Written by Ben Prinsloo
Perfect Your Form
Proper form is an ever elusive concept. Everyone talks about it, and yet so little people do it. It is so easy to become more occupied with the amount you lift rather than how you lift. A barbell curl becomes a cheat curl, with a little hip thrust to get the weight up. An incline bench press becomes a flat bench press because you lift your hips so high. A squat becomes a good morning, because you use so much lower back, and such little legs.
There is no doubt, however, that we do get some results from these little cheats, at first. A cheat curl definitely can increase the size of your bicep, because despite your hips getting involved, your arms are learning to lift more, and as a result, grow more.
There is, however, a low ceiling in terms of what you can gain from cheat moves, and in the end, better form means better results and better longevity. Once we have entered the dark void of bad form, it is very hard to get out. Not only does it require relearning a move in some cases, but it requires dropping the ego, apparently at the expense of some gains, and that is a very difficult affair. It does not have to be, however.
Regarding the ego, correcting your form can still get you brownie points. In the same way, you want to be that person dead-lifting all the weight in the room, proper form demands just as much respect. Hearing the grunts of someone squatting 300kg, while only committing to half the move is pitiful compared to hearing the bang of the squat bar hitting the safety arms on each rep, even when the weight on the barbell is substantially less.
Additionally, when you get your weight back up to an impressive number, with good form, you are a lot more impressive than you were with the same amount on dodgy form. Lastly, and if it was not blatantly obvious from the beginning, drop the ego.
Inevitably, ego plays a role when you train hard – you know you are strong, you know you are fit, you want to be stronger, look stronger, and so on. Ego will always have a place in the gym. But too quickly does it take too big a role. If your ego is holding you back from lifting better and getting better results, then your ego is too big, and you need to check yourself. The best way to go about this is to have a moment of self-reflection, drop the weight, and go back to the beginning to get better form and find some better progression.
Just so you understand how you do exit the void – it means lowering your weight and going through a very strict form. In some cases, it might mean starting right from the beginning. When I had to correct my squat I dropped all the weight and went back to a bare barbell. Going from to a bare barbell is a humbling process. Every squat was low enough that my bum touched my calves, and the bar touched the safety arms on the rack.
By the second legs workout, I had another plate on the bar, with the same form, by the third workout I had 2 plates on the bar, and I got back to my original squat quite quickly – but with phenomenally better form. Despite having dropped the weight of my squat, within a month my legs were already growing bigger than they were before I committed myself to better form.
The reason for this was the muscles were being put under shock – they were being stimulated in a way they had not been stimulated in for a very long time. The result was a quick response. This means that despite what may seem to lead to a loss of gains, going back to where you started can actually result in gains, and you do not need to be so stressed about losing those hard-fought results.
If you are having some nagging issues – like getting frustrated with the development of your lower quads despite many squats or getting frustrated with a lagging upper chest despite many incline presses, a bad form might be the reason. As I alluded to earlier, a squat that stops too high will ease the tension on your lower quad, and an incline press where your hips are lifting will ease the tension on your upper chest. This means that you will not get the results that you seek to get from these exercises.
However, if you begin to squat lower, or keep your hips and lower back flush against the bench, you may find that these nagging issues begin to subside. The point is that your proportions will become better, and your all around strength will become better if you correct your form. If you are committing yourself to taxing exercises such as the squat, you should reap the full benefit. If you are not, your workouts are inefficient, and you are wasting energy. So to fully maximise the efficiency and benefits of your workout, fix your form.
It ought to go without saying that your training lifespan will increase as a result of better form, but let me elaborate. Bad form means weak points developing, dodgy movements for joints, and volumes of weight that your body cannot sufficiently handle. All of that means injuries, and injuries mean less effective, and eventually zero training. If you want to keep training for a long period of time, or for the rest of your life, you need to take the time to ensure that your body is treated appropriately for such a pledge. The biggest part of that means making sure you practice correct form.
There is a place for some bad form, as I said earlier. Sometimes a cheat curl will help you break through a plateau. But there is also a correct way of going about cheat form – if cheat form means crunching your spine to deadlift a large weight, it is obviously a bad idea – the benefits do not justify the costs.
But if it means swinging your hips in a curl, once in a blue moon, then a cheat set or two can come out on top of costs versus benefits analysis. That being said, if you are one of the many gym goers who’s compound lifts are predominantly bad form, drop the weight, drop the ego, and commit yourself to a month of relearning, and regaining your strength and technique.