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Adding Accessory Work to Your CrossFit Training Program

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High-level CrossFit athletes need to be exceptionally well-rounded in all components of fitness. Unless you’re Pat Vellner, most CrossFit athletes quickly notice they excel in some areas and struggle to keep up with the rest of the class in others. Whether your weakness is lack of power, endurance, or strength, you may need to spend some extra time after class working on that weakness if you want to become a well-rounded athlete. The points below offer some tips for newer athletes looking to spend some extra time working on their weaknesses outside of class.  

  1.      Determine your weakness

When it comes to adding in some accessory work to bolster your weaknesses and achieve your fitness goals, you’ll first need to decide what you want to work on. Most seasoned athletes will have a fairly good idea about what they are good at and where they struggle. Competitions are a great way to help uncover those weak spots – whether you’re throwing down with friends in local competitions or tracking your scores in the open, you’ll see where you’re falling behind compared to other athletes at a similar level. For example, If you do one competition and don’t perform well in a “heavy” workout then it could just be how you felt that day, but if all of your poorest finishes in events occur when the weights get heavy, then you’ve probably found a weakness. If you are someone who doesn’t compete very often your best bet is to ask your coaches what they think you need work on.  On a side note, many people are good at asking for others’ input, but when it comes to taking action, they may discredit their coaches’ input and often end up working on a strength (which we all know is more fun to work on than a weakness).

  1.      Set realistic expectations

The second part of goal setting for accessory work is quite simple – be realistic. If you think you can spend 15 minutes two evenings a week trying to get stronger and in 6 weeks you will squat an extra 100 pounds you are setting yourself up for failure before you even begin. Come up with a reasonable goal and work within your means. You will also want to do your accessory work in “cycles” or “blocks”, this means a set amount of weeks and days per week of work towards a specific goal.(ideally 4, 8 or 12 weeks) If you plan to double the amount of time you spend at the gym you will most likely to find yourself coming up short and getting discouraged very early. To keep things simple use the rule of 15%. Take the current amount of time you’re spending at the gym each week, and don’t add any more than 15%to that. So if you typically attend 5 classes a week, don’t add on any more than 45 minutes of extra programming.  

  1.      Make a plan and keep it simple

When you decide to do accessory work your best bet is to have a clear plan. You should either have someone with experience create a program for you (or use one of the many free programs for every possible weakness available online) or come up with your own exercises to follow. If you choose to create a program on your own, it’s always better to have it planned out from the start, or at least on a weekly basis.  People are much more likely to do the work if they have it written down somewhere and they  come to the gym with a plan. One main problem people run into is they try and work on too many things at the same time and after a couple weeks they fall off and stop doing all of them, limit your accessory work to 1 or maximum 2 areas of improvement at a time. The more you focus on, the more spread out and less noticeable your gains will be. The other main reason to limit your work on something specific is that by chasing after just one goal you will improve in many different areas by default. For example, if your goal is to improve  your pull-ups, you will probably work on a variety of different exercises – things like strict pull-ups, negatives, and weighted pull-ups, along with bent over rows and curls. These will all build up raw strength in both the lats and arms, as well as additional grip strength. You will also attack it from a gymnastics angle, doing movements like hollow rocks and holds, kip swings, and kipping pull-ups. This will carry over to both simple gymnastic movements like ring rows and knee raises, and high skill level movements like muscle-ups and even things like handstand walks. So while it may feel like you are only working on one thing, you’ll end up improving in many areas.

  1.      Manage your training volume

As discussed earlier, to get better at something it isn’t necessary to spend any extended period of time on it. For most CrossFit athletes, spending 20 minutes after class twice a week will result in a significant improvement. It is important to keep your overall goal of becoming a better CrossFit athlete clear. If we stick with the example of a CrossFitter working on improving pull-ups, it is important to remember that they are doing this to be better at CrossFit overall. While spending extra time each week on pull-ups will definitely improve your pull-ups, over-committing to that same movement may have negative effects. If you start spending more of your energy on your accessory training then your body will adapt accordingly. People get fitter through adaptation of their bodies to complete tasks the most efficiently. People increase their fitness by causing their body to adapt in specific situations, to proficiently complete tasks.  Your body will adapt to the activities and movements that you spend the most time and energy working on, especially activities that stress the body.  For example, if you spend all your energy running, your body will become more efficient at running and you will likely drop body fat since your body is optimizing for endurance. However, you may lose muscle at the same time because your body sees carrying 20 pounds of muscle around for long distance as a disadvantage. Keep in mind that as CrossFitters, the goal is to be well rounded above all else.

  1.      Persistence is key!

The final point to keep in mind when adding to your training routine is the simplest and also the hardest. Stick with it! The best program written by the most capable coach is still not going to make you any better if you don’t follow it. Do anything and everything in your power to make it easy to stick it out until you’ve achieved your goal. Here are a few tips for staying with it:

  •       Pay for a coach to write an accessory program for you (every study shows that if you are financially invested, you are much more likely to follow through).  
  •       Get a friend or group to do it with you. If you have someone helping to keep you accountable, it will be harder to fall off track.
  •       Have fun with it! Pick something that you will look forward to doing, especially if you’re not used to doing extra work. If you enjoy what you’re doing and you’re seeing consistent progress, then you’re setting yourself up for success.  

Good luck!

Sample week for pullup accessory work (2 days per week)

Day 1

3 rounds beginning every 3 min

50 percent of max unbroken pullups directly into max engaged bar hang


4×6 per arm bent over kettlebell row



Day 2

9 min EMOM

Min 1 30 second hollow hold from pull-up bar

Min 2 30 second kip swing on bar

Min 3 20 second chin above bar hold


3×12 ring rows

With 20 hollow body rocks between sets




Article by:
Rob Kiddie – CFL1