When it comes to a multi-functional discipline like CrossFit, you need to have a well-rounded training regimen. Focusing solely on the big lifts, like the squat, deadlift, clean, and snatch simply won’t cut it. Yet, this is common practice in the community.


In this article you’ll discover a half dozen auxiliary exercises that will make you stronger, faster, and above all, more functional. As a result, you’ll be better prepared to crush your WOD and hit some PRs. You can combine these six exercises into a once-per-week workout. Do three sets of 8-12 reps of each exercise.


rack of dumbbells

Doing just the big lifts seems like it should cover everything, but there still may be holes in your game. [Photo courtesy Pixabay]


1. Glute Bridge

Many people are unable to activate and engage their glutes when performing the basic power moves. If your glutes are weak, you will never be able to lift heavy on moves like the squat, clean, and press. Here is how to perform the glute bridge, the best movement there is to activate and engage your glutes.


  1. Lie on the floor with knees bent. Your back should be flat on the ground.
  2. Keeping your core tight, draw you heels in as close as you can to your butt. Put your arms out to the sides.
  3. Now push up as high as you can with your hips. In the top position, your back should be straight rather than arched. As you push up, flex your glutes as tightly as possible.
  4. Hold for 3 seconds as you contract your glutes and then come back down.


To increase the difficulty, place a barbell over your hips and perform the movement.


2. One Arm Dumbbell Row

This exercises involves horizontal pulling, which is an essential movement pattern in CrossFit. Few boxes have programming to enhance their athletes' strength in this plane. The one-arm dumbbell row allows you to activate and strengthen your rhomboids and mid/low traps safely and efficiently. Here’s how to do it:


  1. Support one arm and knee on a bench while the opposite foot is on the floor.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in your non-supported hand and let it hang down to the floor.
  3. Shift your center of gravity to your chest and upper abdomen. This will allow the upper back muscles, rather than the lower body to take the force of the rowing action.
  4. From a bottom hang position, retract the shoulder as you row the dumbbell up toward your chest. The elbow should come up and behind you.
  5. Squeeze in the top contracted position and slowly lower.


3: Bulgarian Dumbbell Split Squat

This is a great move to develop flexibility and strength in the quads and hip flexors without over-stressing the lower back. Putting the rear foot on a bench gives you a much better hip flexor and quad stretch. Holding dumbbells rather than using a bar gives you a lower center of gravity and improves your stability. Perform it like this:


  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Place one foot to the front with your knee slightly bent, and your rear foot on top of a bench behind you.
  3. Keeping your body upright and your head facing forward, lower your rear knee almost completely to the floor. Maintain your balance with your opposite foot and tightening your core.
  4. Slowly straighten your front leg to return to the start position. Repeat for the desired number of reps before switching to the other leg.


 4: Seated Dumbbell Press

This exercise will provide you with the strength and power base to be able to perform overhead movements, as well as such challenging bodyweight moves as handstand push ups. Perform the seated dumbbell press as follows:


  1. Sit on the end of a bench holding dumbbells at shoulder height, palms facing forward.
  2. Press the weights overhead straight up. Do not bring them together at the top of the press.
  3. On the way up, twist your palms so that they are facing each other at the top position.
  4. Briefly hold the weights in the top position, without locking your arms out. Slowly lower and repeat.


It is important to keep your core locked and tight during the movement. Do not allow any back swing or momentum to ‘cheat’ the weight up.


5: Hammer Curls

Hammer curls target the often neglected forearm muscles and brachialis, which are key in pull ups and kettlebell swings. In fact, developing these muscles makes it a lot easier to grip the bar on any other exercise. Here's how you do them:


  1. Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, at your sides with your thumbs pointing forward. You should be holding the weights just like you would a hammer.
  2. Keep your abs tense, shoulders back, chest high and your spine neutral.
  3. Curl one dumbbell in an arc toward your shoulder.
  4. Pause at the top, then slowly lower, following the same arc.
  5. Work your arms alternately.


6: Bent-Over Row

The Bent-Over Row is a mainstay in building a strong and powerful upper back. It will directly work your lats, providing you with the power base for pull ups and muscle ups. Perform bent-over rows as follows:


  1. Stand upright in front of a loaded barbell with feet shoulder width apart and toes under the bar. 
  2. Shrug your shoulders back and slightly down, to form a hollow back. Keep your core engaged throughout the movement.
  3. Hinge at the hip, allowing your knees to bend to lower your body, keeping your spine neutral.
  4. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, with your arms outside your knees. Keep your back flat, your heels pressed into the floor and your eyes straight ahead.
  5. Partially straighten your legs, keeping the angle of your back constant until the bar is just below your knees. Your body should be braced at the hips.
  6. Pull the barbell up, flexing your arms and raising your elbows, until it touches your body.
  7. Pause, then slowly lower to the start position.


To switch it up, try an underhand grip to target the back from a different angle.


Little Lifts to Help Your Big Lifts

Taking the time to work on these accessory exercises will pay off big time. You will activate, engage, and strengthen your glutes to allow you to boost your squat PR. Your back and shoulder muscles will get stronger, allowing you to overcome weaknesses and you will protect yourself from injury. As a result, you’ll be a fitter, stronger CrossFitter.


Need some more ways to boost your progress at the box?

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