I was just reviewing my email and found a great article from Tom Venuto on the importance of form. Reading this article got me thinking about how many different things I’ve read about form and how this article applies to what I’ve read. I am going to take Tom’s 6 techniques for using better form and expand on them here.
1. Eliminate extraneous body movement and momentum
There used to be an older guy at my gym who would do his bicep barbell curls in the power rack. He would put the pins at his knee level and load up the bar. He would curl like a monster. Everyone in the gym was extremely impressed with how much he could “curl” except me. I was watching his form and was amazed that he didn’t throw out his back. Every rep involved rocking back and forth inside the power rack to get the bar up. He would barely keep the bar at the top of the movement before dropping it (literally) down to his thighs. Was he working his biceps or his back? In Tom’s article he gives you a test to see how much you can really curl. He tells you to “stand against a post with your heels, butt, and upper back all touching the post. Now see how much you can curl without losing contact with the post. Don’t be surprised if those 45lb plates get reduced to 25s or even 10s!”
This is so true! In my current routine I am doing something called wall curls. This article I found on eHow explains how to do wall curls properly. When I first did this routine I felt like crying every single time I had to do my biceps. The pain was incredible and hit me very early in the set (3-4 repetitions). I couldn’t believe how hard it was to curl small 20 lb. dumbbells using correct wall curl form. The reason it is so hard is that the wall eliminates the extraneous body movement and momentum.
One caveat I will now add to all of this—biomechanically correct form is the true form you should use. The Experiment of One tells us that everyone is different and it applies to lifting technique as well. It is natural to have your shoulders get pulled a little bit forward during a curl, so don’t fight it too much. What you want to avoid is using momentum to get the weight up.
2. Think “Squeeze” and “Contract”
I recently relearned how to do bent over rows and the results have been amazing. I was taught that a little upward movement (natural upward movement that is) is fine as long as you lead off the movement with contracting (squeezing) your shoulder blades together. I found that much lighter weight fatigued my muscles than previously possible. It is the same with the lat pulldown movement. You have to let the weight stack pull your muscles to full extension before starting the downward contraction movement. It hurts, but it is the most effective way to see growth.
3. Leave your ego at the door
I loved this quotation in Tom Venuto’s article from Australian strength coach, Ian King: “I would say that most load selection in strength training is based upon what impact it will have on those watching, not what impact it will have on the body. If you were more serious about your body than your short-term ego, you would take off 75% of the load and perform the movement in a manner that had some lasting impact on your body!”
I learned this when returning to weight training after my back surgery 4 years ago. I quickly learned that using correct form was far more important than being macho. It all started to make sense to me when I read that consistency was the best way to see gains at the gym. I remember thinking “If I get injured I can’t be very consistent, can I?” It was about that time that I read a quotation from Charles Poliquin (also quoted in Tom Venuto’s article), “ Successful bodybuilders feel the muscle not the weight.”
Lifting heavy is something I advocate, but it is important to remember that lifting heavy is defined as lifting as much weight as you can handle with proper form.
4. Always think “more tension”
Time under tension is another principle that I learned a long time ago that is repeated in Tom Venuto’s article. One thing Tom mentions is avoiding lockout and it is something I am going to consciously put to the test in my next upper body workout. Tom said “[t]he next time you do biceps or shoulders, try a few sets of barbell curls and dumbbell lateral raises with no pause whatsoever. Do not stop moving until the set is finished. You will be forced to reduce your weight substantially, but remember, form is more important than weight. The combination of continuous motion with not locking out will give you a killer workout you won’t forget!” Check out my accountability blog in a few days to find out how this experiment goes.
5. Use a slower negative (eccentric movement)
My mentor, Carlos DeJesus, taught me that slow repetitions generate great intensity and great intensity generates intense muscular growth. When I first tried the Full Body Slam (as Carlos calls it) I did so with 3 seconds up and 3 seconds down repetitions. It blew my mind how hard the workout was. I have actually tried the 1 minute chin up Tom mentions and found it to be brutal. Most people don’t have the ability to stick it out because of the extreme intensity. Slow things down and you will see growth.
6. Use a slower positive (concentric) movement
I generally combine this advice with number 5 above. It works to keep the muscle under tension during the entire movement. It really is quite incredible. I have even read some people describe the “perfect repetition” as a very slow, controlled, time under tension repetition. I can personally attest to the fact that this type of movement definitely works.
If you want to see changes in your body, pay attention to your form. Lift correctly and at all times. Not only will you be working harder with less weight, you will be avoiding injury at the same time. I’m going to really focus on this in the coming weeks. Visit my accountability blog for more on how this works for me.