If you’re a strength or power athlete, chances are you seek a bigger squat, bench press, and deadlift. Obviously you need to train these lifts to build them, but assistance exercises are necessary to strengthen weak links in order to boost your strength on particular lifts. The trick is to learn which assistance lifts transfer to your big lifts.

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave for the past couple of decades, you’re probably familiar with most of the great assistance exercises espoused by powerlifters such as good mornings, box squats, reverse hypers, 45-degree back raises, glute ham raises, pull-thrus, Zercher squats, board presses, and floor presses. While these are excellent staples in powerlifting, we’re always looking for new movements that can benefit our strength levels and help build our big lifts. This article will present you with five new assistance exercises that target the posterior chain.

#1 Barbell hip thrusts

The hip thrust targets the glutes and hamstrings. By placing the load directly on the hips, much of the core and upper body activity involved in squatting and deadlifting is eliminated, resulting in added stability and increased contribution of the hip extensors. If your glutes and hamstrings aren’t up to par, the hip thrust is your “go to” exercise. The hip thrust is an unbelievable assistance exercise for squatting and deadlifting simply because it’s a movement that can be trained extremely heavy. Many lifters can hip thrust more than they can raw squat. I’ve tested the EMG activity of dozens of hip extension exercises, and the hip thrust activates more mean and peak glute activity than any other exercise. Strongman, Kevin Nee, is a big fan of hip thrusts and currently does them with 600 lbs of resistance!

The most challenging part of the hip thrust is at the top in the contracted position. Due to this accentuated region of stress, the hip thrust may lend itself well to the lockout portion of the deadlift, which is characterized by squeezing the glutes and pushing the hips forward. Surprisingly, the hip thrust may lend itself well to all three power lifts—the squat, deadlift, and even the bench press. Getting incredibly strong at the hip thrust may help add stability and leg drive to heavy bench pressing. Just look at the top portion of the movement and notice its similarity to benching.

Make sure you push through your heels, avoid hyperextending your low back, and achieve full hip extension. Many individuals go too heavy and end up failing to achieve full hip extension, substituting lumbar extension for hip extension or rising up on to the balls of the feet. If you try this movement and find that you’re considerably weak in comparison to your squat and deadlift, you may have weak glutes and could benefit tremendously from incorporating hip thrusts into your routine.

#2 Barbell glute bridges

The barbell glute bridge doesn’t move the hips through a significant range of motion and is therefore more of a “partial” movement. However, there are some benefits to the inclusion of partial movements into your routine. The primary benefit is that more weight can be used. Many claim that the body responds to these heavier movements by ramping up in terms of neural drive and connective tissue strength, which will prepare the body for stronger full range movements.

Once you reach sufficient strength levels on the barbell glute bridge, you’ll find that your body will slide backward throughout the duration of the set. By resting your shoulders against your partner’s Achilles tendons, you’ll prevent backward sliding and increase stability. Yes, this looks gay but so does spotting your buddy on heavy squats, so get over it.

#3 Prone thoracic extensions

In order to keep the chest up on squats, you need a ton of strength in your erector spinae. Fred Hatfield used a variation of this exercise to build his 1000-lb squat back in the day. He stated that when he got to a point where he could use 225 lbs on this particular movement for reps, it gave him the confidence and back strength to squat a grand. Although he used a strap harness that allowed him to grip onto a barbell, I believe the safety bar works even better because it strengthens the posterior chain from the low back all the way up to the neck. My EMG experiments indicate that this exercise leads to more erector spinae activity than squats and deadlifts, so a transfer of strength to your big lifts should be realized if your upper back strength isn’t up to par.

Make sure you keep your legs bent to take the glutes and hamstrings out of the movement, and make sure you keep your low back “locked up” and bend at the thoracic spine rather than the lumbar spine.

#4 Pendulum donkey kicks

The pendulum donkey kick is an excellent quad and glute builder. The best part about the pendulum on the reverse hyper is that the directional load vector dynamically reorients itself so maximum tension is realized at each angle. This means there is great tension at the start of the exercise as well as at the conclusion of the exercise. The result is impressive levels of mean and peak glute activity and a surprising amount of quad and core activity as well. For this reason, it’s also a great conditioning exercise.

Don’t let this exercise fool you. It’s really tough. Women tend to love this exercise because they’re always seeking great glute exercises and great conditioning exercises that are easy to learn.

Make sure you hold onto the side rails of the reverse hyper for increased transfer through the lats and core. Don’t allow the lumbar spine to hyperextend or rotate. Keep the core braced and extend the hips through a full range of motion.

#5 Seated band abductions

The upper glutes need to be very strong in order to keep the knees out and spread the floor at the bottom of a squat. The bottom position is where most lifter’s knees cave in, so it makes sense to train the upper glutes in this position. For this reason, using a band in the seated position works extremely well for building transverse abduction/external rotation strength necessary to keep proper powerlifting squat form.

Double loop the band, place it around your legs below the knees, and try to emulate your squat form. Hold the contracted position for a second or two before performing additional repetitions.


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