Bodybuilding Accessory Work for Weightlifters
Pretty commonly we get questions about incorporating bodybuilding work into weightlifting training programs—whether or not it’s necessary or beneficial, and if so, how to do it. Around here we call it beach work (like my coach Mike Burgener did) or flexercise, and I do incorporate it into some of my lifters’ programs at times. Following are my rationale and some guidelines.
When & Why
There are a few reasons to use beach work for lifters. The most obvious is when a lifter needs to gain some weight—this is a way to get some more volume in that encourages hypertrophy from the additional food instead of chub. Earlier in a training cycle (during the preparation phase, far out from competition), a little bodybuilding work is good for pretty much every lifter as long as they can manage the additional work in terms of energy and time. In these cases, it’s for general “fitness”—body composition, joint conditioning and stabilization (higher-reps and lower weight improve tendon strength), and yes, aesthetics for some (like has been said many times, if you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, you play well). Bodybuilding work is reduced considerably as a lifter approaches a competition, and I’ll usually eliminate it completely at least 1-2 weeks out.
First of all, remember that you’re a weightlifter, not a bodybuilder, and train accordingly. If you’re a bodybuilder who wants to do some snatches and clean & jerks, it’s a totally different game.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that this is accessory work—it is not even close to the most important training you’re doing. This means making sure you have a sensible training program to begin with that you can then add beach work to with minimal modifications if any. If you have to completely reconstruct your weightlifting program, you’re going overboard.
One day per week for each bodypart or type of movement (e.g. upper body pressing or pulling) is plenty. Again, we’re not going for our pro cards and a Mr. Olympia invitation, just to not look like a runner.
Schedule movements or body parts that coincide with what you’re doing on a given day in your weightlifting work. For example, a training session with jerks is a good day to do upper body pressing beach work. Along the same lines, be careful about scheduling beach work in a way that conflicts with upcoming weightlifting training—for example, if you have a tough snatch workout on Wednesday, don’t completely blast your delts and tris on Tuesday before so you’re unable to snatch well or even get hurt
Form & Function
Of course because you’re a weightlifter, function is your top priority—specifically, your ability to snatch and clean & jerk as much as possible. Don’t lose track of this when you’re gazing into a mirror watching your guns swell. Choose your beach exercises wisely—avoid ones that have the potential to interfere with mobility or weightlifting-specific function, and as much as possible select ones that reinforce your weightlifting performance.
Range of Motion
Often bodybuilders will work through limited ranges of motion to maintain tension on the working muscles throughout the set and do more damage and incur more #gainz. However, as a weightlifter, this creates a few problems. First, you need to be able to lock out your joints well—in terms of mobility, stability and strength. Second, limited range of motion reduces the tendon strengthening benefits of such higher-rep, lower-intensity training. And finally, limited ranges of motion can encourage tendinitis. Train a strong, complete lockout
Bodybuilders will often also use slow tempos to create more tension and time under said tension. Slow eccentrics are fine, and can be beneficial for growth, but always perform your concentric movements with maximal speed. This is especially true when it comes to pressing movements (doing curls slowly won’t make much of a difference) and leg work.
Just like with normal bodybuilding, use short rest periods—usually 60-90 seconds or so. Incomplete recovery will help create more damage, which means more growth.
Stick with higher reps—usually in the 8-15 range.
Use 3-5 sets of 1-3 exercises per movement group per day—something around 50-150 total reps or so. Start on the lower end and work up over time.
Vary your exercises frequently. Remember that beach work has little to do with gaining strength, which can benefit from continued exposure to the same or similar lifts over longer periods of time, and more to do with causing damage to the muscles—changing exercises is a good way to accomplish this. You should also be varying rep numbers, and of course increasing weights with any given exercise over time.
Finally, keep in mind that if you’re someone who is able to get really muscular… you probably already are. If you’re not, don’t expect to throw in a little beach work a few days a week along with some protein powder and look like Ronnie Coleman by the time beach season rolls around. Work with what you’ve got, and if someone gives you shit about how you look, remind them you’re a weightlifter and it doesn’t matter.