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Is Accessory Work Necessary?

By Rob | In Announcements, Coach's Blog | on December 21, 2020

We often see accessory work programmed consisting of trunk work, mobility, prehab/rehab, and even bodybuilding. Is this just to fill the hour, or is it important? Of course it is, and let me explain why!

The fact that it happens to be at the end of the workout does not mean it is less important. In fact, all facets of the day are important. The warmup prepares you for the day’s work. The strength work is designed for movement practice and gaining strength. The conditioning piece is designed to train different energy systems that mostly deal with cardiorespiratory efficiency, in other words your body’s ability to transport oxygen at different intensities. And the accessory work is designed to fill in the gaps.

Filling in the Gaps

As the great Dan John says, “The best program is the one you are not on.” What’s that mean? No program can focus on everything at once, so things will be missed. This is where accessory work can help bridge the gap.

There are eight different primal (basic) movements that comprise most exercises. The squat, hinge, lunge, and step up for the lower body, and vertical and horizontal pull for the upper body. CrossFit methodology tends to underemphasize lunging, step ups, and horizontal pulls and pushes. That is 50% of those primal patterns. Regular practice of all the primal movements addresses muscle imbalances which will make you stronger and more resilient.

Let’s look at how accessory work is benefical.

Trunk Work

The trunk is what many would refer to as “the core”. I like trunk because trees have trunks. Trunks are solid, support growth, and add stability in the face of winds. The trunk has the same function for humans. Anatomically that is the abs, obliques, erectors (lower back), hip flexors and glutes. These muscles are what keep us stable when lifting overhead, allow us to explosively rotate our torso, extend our hips, provide anti-rotation as a stability measure, and bring our knees up.

At one time there was a prevailing thought in the CrossFit world that you really do not need to have direct trunk work. While it is true that we will work the trunk in many of the big lifts, however it is because we perform these big lifts that we SHOULD work the trunk outside of these lifts. The stronger the trunk the more solid the structure.

Life is a contact sport, and it doesn’t always happen in a straight line with your toes point forward with an evenly distributed weight apparatus. In regular life we find our selves in awkward rotated positions, think moving furniture up and down stairs with turns, getting Christmas decorations out of the attic, gardening, etc. The extra trunk work usually covers rotation (windmills, ¼ get ups etc), anti-rotation (teapots, reverse chops, etc), total body isometric hold (weighted carries, planks, etc) and extension (weighted good mornings, etc). Keep your structure strong by doing regular trunk work.


Mobility Work

One of the main goals at CrossFit West Houston is to develop full range of motion. The demands of everyday life challenge our ability to move as we spend a lot of time in postures that decrease mobility.  Mobility work is great for pre-habbing and rehabbing your joints and muscles.

Increased mobility has many benefits. First you will have less restriction when it comes to movements like overhead squats and snatches. Second you will decrease injury risk because muscles are tight. Third, you just might feel better.

The freedom from movement restrictions is powerful. Think about how tight and stiff you feel after a long car ride. Keep your muscles knot- and restriction- free by doing the accessory mobility work.

Bodybuilding Work

In the early days of CrossFit, bodybuilding was a joke. CrossFit was almost the anti-bodybuilding. Since CrossFit is an open-source movement, diverse fitness backgrounds come together to provide different perspectives to add to this community.

In recent years there as been a rise of functional bodybuilding within the CrossFit community, which is centered around tendon/ligament health and adding muscle mass. When most people thing of bodybuilding, they think of overly muscled guys in speedos flexing their cartoonish-sized muscles. This is not what functional bodybuilding is about, even if some of the traditional bodybuilding exercises are involved.

Our joint healthy depends on the health of our tendons (which attach muscle to bones) and our ligaments (which attach bones to bones). Many of the movement in CrossFit are very dynamic and explosive which can negatively affect our tendons and ligaments. Bodybuilding exercises like hammer curls, bicep curls, banded hamstring curls, triceps extensions and lateral raises promote good tendon and ligament health. Making those areas stronger in a more controlled movement patterns help keep them safe during more ballistic movements like kipping pull ups, muscle ups, push presses, etc.

There are many benefits to adding some muscle mass as well. Muscle mass is more metabolically active, because it moves, creates heat which in turn burns calories. For those whose goals are to be leaner, having more muscle mass tends to burn more calories vs adipose tissue (body fat) which is not metabolically active.

As we age we can experience sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) which leads to frailty. Frailty A medical syndrome with multiple causes and contributors that is characterized by diminished strength, endurance, and reduced physiologic function that increases an individual’s vulnerability for developing increased dependency and/or death.(1). While it is still unclear, whether loss of muscle mass affects the immune system, there are studies showing some relationship. (2) However, holding off the loss of muscle mass may be protective for healthy aging.

There are all great and important reasons to do the accessory work. Take it as seriously as you would the main parts of the workout.  things can enhance your future workouts; help you be a more efficient fat burner reduce injury risk and help you age well.







  1. Morley JE, Vellas B, van Kan GA, Anker SD, Bauer JM, Bernabei R, Cesari M, Chumlea WC, Doehner W, Evans J, Fried LP, Guralnik JM, Katz PR, Malmstrom TK, McCarter RJ, Gutierrez Robledo LM, Rockwood K, von Haehling S, Vandewoude MF, Walston J. Frailty consensus: a call to action. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2013 Jun;14(6):392-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jamda.2013.03.022. PMID: 23764209; PMCID: PMC4084863.
  2. Wilson D, Jackson T, Sapey E, Lord JM. Frailty and sarcopenia: The potential role of an aged immune system. Ageing Res Rev. 2017 Jul;36:1-10. doi: 10.1016/j.arr.2017.01.006. Epub 2017 Feb 20. PMID: 28223244.

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