Q & A: Assistance Exercises

When using the 5/3/1, I’m assuming you are using the percentages supplied by Wendler.  Now, after your main lift, let’s say 3-4 warm up sets, then your 3 working (5/3/1) sets, do you then just use w4sb assistance, obviously depending on the athlete, but for the majority of your athletes?

When I use 5/3/1 for my athletes I do use the percentages Jim Wendler outlines in the book. After the main barbell lift is finished, the assistance exercises are usually done with dumbbells, kettlebells, bodyweight or odd objects and occasionally another barbell lift. It depends on the athlete, time of the year and most importantly the goal. W4SB is the way to go if you have an athlete that needs to pack on some muscle. I would use this type of style for high school athletes who are generally small and weak.

For the stronger more developed athletes, the assistance work on lower body days is aimed to build their squat and deadlift and to overcome muscular imbalances caused from playing baseball. I aim to increase the squat/deadlift because a I want all my baseball players to have a strong and powerful lower body. Exercises like GHRs, RDLs, kettlebell swings, sled dragging, back extensions and other variations of the squat and deadlift are the best assistance exercises to build the squat and deadlift. In order to overcome muscular imbalances my athletes will perform a unilateral exercise like a lunge variation or step up variation. Split squats are also a staple in my program.







For stronger more developed athletes, upper body assistance work is a bit different- the goal isn’t to bring up their bench. Most of baseball players are already strong enough and have a good bench. Adding 5-10 lbs on their bench isn’t worth the wear and tear it will take them to get there. Will benching 315 instead of 305 really make that huge of a difference in the ability to hit the ball further or throw it harder? I don’t think so. The focus turns to pullet proofing their body. This means doing a ton of rows, pull ups and upper back work. Generally speaking most my athletes will do at least a 2:1 pulling to push ratio. Push exercises include push up variations with chains, bands, blast straps and many other variations. 1 arm dumbbell presses and dumbbell pressing on the floor or on a flat or incline bench doing alternating reps or both dumbbells simultaneously tend to get the job done. Pulling exercises include rows with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and bodyweight. We do them bent over, chest supported or 1 arm at a time, pretty much any variation you can think of. Pull ups are also a staple in my program, they are virtually done at every training session in some capacity. They are sometimes done for reps, sometimes done weighted, and sometimes done for super low reps in between sets of pressing or squats.  Check out this video below to see how we train the often ignored upper back.


When it comes to choosing the right assistance exercises, remember that everything needs to be done for a reason. If I ask you why you are doing a certain exercise you better have a great answer for me. If not then you should cut it out, your just wasting time. Training economy is also critical to choosing the right assistance exercises. You want to get the best bang for your buck and get the most work done in the shortest amount of time. By no means does this mean you should superset everything, but instead be smart about what exercises you choose. If you can kill two birds with one stone then it is probably a great exercise. This is why farmer walks are great. You are training your grip, stabilizing your core and working the upper back. All these areas are critical to athletes and are usually weak points.








Also for the in season using the 5/3/1 I remember Chad Wesley Smith saying that he using the percentages subscribed, nothing to failure, is that how you go about your in season intensity?  Finally, could you use 5/3/1 for your weighted chin ups?  Or how do you go about choosing volume for the DB pressing (“bench” day) and weighted chin ups?  Thanks.

I always try to avoid training to failure at all costs on main lifts, not just in season. From my understanding of Jim Wendler’s and Chad Smith’s methods you should never really train to failure on your big barbell lift because you are using 90% of your training max. Of course as the weeks go on a lot of factors come into play and your maxes are moving up so it can happen but you want to minimize these occurrences, especially in season. If you train smart and you use 90% of your real max you should be okay.

You absolutely can use weighted chin ups. If a baseball player has banged up shoulders we will substitute the military day for weighted chin ups and turn the bench into a high rep upper body day. The high rep upper body day will be just like Joe D outlined in his WS4SB article, starting with a dumbbell lift for 3 sets of max reps and on occasion a typical bodybuilding rep scheme like 4 X 12. These high rep days are great for packing on muscle and addressing any weaknesses and really just creating balance in the upper body.

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Leave A Reply (5 comments so far)

  • Loving your blog. I have two up and coming baseball players, and while they are too young to worry about some of this stuff now, I am filing it away for future use. As a physical therapist, I like that for the most part your suggestions jive with my professional training.

    Keep it up and look forward to a Q & A.

  • Hey Shaun,

    Thanks for your kind words. Did you sign up for my newsletter? Thats the best way to stay connected with me + you get 3 free bonuses when you sign up. Check out the sign on the upper right hand side.

    Anyway, how old are your sons? I wrote a post about training young athletes


    Now is the time to get your sons involved in AS MANY SPORTS AS POSSIBLE. This will be the best thing for them over the long run… If you have any questions just ask.

    Also, I am looking forward to putting up a Q & A post once a week now. This will be possible because people like you ask questions, so fire away 🙂

    All the best,

    Joe Meglio

  • Evan Gallagher

    Lots of good info. Thanks for posting/answering so fast.

  • Trainer hasn’t done 5/3/1 sets with me just compound moves at 10/8/6/5 reps 4 sets or sometimes he will have me squat for an hour or he will combine leg press and squats with extensions, ham curls just depends on the day I guess but usually he breaks it up to quads and hams/glutes on separate days. He combines chest/tricep compound moves then each one is supersetted with a finishing exercise on upper body. Squats and leg press he doesn’t superset.

  • I have done your upper back work out almost weekly with pulls ups and rows only exception is upper back is done with a rope and a bar pulling up to it from floor similiar like you are with cables. Also have done upper back work like that with wide grip bar, curl bar, and cables. Great blog with pics.