Without Proper Form, You’ll Go Nowhere
When you first start lifting weights, one of the things you’re told is that you should lighten the load you’re working with and focus on form. I have a bunch of opinions on why you have to learn some things for yourself, but that’s another story.
Unfortunately, this is one of the most neglected principles of weightlifting. Just walk into a commercial gym and look around! I can virtually guarantee that half of the people you see are lifting weights that are way too heavy for them with god-awful form.
Of course, you have to take a self-righteous moment in your head to silently judge their terrible form. Admit it, we all do it. The thing that separates normal people from douchewads is weather or not you’re vocal about it. (Hint: don’t be.)
Let’s not stray TOO far from the point, though. What you have to remember and constantly remind yourself is that you’re in the gym to build your strength, not to test it.
If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.
Alright Tony Robbins is a weird dude but he really nailed this one, especially if you apply it to weight training. The guys/girls who go to the gym to test their strength are only dis-servicing themselves. They don’t make any progress because they do the same thing day-after-day, session-after-session.
Great, so what does practicing form have to do with testing/building strength?
In practice it’s actually fairly simple. If you’re just lifting the heaviest weights you can without regard for programming, you’re not really training anything.
Your neurons will fire the muscle fibers that it already knows how to fire as best as it can, but you won’t be teaching your body to recruit new ones. Your motor recruitment pattern will remain roughly the same.
What’s the problem with that? Muscle imbalances. If you have a poor motor recruitment pattern — in other words, you aren’t using ALL of the muscles you should be using for a lift — you’ll develop imbalanced weaknesses/strengths over time. This can lead to a whole host of problems worthy of a few more topics itself.
Let’s take the back squat, for example:
Beautiful. This anthropomorphic looking figure seems to know what’s up! Okay, maybe things aren’t perfect here — knees appear to be quite far forward (granted, “his” femurs look like they’re longer than the titanic), BUT there are a few essentials in place:
- The bar remains over his mid foot throughout the lift.
- He appears to maintain a neutral spine
- He stands up completely straight and tall at the end/beginning of the lift.
For this example, number 3 is probably the most important point! Let’s imagine he didn’t stand up completely straight at the end/beginning portion. Here’s what would happen:
- He would under-recruit his glutes
- He would under-recruit his calves
- He would over-recruit his hip flexors and not stretch (elongate) them at the top
Ok, you still haven’t told me why form is so important!
Calm down Nancy. I actually just answered it, you just need to do some logical deduction to figure things out. In case you don’t want to, though, i’ll help you out.
Imagine our anthro-guy-thing kept training with bad form for 6 months or a year. What would happen? Well, relative to his quads and hamstrings, his glutes/calves/hips would be incredibly weak. He was under engaging them by not using proper form!
Again, this imbalance can lead to tons of problems like greater risk for injury and pain, but for this article we are talking about strength — and he’ll be lacking that too very quickly if he doesn’t fix his form.
Our guy in the example can only go so far if he isn’t using all of the muscles the squat is designed to use! If he isn’t recruiting his glutes, think how much power and potential for muscle-work he’s leaving on the table without strengthening them.
Sooner, rather than later, he’ll plateau and join the rest of the gym bros in doing the same thing he’s always done.
Let’s recap, then, why it’s so important to get form dialed before loading weight:
good form -> good motor recruitment patterns -> strengthening muscle groups evenly ->increase strength evenly -> lift more weight!
So, drop the ego and strip the weights, duh!
I hope you found this helpful. Once I started spending a little more time learning about anatomy and functional strength training this stuff started to really open my eyes to a bunch of things I was doing wrong. Stay tuned for more!