TweetCaCee Cobb, You Are My Muse
By Jim Wendler
It was a strange day when CaCee Cobb announced that she was leaving her job as personal assistant to Jessica Simpson. Here was a girl that seemed to have it made—a fairly easy job, fame, and probably a nice paycheck. She’s not a bad looking woman, either. Did her relationship with Nick Lachey, as reported by the tabloids, have any effect on this decision? Or maybe her job wasn’t all that great and we are only seeing one side of the story? Whatever the case may be, I’m sure that Jessica Simpson will be at a complete loss for awhile.
Without an assistant, what will she do? Who will carry her bags and listen to her incessant whining? Who will pop blackheads and wash the underside of the toilet seat after a late night Taco Bueno run?
For the right price, I will. I could probably also double as a bodyguard or be someone to bounce ideas off on. For example…
Jessica: Jim, what do you think of my new song?
Jim: I think it has the same appeal as a festering herpes sore does.
Jessica: You’re the best.
This celebrity episode as well as Dave’s interview with Matt Krocaleski and talk with Louie Simmons made me (again) realize the importance of assistant work. I should also point out that if I do not get the job of assistant to Ms. Simpson, I am part of Team Lachey.
The purpose of your assistance lifts is to make your main lifts (squat, bench, deadlift) better. But “better” takes on a few different meanings. Let’s examine this a little further.
Increase the size of the muscle: One of the main benefits of the assistance lifts is to increase the muscle cross section. In general, the bigger the muscle, the stronger it is. Of course, this isn’t always true. But for every skinny, strong guy out there, there are 1.5 million big sons of *****es that are equally strong. Even lighter lifters are thick as hell. If you have ever seen Brian Schwab in person, you will know what I mean. He may compete in the 165 lbs weight class, but he is thicker than most 225 lbs wannabes.
Variety of set and rep ranges: If you’re strictly training for powerlifting or something similar, the reps rarely go above five reps. Assistance lifts are generally used for higher reps (6–20), and they tap into a rep range that most powerlifters have deemed illegal.
Balance: The greatest example of balance is between the quads and the hamstrings. For many people, their quads are much stronger than their hamstrings, and this cannot be corrected by simply squatting with a different stance. Assistance lifts will allow you to add needed volume to a lagging body part that cannot be accomplished via the classical lifts.
Proper form: By strengthening the correct muscles, you will be able to get your body in the correct position to perform the lifts safely and effectively.
GFH: I know this is the same as the first, but maybe this will register with you a little better. High intensity/low rep training will yield some hypertrophy, but this is generally seen over a long period of time. By adding in some high volume assistance work, you can reap the benefits of the low rep training and still add some much needed muscle mass.
No disruption of skill work: I think that this is probably one of the most important purposes of assistance work so please bear with me on this one. I have been trying for months to figure out how to say this! The bench press, deadlift, and squat are skills. Now, I know many of you Olympic lifting purists will laugh when I say this, but there is a HUGE difference between just squatting and squatting for competitions. (Insert IPA joke here.) Just like there is a difference between a regular Joe jogging around his neighborhood and the Olympic distance runner, this is a skill that needs to be honed.
For a powerlifter, this skill training (and strength training, as many of the lifts are done between 80–90 percent) is often disrupted with higher rep training on the same exercise. This may lead to a disruption in form and cause negative motor patterns. Many lifters will use derivations of the lifts (for example, a close grip bench) for higher reps, but this is a different lift than a competition bench press. If you couple this with skill training, you should be OK. To make this easy, let’s say that I’m using the dumbbell bench press. I’m not trying to mimic the form of a competition bench press, but rather I’m using the exercise to help build the bench press. I have to then use this newly built strength and apply it to the bench press.
Another question that needs to be discussed (and hopefully answered) is in regards to the box squat. One of the toughest things for people to do is make the transition from the box squat to the regular squat. I think the main problem with this is that people have not mimicked the form of a free squat onto a box squat. In my opinion, the box squat should look exactly like your free squat if you are using it exclusively (or almost exclusively) in training your squat. Why? Because it is on this day that you are training your skill. Don’t adjust your form to be better at box squatting. I have done this, Dave has done this, and I know many of you have done this.
Now that we’ve established that assistance lifts are important, the next step is trying to get better at them. It’s not that easy. There are many assistance lifts that we can track and get better at and there are many that we can’t. What this comes down to is Nerd versus Hippie. In the Nerd corner, we have the person that tracks everything, not only his max effort and dynamic work but his training weights for laterals, pushdowns, and the number of wipes it takes to keep his too tighty whiteys stain free. I belonged to the nerd crowd for approximately six minutes.
In the Hippie corner (on which I usually reside, or at least I greatly lean toward the Nerd/Hippie spectrum), you have the lifter that knows his max effort and dynamic lifts, but after that, it’s a free for all. They left their cares and worries at the commune (whose organically-raised bell peppers are delicious) and just let things take care of themselves.
The judges scoring: Nerd: 0; Hippie: 0. In honor of the 2006 World Cup, I decided that there would be no score!
Nerd verdict: Colecovision sucks! There is no reason to track the smaller lifts or those that aren’t going to be raised a significant amount over time. And quit carrying your training log around with you. You are a lifter, not an accountant. You are wasting too much time and mental energy. Stop sweating the small stuff.
Hippie verdict: Your total represents 420! Freedom needs responsibility.
The goal is to keep track of at least the first two exercises of the day. Since most of us know and keep track of the first exercise, this really leads to the second exercise as the challenge, especially to all you long-haired freaks.
Now the second exercise—if the lifts that you do are placed in order of need/importance, etcetera, then etcetera will be the second most important. This is because you placed it second! The second exercise will not always be trackable every time you train. There are times where you might do a max effort exercise and some reverse hypers and ab work—two things that aren’t always the easiest to break records on. You can track these though.
Let’s look at this in the real world using my recent workout as an example:
· Box squat w/safety squat bar–6 x 2 at 405; 2 x 2 at 455
· Leg press–worked up to eight plates for 10 reps
· GHR–four sets
· Abs–four sets
The two exercises that I have chosen to track are the box squat and the leg press.
The box squat is going on a three week wave (405, 435, 455) so I’m going to perform the leg press on this day for the same three week wave. For the first week, I’m just going to establish a RM. I’m not looking to kill myself, but I’m trying to at least get a number. The second training session, I will simply try to add more weight for 10 reps or get a few more reps with the same weight. On the third training session, I will simply try to improve on it.
For the following two waves (remember that each wave counts for three training sessions, not necessarily three weeks), I will pick two other exercises and do the same thing. Remember this:
Week 1: Establish RM with given weight
Week 2: Try to break RM or do more reps with same weight
Week 3: Break your record again
When I come back to leg presses, I will NOT try to improve on the final RM in the first workout. I will begin again but will look only to improve on the final RM in the last week of the phase. As much as we’d like, we cannot improve in a linear fashion.
I realize that some of this stuff will be second nature to many of you, but many of us take assistance work for granted. It’s this assistance work that can and will make a huge difference in training. Even if you don’t use a three week wave or do something vastly different, make sure to keep track of the assistance work that you feel is most important. Make an effort to improve on these lifts, and I guarantee that you will get stronger.
Jim Wendler is the senior editor and sales manager of Elite Fitness Systems. He was employed as a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Kentucky, where he worked with several different teams including football and baseball. He played football and graduated from the University of Arizona where he earned three letters. Jim’s best lifts include a 1000 lbs squat, a 675 lbs bench press, 700 lbs deadlift, and a 2375 total in the 275 lbs class.