your time at the gym. You might perform 1-2 strength exercises with low reps but the remainder of you workout should be accessory exercises to improve both strength and muscle.
Performing the accessory exercises with lighter weight and higher reps allows you to effectively work on form, stability and muscle growth more easily than performing low reps with heavyweight. If you want a well-balanced strength and muscle building program, you should be incorporating both core exercises and accessory exercises into you workout routine.
There are multiple accessory exercises for each muscle group and plenty more than there are listed in this article. So, do you own research if some exercises I listed are difficult for you to perform or you dislike them for some reason.
I hope I was able to help you in finding some helpful accessory exercises that you can incorporate into you weekly routines.
If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to leave a comment below and give your opinion on accessory exercises!