Need Assistance? II

An overview on how to classify and select appropriate exercises for your training needs.

In Part I of this article, I presented a distinctive way of classifying weight training assistance exercises. The methodology was based on the Russian classification system of exercises used in the former Soviet Union and current day Russia. It was described as a system of exercises, made up of two distinct groups of exercises, the competitive exercises and the preparatory exercises. This preparatory category was also divided into two groups called the special preparatory (SP) exercises and the general preparatory (GP) exercises (Matveyev, as cited in Medvedyev, 1989). The competition and SP exercises were covered in detail in Part I. If you are unsure how using this approach can be beneficial for you read on. Matveyev stated, "One of the most essential distinctions to be made in the classification of the types of exercises employed in sport training are their similarity (and difference) from the type of sport that the individual will specialize. It is with this distinction, that all of the exercises are subdivided into competition and preparatory; then into SP and GP" (Matveyev, as cited in Medvedyev, 1989). Basically this classification system allows you to identify the exercises that are beneficial for your training specialization. It also allows you to determine those that may not be beneficial. In this article I will present the GP exercises, how to identify them and show you a variety of ways in which this group of exercises can be administered into your workouts.

General Preparatory Exercises

Before looking at the exercises lets first look at general preparation. General preparation is the state in which the athlete develops the foundation of training so that they can move on and specialize in the chosen sport or activity (Siff, 2000). In the Russian system special preparatory training focused on the development and perfecting of technique and skill of the sport. General preparation focused on providing a means of a multifaceted physical education and the training reflected the specifics of the sport specialization (Medvedyev, 1989; Siff, 2000). Stated more simply it provided the athlete with an understanding of their body and its role in their sport or activity. If the athlete was training for strength they didn’t focus their general preparation on endurance.

The exercises in this group are the basic and systematic ways used in the weight lifter's or athlete's general preparation. The idea behind them is that these exercises are broader in their scope (less specific to technique and development) and more varied than the competition or SP exercises. Theoretically, the list of these exercises is unlimited, but practicality does limit them in the scope of the time allotted to training (and not detracting from the other areas of training) and in the availability of training equipment. These are the exercises that can be used to create or recreate a foundation for a variety of athletic abilities. These general abilities are speed, strength, endurance, flexibility and other measures of fitness (Siff, 2000). The development of this foundation is important since it is upon this base that all future athletic development will be formed. As mentioned earlier the GP exercises are the most extensive and most diverse group of the training exercises, in comparison to the other groups and they serve several functions. They can help form, strengthen or restore the skills, which play either the auxiliary or developmental role in sport technique perfection (Medvedyev, 1989; Siff, 2000). In other words they can be used to help establish, maintain or reestablish a specific skill area. A practical approach would be to incorporate them in the early stages of training after a lay off when there is less focus on the competitive exercises. Another scenario would be to use them when the athlete is injured and cannot perform the competitive exercise(s). They can also be used to teach abilities that may be lacking or are developed insufficiently by the sport as well as increase or maintain work capacity (conditioning) (Medvedyev, 1989; Siff, 2000). In a sport requiring speed strength, like the shot put, there is no means of endurance or conditioning in the sport itself. These qualities need to be developed separately via the GP exercises. The final way in which these exercises can be used is as an active rest modality or to enhance recovery after strenuous training. They assist in these processes by counteracting the monotony of training (Medvedyev, 1989; Siff, 2000). Without going in depth, exercise does serve a role in both the physical and psychological recovery processes when applied appropriately. The use of an active rest phase in training or a recovery exercise as part of the cool down, allows recovery to take place more quickly. Exercises used here should not be long in duration or done intensely and most importantly should not increase fatigue in the overall training (Siff & Yessis, 1992). The GP exercises role is to support and help maintain the abilities in the other two groups of exercises by either helping to improve them directly or to aid them in recovery.

In the GP exercises you will find the use of barbells, dumbbells / kettlebells, machines of all sorts, bodyweight exercises, and plyometric exercises regardless of the sport or activity you are training. You will also encounter an array of sporting activities such as cycling, climbing, and sprinting and running just to name a few that can be used. These exercises typically share none of the technical aspects of the competitive lifts. It is encouraged that lighter weights be handled on these exercises due to the nature of their diverse technical approaches (Medvedyev, 1989; Sheiko, 1998; Siff, 2000). This means you can include all single joint exercises as well as the majority of machine and DB work. Typically many people would refer to the exercises in this group as the bodybuilding exercises due to the single muscle focus of most of the exercises. Besides the weight training you will include activities like biking, swimming, climbing and running all of which can play a role in the second and third functions of this category. Keep in mind that each of the weight training exercises can be used in all three areas of GP training. Applying the lifting exercises to the second and third areas would require modifications in the intensity and volume each was performed. In the following section I will present examples of how general preparatory exercises can be used in each role for specific groups of weight trainers.

