One of the lesser-known dichotomies in the gym is the split between form perfectionists and those who just focus on moving more weight regardless of how bad their technique is.
People seem to cling to one extreme on the form spectrum, but is either side really better than the other? Well, not so unlike many other topics related to health and fitness, there is a balance to be found here.
Being overly strict with your form and focusing purely on technique usually inhibits the trainee because they have to greatly reduce the load they put on the working muscle(s). These people usually tout “quality over quantity”, which does have some bearing in the weight room, but there is still a fine line when it comes to worrying about perfect form/technique.
On the other hand, trainees who are more about quantity as opposed to quality may be so reckless with their form that they’re greatly increasing their risk for injury and wear-and-tear. We’ve all seen those guys in the gym that put way too much weight on the bar and just throw technique out the window.
Again, this end of the spectrum isn’t completely “bad”, but it’s far from ideal.
So what is proper lifting technique?
Rather than focus on specific lifts and their execution, it’s worthwhile to just give a general overview of how to approach lifting weights as far as intensity and form goes.
While there are certain situations in which very methodical, slow-paced lifting techniques help, more often than not you don’t need to be scrutinizing over your every move. About the only times I can think of where someone should focus purely on form is if they’re either elderly, untrained, or rehabbing an injury. Essentially, these individuals stand to benefit from focusing on proper technique as it will greatly reduce the chance of injury and the load being put on the working muscles is secondary.
Now, for pretty much any other trainee, especially intermediate/advanced lifters, it becomes necessary to stop restricting yourself and limiting the weight on the bar due to worries over perfect form. Instead, it becomes useful (and proper) to put some intensity and aggressiveness in your lifting technique.
An example of what I’m driving at here is many “form Nazis” will complain of lagging back muscles and they wonder why they notice little to no growth despite doing tons of barbell rows. Lo and behold, the people who loosen up a bit and put some “body English” into their rows usually notice significant improvement in their back muscles.
Basically, the excessive focus on form is what holds people back in many instances.
Using “English” when lifting
I hesitate to call “body English” cheating because I fear people will get a bit too carried away if they read that they should cheat the weight up when they lift. There is a more practical way to “cheat” and that is what we refer to as “using body English”.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when lifting weights is that you are going to need to overload the muscle (in some capacity) to stimulate growth, there is no way around this; if you’re not sufficiently challenging the muscle(s) then you’re probably shortchanging yourself. Weight lifting isn’t all sunshine and roses; it will hurt and it will take some aggression and passion.
How many people do you know walk up to a bar loaded with 700lbs and politely deadlift it, focusing on perfecting every inch of their form? Odds are not many. If you plan on packing on some serious size and eventually moving some serious weights, you’re going to need to learn how to lift seriously.
I’m talking serious in the sense that you put some violence and enthusiasm into your training. Quit pussyfooting and worrying about perfect form and get amped up a bit. I’m not saying go ballistic and screw form completely, but rather find the balance of using good/decent technique and mixing in some aggression and “body English”.
The benefit of doing this is simply that you can put more overload on the muscle(s), and more overload means more growth. Sometimes it just pays better to loosen up your form a bit and bump up the poundage; you’d be amazed at how quickly you break plateaus once you stop scrutinizing over perfect form.
Different lifts, different form
A last thing to note before wrapping up this article is that certain lifts benefit more from “body English/cheating” than others. The main exercises that come to mind are:
- Barbell/Dumbbell Rows
- DB Laterals
- DB Flyes
- Overhead presses
- Pull ups/chin ups
Obviously there are a few other lifts to consider, but these are just the primary movements I would consider “cheating” a bit on.
As for pure isolation exercises, like cable curls, tricep pressdowns, leg extensions or leg curls, abdominal crunches, etc. you don’t need to worry so much about “body English” so much as you should focus on really establishing the mind-muscle connection. Again, this doesn’t mean being anal about your form, but just don’t get sloppy and use it as an excuse to overdo the weight you lift.