In a perfect world, we can walk into the gym, crank out a great workout without any breaking of form through high intensity or loading, and progress each day! Unfortunately, there is always going to be THE next weight, or THE new gymnastics skill, or THE faster time. But how do we get to those checkpoints? Most times to progress we actually need to slow things down a bit and practice... key word: practice, not compete. Practice is when you can focus on little pieces of the bigger puzzle without worrying about the clock, getting the heaviest weight, or fastest time. Time spent practicing should be filled with accessory movements and learning new skills. We are not even scratching the surface of movements or skills but here is a list of some common accessory movements that will help you get a lot of bang for your buck.
1- Ring Dip & Ring Support Holds (gymnastics)
These are great drills to do for an athlete who wants to take the next step towards a ring muscle up or developing ring dip. A lot of times athletes who want to get a muscle up just jump up and try versus thinking what could happen when I get myself up there? If you can get yourself up there but cannot catch the rings where they need to go: do ring dip holds. If dipping out of the muscle up is the hard part then do some ring support holds. Break the movement down to build it back up.
2- Change of Direction Movements (endurance)
Far too often we are moving a lot in the sagittal plane of movement i.e., doing a lot of movements that are right in front of us. Start doing more movements like suicides, side shuffles, core rotational movements, back peddling, cone drills, heidens, etc. Getting into other planes of motion will help increase agility, strength, and balance, and will help keep joints healthy and structurally supported.
3 - Single Leg Step Ups (strength)
This is a great movement to find imbalances in unilateral strength. When an athlete only does stationary work (with both legs and/or arms are working together: back squat, front squat, deadlift) it can be easy to develop dominance from one side to the other leaving holes in movement patterns and, which can lead to injury. Unilateral movements like step ups can be done to access imbalances and can be performed in many different ways: back rack, front rack, etc. If you aren't making the gainz you want, try adding these in to help strengthen your body evenly.
4 - Perpendicular Wall Handstands (gymnastics)
This drill is great for developing into handstand walking. A lot of athletes can easily kick up into a handstand hold or do a wall walk into a handstand hold against the wall because the wall is like a backboard, helping you balance in the sagittal plane (forward and backward). Most athletes skip this step and try to go right from a handstand into handstand walking not realizing that now their balance is sagittal and frontal (left and right.) Doing these perpendicular holds will help you balance more in the sagittal plane. You can even start to handstand walk while keeping your foot against the wall until you feel comfortable enough to go unattached.
5 - Single Arm Carries (strength)
It’s as easy as carrying something from point A to point B but with an object only on one side of your body. We as human have a tendency to want to make things easier and more efficient, like when carrying a gallon of milk most people will lean to one side so it’s easier to hold and move. When performing single arm carries try to keep your body squared up (shoulders directly over hips) and level so now the stress of the object is controlled by your core with help from other muscle groups that help stabilize. These can be done with a DB or KB, or an odd object like a sandbag or bucket.
6 - Heidens (endurance)
These single leg jumps are great for unilateral strength and joint stability. The goal is not to jump the furthest but instead to load one side and jump over to the other while landing and decelerating all on the opposite side before repeating those steps. Start with jumping about 4 feet apart and progress to doing more reps, holding longer on each side, moving faster adding load, etc. These are also great for rotational type movements or getting you out of the sagittal plane.
7 - Straight arm Pulldowns (gymnastics)
This is a great movement to help teach athletes to "engage their lats" or extend their shoulders. This accessory drill will aid in developing a lever pull which is commonly seen in any kipping bar/ring movement. Instead of moving our body like in a kipping pull up, we are now moving the "bar" in the straight arm press down to extension of the shoulder or "pressing down" on the bar. Here we have a great first step to teaching bar work, scaling options for high skill bar technique, or to strengthen a lot of the muscles surrounding the shoulder capsule.
8 - Sotts Press (strength)
How many athletes do you see perform a snatch only to drop it forward in front of them? Or an athlete pulls the bar really high about to make the lift then the bar doesn't lock out overhead? This can be a good drill to work the catching position of the snatch: squat or power. Start by placing your hands in a snatch grip width on the bar and performing a behind the neck strict press while standing tall. This can be a good first step for those with mobility limitations. To progress from here we can start squatting slightly lower and lower while still being able to maintain a vertical press. The goal on this drill is to be able to reach full depth in a squat while maintaining a neutral/vertical spine, and being able to press out with the bar path moving straight from the shoulders to overhead.
9 - Supinated Grip Bar Hang (gymnastics)
Far too often we are spending a lot of time doing things with our hands pronated (facing down) so it is beneficial to spend some time with our hands supinated (facing up.) Spending too much time in the same plane of motion can eventually lead to imbalances or even injuries. Pertaining to the arms, spending too much time in pronation can lead to tennis elbow, tightness of the wrist, elbow, and/or shoulder. Get out of pronation with more activities in supination like these bar hangs. You could even do supinated grip pull ups, deadlifts, barbell curls, tire flips, etc.
10 - Weighted Planks (strength)
Contrary to popular belief the core is not just there to look good...even though that can be a good simple goal. It is there to support the spine, rib cage, and movements from upper to lower body, while protecting your organs. Planks are a great example of an isometric core exercise that places stress on core support. Just like any other muscle group we can increase that stress we place on the muscle by adding more volume (reps/sets), time under tension, or loading. Start light and gradually over time increase 1 and/or all 3 of these metrics.