If you recall in Part one I provided several examples of competitive and special preparatory exercises for four different weight training groups, powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, bodybuilders and recreational lifters / athletes. Using these same training examples the powerlifter's competition exercise was the squat. An example of a general preparatory exercise for the squat would be the leg press. The leg press focuses on leg strength development similar to the special preparatory exercises but it lacks the technique similarities of the to the competitive exercise. Beyond the technical differences the leg press allows you to train the legs without having to vertically support or shoulder the barbell. The leg press would be used in the auxiliary or developmental role and focuses on strength or hypertrophy, specifically in the quads. For a conditioning GP exercise the powerlifter could use sled dragging for distances between 50 and 100 yards for multiple sets. Weighting the sled is necessary and this can range between 30% of body weight to 50% body weight depending upon the distance dragged and the conditioning levels of the athlete. Rest periods should be kept short one minute or less to help facilitate this conditioning effect as well. In the recovery mode, walking lunges could be used. These would be done with no weight and would cover distance of 20-30 yd. for 2 – 4 sets.

In the Weightlifting example the competitive lift was the clean and jerk with the emphasis on the jerk. A GP exercise that would help in developing lockout strength would be the seated dumbbell press. By placing the seated DB press in the auxiliary role we will help to develop the lockout in the jerk. From a conditioning standpoint med ball pressing drills would be used. Using a medicine ball the weightlifter would focus on higher repetitions 5-10 with relatively short rest periods (30 sec. or less). By performing a variety of presses on the back, from a standing position, etc., a large volume of work can be done. The recovery mode would be accomplished by using ergometer rowing. Row for 10 - 30 minute time frame with a low end stroke rate of 22 - 24 strokes per minute with moderate resistance. Start with the 10-minute time and increase as your ability allows.

The bodybuilding example used the Incline Bench press as it's competition lift and it was selected to develop hypertrophy and strength in the chest and shoulders. A GP exercise for this lift would be the DB front raise. It would be more specific to developing these qualities in the shoulder or front delt area. For a conditioning exercise the bodybuilder could use the push up. Like the med ball work above a variety of push-ups could be performed. Feet elevated, wide hands, and narrow hands could all be used. Sets of 10 and up could be used with rest between sets ranging from two minutes and down depending on the number of reps performed. The recovery work for this part of the body would be swimming. Use a steady pace (no sprint work). The times can range from 10 minutes to 30 minutes depending upon ability. If you are not a proficient swimmer (which many BB may not) an alternative approach is to do a lap, recover for the same time it took to do the lap and repeat for the 10 - 30 min. time frame. Start with the 10-minute time and increase when you are able to decreasing your rest times between reps by 30%.

The recreational lifter or athlete that we discussed in Part I used the Power Clean for their competitive lift. The GP auxiliary lift here would have the athlete focus on a plyometric exercise like a box jump to continue the development of speed. The development of explosiveness from this exercise is the foundation for all jumping and explosive lifting. For a GP conditioning exercise rope jumping can be used since it stays consistent with the speed and explosiveness characteristics. Initially this can be done for a time interval of 10 – 20 min. with work intervals and rest intervals set up on a 1:1 ratio. For the GP recovery mode a timed or distance run could be used. The athlete or recreational lifter would set a time of 10 – 20 minutes or a distance of 1 – 2 miles and run at an easy 10-12 minutes per mile pace. Below is a summary of the above exercises as well as some additional choices.

Olympic Lifting
Power Lifting
Athlete / Rec Lifter

Competition Exercise
Clean and Jerk (Jerk Portion)
Incline Bench Press
Power Clean

General preparatory exercises

Auxiliary / Developmental Seated DB Press
Leg Press
DB Front Raises
Box Jumps

Behind Neck Press
Hack Squat Machine
Side DB Raises
Hurdle Hops

Tricep extension
Leg Extension
Pec Deck Machine

Work Capacity / Conditioning Med Ball Presses
Sled Pulling
Push Ups
Jumping Rope

Push Ups
Sprint Work
Med Ball Press
Stadium Stair Runs

Active Rest / Recovery Rowing
Walking Lunges
Distance or timed Run


In summary, the categorization of assistance exercises can look like a daunting task. The guidelines laid out in these two articles should make it more manageable. Keep in mind that the preparatory exercises are easy to distinguish from each other when you follow the guidelines. Remember in the system SP technical exercises are those that are variations of the competitive lifts and help to reinforce the mastery of the competitive lift’s technique. The SP developmental exercises can be done with barbells, dumbbells, machines or other implements and while these exercises can be significantly different in terms of technique from the competitive exercises they will share the same actions developed. The GP exercises on the other hand will share none of the technical aspects of the competitive lifts but will develop, maintain or redevelop the athletic abilities needed in the sport. I hope that this approach has broadened your ability to effectively plan and coordinate your training programs and the exercises that you are using in them. Creating competitive, and preparatory categories will allow you to alleviate exercises that offer no development and allow you to focus on the exercises that are most effective for developing the abilities your sport requires.