Assistance

We’ve covered power and strength over the last two weeks, and those were pretty straight forward…  But now it’s time to talk about assistance and, at least in our minds, this is where the training week comes into play a whole lot more.

We are going to look at the two most common ways that we use assistance in our programs, how to pick repetitions, how to choose the appropriate RPE, periodization, and throw out a few examples.

Just for old times sake, let’s look at assistance as it’s taught by the NSCA.  And before we even go there, you already know we are going to put our two cents on this.

The NSCA classifies exercises as core exercises (multi-joint) and assistance exercises (single-joint)- but that’s not what we are talking about here.

If you dig into “Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (2nd edition),” you’ll find a couple of charts on page 414 pertaining to strength, power, and what they call hypertrophy and muscular endurance.

We are simply lumping hypertrophy and muscular endurance into one category:

Assistance

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s dig in…

What?

That simple little word is about to come up again.  Intent.

What’s the goal?

Assistance could be:

  • Unilateral work.  I mean, you wouldn’t classify a single-leg RDL as a true strength movement, right?  Dammit, I GUESS you could, but intent.
  • Bilateral.  Intent, intent, intent!  Is a squat for strength or hypertrophy?  Yes.
  • Single-joint.  Gun show and shit!  We don’t spend a ton of time here, but it still falls into assistance in our eyes.
  • Multi-joint.  Hinge, squat, push, pull, everything else.  Wait, isn’t that strength though?  Where do boy scouts sleep?  In tent(s).

When?

In the programs that you are currently doing, assistance work is carried out in workout C.  It’s the higher volume work of the week.  We have you  training 5-6 days/week on this plan, with three of those days dedicated to weight training, and another two to three dedicated to cardiac output and neural charge (recovery) sessions.  So, we have the luxury of spreading the stress across the week (⇐ click for a recap).

But what if you are working with someone who only has an honest two or three days to train?  Assistance every day.  What’s that look like?

2-3 day/week program

Notice there’s no workout C?  Each color denotes a week for someone training 3x per week.  In other words he stays with blue for workouts 1 (A), 2 (B), and 3 (repeat blue A).  You’ve all seen this, it’s your classic A, B, A, then B, A, B split.

Training 2x per week?  Cool, A (blue), B (blue) for week 1.  Then A (blue), B (pink) for week 2.  A (pink), B (pink) for week 3.  A (green), B (green) for week 4.  A (green), B (purple) for week 5.  A (purple), B (purple)for week 6.

Remember what Dan John said?

Everything works for about 4-6 weeks.

Well look at that!

4 weeks per phase if you train 3x per week, and 6 weeks per phase if you train 2x per week.

It works.

Digging deeper, we simply perform our power block, followed by our strength block, followed by our assistance block, and finally our conditioning block within each training day.

Program Components

There’s a lot of room for play here, but I think you get the point…


 

Reps

Here we go again.  Let’s see what the NSCA has to say about this…

Hypertrophy: 3-6 sets of 6-12 reps @ 67-85% 1RM
Muscular Endurance: 2-3 sets of greater than or equal to 12 reps @ less than or equal to 67% 1RM

Get your calculators out!  And I sure hope you tested your 1RM on that single leg RDL…

No.

Come on!

What’s the goal?  Hypertrophy?  Muscular endurance?  Hybrids?

Cool!  Pick some reps that make sense!!!!!!!!

Let’s do a few together….

  • Hypertrophy: 6-12 reps?
  • Muscular Endurance: 12-20 reps?
  • Strength-Hypertrophy hybrid: 5-10 reps?
  • Hypertrophy-Muscular Endurance hybrid: 8-15 reps?

Is that it?  No!

Come up with your own.

Have a why.

Program.

Train.

 

RPE

I recently heard Dave Tate on Joe Defranco’s podcast say this:

“Intensity, and I hate that word, because all I really mean is effort…”

Probably not word-for-word as I am going off of memory, but the point is there.  If I understand Dave correctly on his point, and I believe I do, I don’t necessarily think of RPE the same when it comes to my, and my clients’ assistance work as I do power and strength.

The intensity of “mental” contraction is bigger.  In other words, I don’t always care about the weight here as much as I care about the focus on “feeling” the weight.  Think old school bodybuilding mind-muscle connection type stuff.

