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Accessorize to maximize: Exercises can augment your lifts

The word accessory can mean different things to different people. I think of car parts. Bolting new components to an engine, upgrading the wheels and tires or installing a hands-free radio. Maybe some window tint to abate the Las Vegas sun.

My wife thinks about clothing accessories. Earrings, shoes, bags, belts and sparkly things. If you ask gym rats or lifters what accessories they prefer they will more than likely give you the name of an exercise.

Accessory exercises are meant to supplement your major functional lifts. For example, if you are trying to build a stronger squat or dead lift, you would accessorize your hamstrings with some kind of hamstring-dominant exercise. For those who want a stronger bench press, one accessory you could do would work your triceps. There are many triceps exercises to choose from but one or two is fine. The next time you choose to work your chest you can pick some other accessory movements.

Today’s exercises are accessory exercises for the squat. Depending on your weakness when squatting, you can use either of these exercises to help develop a solid functional movement.

The main focus of today’s stability ball hip raise variations is the hip. Hip raises help train the gluteal and hamstring muscles to fire while the core stabilizes throughout the movement. You may be surprised how much power your hips can generate. Even if they are weaker than you would like, they can get strong fast with some focused training.

Training the hips to be the main driver for a squat is like opening the garage door and seeing that you have a supercar waiting for you. Once you learn how to unlock the power of your hips, movement becomes easier and less painful. All too often, the body defaults to a movement variation that is inefficient and viral.

If you notice that your squats are less stable than you would like them to be then use the single-leg hip raise as an accessory. They condition the core and legs to be solid under load. If you have trouble with balance during this exercise, be sure the core is tight. A tight core goes a long way.

Weighted hip raises are good for gaining strength. You don’t need to lift superheavy weight to benefit from this drill. Be sure to control the movement and focus on the muscles being used.

As a trainer, I use this exercise to teach patterning in the legs and to add some strength. If an athlete has a problem with the knees crashing inward during a squat, I will use the weighted hip raise and have them focus on pushing the knees outward during the lift. This movement transfers to a healthy squat.

Sometimes the placement of the bar on the hips can be uncomfortable. My solution is to use a rolled-up towel or a bar pad where the bar contacts the front of the hips. Using a towel is a cheap fix to the problem and works well.

Some people like to use a bar pad. It is a tube-shaped pad about a foot-and-a-half long that you use on a bar where it would make contact with the body. These work great, too. I do recommend buying your own instead of using the one that your gym supplies. The gym pads are a good way to spread staph infections if they aren’t cleaned regularly.

Hip raises are gentle on the knees and back. The shape of the ball safely supports the back and neck through the movement. The knees are not in a position in which they can be overloaded or overtorqued.

I recommend caution when loading the bar with larger weights. Keep in mind the weight capacity of the stability ball. They are a stout piece of workout equipment but most have a limit of about 300 pounds. If you are lifting enough weight to surpass the cap on the stability ball, I recommend moving to a workout bench instead.

Chris Huth is a Las Vegas trainer. He can be reached at 702trainer@gmail.com. If you are a Las Vegas trainer and want to share your love of fitness as a guest coach, please contact him. Consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.

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