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My Top 10 Accessory Exercises for CrossFit Athletes

July 7, 2023 by

Accessory Exercise: A movement that is not a regular part of the testing body of the Sport of CrossFit, yet can yield significant benefits for athletes

10 – Tabletop Glute Bridge

Through countless movement screens, I’ve consistently found when onboarding new athletes, especially males, that they lack shoulder extension.  This is a simple exercise that primes the glutes & hamstrings in an exaggerated range of motion while activating the back half of the shoulder and opening up an athlete’s chest and biceps.

9 – Bulgarian Split Squat

Many athletes “get away from” their quads when squatting.  In other words, the knees push back out of the “hole” of the squat and they end up using a lot of glute and low back / erectors to stand up their heavy squats.  The Bulgarian Split Squat can help strengthen the quads in the specific position the knee needs to be in while also taking advantage of single leg benefits to overcome imbalances.

8 – Prone Rows

CrossFit programming in general, but especially in the way competitors have been historically tested, involves very little horizontal pulling.  Viable options for horizontal pulling -like ring rows- are often considered “scales” and therefore avoided by higher level athletes. Additionally, horizontal pulling is a great way to develop vertical pulling strength and keeping the shoulders functionally optionally.

7 – Turkish Get Up

Few movements involve as much range of motion or open-chain control as the Turkish Get Up.  The muscles on every side of the shoulder are recruited to keep the ball on the socket while supporting the load with a straight elbow…all components required for healthy, stable, strong shoulders!

6 – Plank Variations

If you want a healthy spine you must understand where “neutral” is while in different positions.  Teaching athletes to recognize and maintain a neutral spine is key to longevity in sport and life.  Additionally, heavy and taller athletes will have greater demands on their midline musculature and therefore it makes sense to give them more targeted work.  There are lots of variations of planks, and I use all of the ones listed here…

High Plank Hold
Rear Plank
Side Plank
Planche Plank
Kneeling Overhead Plank
FLR Hold on Low Rings

5 – Banded Hamstring Curls

The knees are asked to do a lot of flexion on CrossFit, which can frequently lead to inflammation and overall irritation to the knee itself and the anterior / kneecap area. An easy way to keep squatting movements more “balanced” and the patella tracking correctly is by having strong glutes & hamstrings.  And already having glute bridges on this list, it seemed appropriate to add an isolation exercise for the hamstrings.

4 – L-Sit Variations

The ability to maintain hip flexion with a straight leg is an incredibly challenging quality, but when athlete’s develop that ability they tend to have much greater pelvic control when doing squatting & hinging movements under high loads.  Additionally, L variations have been a staple in HQ’s programming since the beginning and I think it would be foolish to ignore that for my competitive athletes.

3 – Nordics & RDLs

Often when athletes are doing hinging exercises in CrossFit conditioning work they minimize the time under tension in the eccentric, lowering phase.  This is a good thing for exercise racing, but a bad thing for hamstring development.  And again with knee pain a chief complaint amongst CrossFit competitors, it makes sense to build strong hamstring under an exaggerated eccentric.  I have found few tools better for this than Nordics, glute ham raises, and RDLs.

2 – Banded External Rotations

Both pulling and pushing musculature bias internal rotation.  This is largely because two of the biggest muscle groups for these movements aid in internal rotation: the lat & the pec.  With the volume and intensity of pushing and pressing athletes do, combined with the amount of overhead work (hanging & inverted gymnastics), it would be foolish not to incorporate some focused shoulder health work specifically for the 3 external rotators of the cuff muscles.

1 – Strict Pull-Ups

While they haven’t been involved in the testing body there is no better tool for developing upper body vertical pulling than with good ‘ol strict pull-ups.  If an athlete can repeatedly string large sets of clean strict pull-ups, they are highly likely to stay healthy while increasing their volume in kipping movements. I personally writing them supinated to offset the volume of pronated pulling athletes typically are already getting.

Related: Developing Strength & The Aerobic System Together

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