I typically stay between an RPE of 6-8 for our assistance work.  But, no matter the RPE, the mental focus is very high.

5 reps for assistance vs. 5 reps for strength are two very different things.

 

Periodization

Let’s just use the examples above and create some rep schemes…

  • Hypertrophy: 6-12 reps
    • Month 1: 12 reps   /   Month 2: 8 reps   /   Month 3: 10 reps   /   Month 4: 6 reps
  • Muscular Endurance: 12-20 reps
    • Month 1: 20 reps   /   Month 2: 15 reps   /   Month 3: 18 reps   /   Month 4: 12 reps
  • Strength-Hypertrophy hybrid: 5-10 reps
    • Month 1: 10 reps   /   Month 2: 6 reps   /   Month 3: 8 reps   /   Month 4: 5 reps
  • Hypertrophy-Muscular Endurance hybrid: 8-15 reps
    • Month 1: 15 reps   /   Month 2: 10 reps   /   Month 3: 12 reps   /   Month 4: 8 reps

We spent a substantial amount of time explaining non-linear alternating periodization in the power lesson, so no need to do that here.  But there is one thing you may have noticed about our current Strength Faction program vs. the embedded program from above…

Strength Faction is using the strength-hypertrophy hybrid rep scheme, in the order shown above.

But, look closely at Ted’s program.  He’s using the hypertrophy rep scheme from above, but the order is reversed!

Month 1: 12 6 reps   /   Month 2: 8 10 reps   /   Month 3: 10 8 reps   /   Month 4: 6 12 reps

Now why in the hell would we do that?

Well, Ted is relatively new to training.  He’s not totally green.  In reality he is a triathlete (done some IRONMAN’s),  dabbled in CrossFit, and an all around active guy.

But Ted is new to this programmed, logical approach to training.

He’s breaking a lot of bad habits.

His form needs work.

Ted is still a novice.

To ask a novice to put some decent intensity into his power and strength work, just to then follow that up with a shit-load of reps for assistance doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  He’ll be so mentally exhausted that we can’t really expect to get a lot out of him.

Even if Ted was really experienced, asking him to knock out sets of 12 reps on the same day as all of those power and strength reps is a pretty tall order.

So, as Ted’s power and strength reps go down across the month, assistance comes up.  In phase 4 of this block, Tedd will knock out some 2′s for power, 4′s for strength, and then get some volume in his assistance with the 12′s.

It just makes sense.

Oh, and we’ve noticed some pretty killer results with this approach…

You guys are not on an A, B, A split, so we’ve gone with  the rep scheme as laid out above (counting down).  Have a reason you’d want to go with Ted’s inverse relationship on a program like ours?  Cool!

Have a why.

Program.

Train.


A quick note on Volume

Remember the NSCA classifications of sets and reps?

Hypertrophy: 3-6 sets of 6-12 reps @ 67-85% 1RM
Muscular Endurance: 2-3 sets of greater than or equal to 12 reps @ less than or equal to 67% 1RM

If we play with these we will see that 36 reps seems to be a little bit of a theme in both hypertrophy and muscular endurance.

  • 6 sets (high end on sets for hypertrophy) of 6 reps (low end of reps for hypertrophy) = 36 reps
  • 3 sets (low end of sets for hypertrophy) of 12 reps (high end of reps for hypertrophy) = 36 reps
  • 3 sets (high end on sets for muscular endurance) of 12 reps (low end of reps for muscular endurance) = 36 reps
  • 2 sets (low end of sets for muscular endurance) of 18 reps (randomly plucked number greater than 12 reps for muscular endurance) = 36 reps

Now, we don’t necessarily shoot for this number of 36 ourselves (as interesting an observation as it is), but we do pay attention to total volume…

It’s not to say we shoot for identical numbers from month-to-month, but sometimes we do.  Other times we try and keep intensity the same as volume jumps directions…

Just pay attention to it and, again, have a WHY.

Program.

Train.


What to do now?

Build your assistance rep schemes!!  Once that’s done you’ve got your repetition scheme menus completely laid out!

Rep Schemes

Combine them to make phases.

Phases make blocks.

Blocks make monsters.

 

What’s next?

Next week we look at types of programming for power, strength, assistance, and conditioning.