Why Are There Accessory Exercises at All?
I could, and I have, put together programs where all of the exercises are done at the same intensity. And for a general purpose, full body program that's perfectly fine. Though you will want to program the bigger exercises first so that you aren't fatigued when doing your deadlifts or squats.
However, for sport specific and advanced programs there is a level of focus on specific exercises that creates better benefits. If all the exercises in a day were at the 5RM intensity then the later exercises would suffer, you just wouldn't be able to actually provide max effort.
Programming Accessory Exercises
Accessory exercises will follow a couple of basic guidelines for how they are incorporated into the program.
- Later in the workout. Do the big, complex, multi-joint, power and primary exercises first.
- Lower intensity. Accessory exercises should not be more intense than 8RM. In some cases I won't do more than 10 or 12 RM, for exercises that use a small number of muscles.
- Cover the movement patterns that aren't under the primary exercises. The objective is a balanced full-body program, but not all the muscles need the same intensity each day.
Progressing Accessory Exercises
With our major exercises it's important to see progress. If you're not seeing progress it means that there is a problem that needs to be fixed. With the accessory exercises there should be some progress over time, but it does not need to be fast. If I do the same weight for an entire month that doesn't worry me.
And some of the more minor exercises are really about factors like balance and stability rather than strength. In these cases it's sufficient to just keep doing them, rather than to push them to be substantially harder. These are exercises like the mini-bands that I've described before.
Don't confuse the purpose of primary and accessory exercises. They are both necessary parts of a complete program but the primary exercises are the ones that will have the biggest effect on performance, injury prevention and health. The accessory exercises round out the program and complete it.