Too Much or Too Little Assistance?

I have never been consistant with my assistance work, I’m looking to change this. SO I gave this a lot off thought, but I have no idea if it’s goint to be something doable.

I train 3x a week.
Squat, Press, Bench and Dead’s 5’s progression (531) and cap 'em off with 5 sets of three with 90% of my trainingmax.

I’m planning to do this:
3 sets of 5 reps with 75%
RDL’s after main Squats
BOR’s after Benchpress
Frontsquats after Deads/Press
I will up the trainingmax on these lifts with 2,5 or 5 kg every three weeks.

I also want to add in Goodmornings but rather 3sest of 8/10 reps on Squatday.

Any suggestions?

Smart guys say it’s hard to program assistance for other people. Everyone can handle different amounts, based on what kind of condition they are in. You may need to experiment a little.

If you’ve run a steady program like 5/3/1 for a few cycles, you probably have a “feel” for it. You understand the training max, how hard to work, and how the work outs build on each other. The way you should feel to make progress without Overtraining/overreaching.

To figure out how many reps of assistance you can handle, use the total reps approach. Add in your assistance lifts, start light and do the 15-30 reps per exercise you planned. Then, instead of adding weight, at to the rep totals.

For example

Week 1: 15-30 total reps for assistance exercises.
Week 2: 35-45 total reps
Week 3: 50-60 total reps

Maybe you’ll even get to the 100 total reps Jim recommends. This was too much for me. I was making progress with 40-60 reps. I added reps, but started to feel run down and beat up once I got around 70. My “real” lifts would suffer, so I’d tone it down.

I stuck with 3 x15.

Then I started to add 5-10 pounds to the bar. Progress was good, until I got too heavy. Then my joints would start to hurt and my “real” lifts would suffer. So I slowed down the progression.

Now it’s like
Week 1: Rows 3 x15 with some light weight
Week 2: Rows 3 x20 with that same light weight
Week 3: Rows, drop reps back down to 3 x15, add 5-10 pounds
Week 4: Rows, 3 x20 with that heavier weight.

As long as I go steady, the main work rolls forward. If I get out of line with the assistance, it shows right away on the real work. My body tells me Exactly what to do, if I listen.

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I can manage those kinda reps with pullups, singlearm rows, dips, hyperextensions. But I feel doing 15/20 reps with Frontsquats, RDL’s, BOR would be asking too much. I really want to push these ‘strengthtwise’ and I’ll add a secondary movement with more reps.

I’m pushing 36 now, three young kids and a day job. Training without “aids”. Sometimes I feel beat up. For example the Ed Coan Phillipe Deadlift program was managable but I didn’t get much out of it, do to lack of recovery.

I realise it’s a difficult question to answer, not knowing all the variables.

Oh, wait. So you’ll

Squat on your 5’s pro, main lift progression.

Then do 3 x5 RDLs with 75%. Similar to “First Set Last,” only with RDLs for a little variety.

Other day. Deadlift, then front squat.

Then, the lighter assistance stuff.

That sounds totally reasonable.

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In terms of being purposeful, absolutely what you set out is fine. You gave it some thought and it does what you want it to do, at least in theory. Whether it is optimal is something you’ll only find out by doing it.

My personal approach to assistance (what works for me) is much higher reps for most of it, and looking at it more as bodybuilding. I don’t really progress the load in a planned way, rather up it when it feels too easy or simply swap exercises. I’m starting to lean towards swapping exercises out every four weeks or so in a lot of cases.


As stated in the book, I give guidelines for each program. HOWEVER, and this is stated several times, I highly, highly recommend using common sense when choosing assistance work (as well as the total reps/movements for each program).

It cannot be stated enough - follow the principles (guess which one applies here) and use your experience and common sense to help guide you. If your assistance derails you, you have:

  1. Not followed the principles of the program (start light/progress slow)
  2. Not used common sense to help guide you.

Be smart. Follow principles. Do NOT make this complicated.


Thanks everybody for the replies!

I never tracked my assistance, but after a few years now I realize I need to, otherwise I won’t push myself enough to get something out of them. I need to have them written down. So I set my goals for the RDL, BOR and Frontsquats just like I do with the mainlifts.

My personal criteria for assistance:

Dumbbells preferred - Grip, upper back/shoulders and core work built in (I carry them back to the rack between all sets). Limits weight.

Higher reps (at least 10)- work capacity. Easier to judge effort with higher reps and muscle soreness. Still sore for next scheduled main lift, don’t up reps or weight. Higher weights and lower reps not as idiot proof.

Single leg work preferred - limits weight. doing higher reps on both legs separately is great for work capacity. Makes my cranky hips feel great.

I’m older and have adrenal issue. This my way of idiot proofing assistance and making sure I don’t overdo it. Even when I can’t help but push it, the weight will be limited an muscle soreness will tell me when to add weight or not.