What Good Weight Training Really Means (and When It Matters)

If you don’t like getting hurt, you should use good gym technique. But what exactly does “good shape” mean, and how important is it? First, let’s talk about the purpose of the form. For this we turn to Jordan Sayattu , powerlifter with a world record and a certified instructor for the rod Westside. According to Jordan, the form serves three main purposes:

  • Instill correct movement patterns with light (er) weights. Developing this habit will introduce you to the lift as soon as you actually put on weight. It is easier to get lazy and use a crappy form than to work hard and internalize the correct form.
  • Train the right muscle groups. Poor fitness can lead to training of the wrong muscle. I often see guys in the bench press intent on working their chest when they are actually working only on the shoulders and triceps.
  • Safety. It should be obvious. If you lift exercises in poor shape, you risk injury.

While Jordan’s definition makes sense, caring too much about your shape can be just as bad as too little.

Does the gym have such a thing as “textbook shape”?

There is such a thing as an ideal or “educational” form. For example, in the barbell squat, there is an “ideal” foot spacing, squat depth, head tilt, and so on. But the form of the textbook is a myth, because the ideal form depends on the person. According to David Dellanave , IAWA World Record holder and owner of The Movement Minneapolis :

There is such a thing as perfect shape, but that is not what most people think. The ideal shape is not something that you can see from the outside and appreciate, because you cannot see what is happening below the surface.

If someone does something in an “educational” manner, but it hurts him, is it really good form? Absolutely not. Ideal shape is any shape that, at the moment, allows someone to safely complete the movement and use their strongest leverage.

This changes over time, because as you move and lift weights, your own shape changes. For example, I have seen several people with mild to moderate scoliosis of the spine use a lift that loads the body very asymmetrically or more on one side than the other because more symmetrical lifts cause pain or don’t work for them. Over time, as their own structure changes, they find that more symmetrical rises are possible again.

I’ve noticed that new clients who haven’t made much progress after years of training tend to over-analyze their shape. For example, they will be interested in using the vultures to bend , rather than a straight bar for barbell curls because they read somewhere that the first “shows the optimal reduction of the biceps.” Or they may be able to increase the load on the barbell squat, but they don’t do it because they’re pushing their knees past their toes — something they’ve been told to avoid (no less than some “homie” in the gym).

Form in these cases is a hindrance. If you’re trying to build muscle, assuming you’re not training in bad shape (which we’ll talk about below), the only thing that matters is progressive overload – a continual improvement in the amount of weight, reps, or overall volume in the exercise. session. Excessive analysis of small details prevents you from putting pressure on yourself.

In fact, according to David, you don’t need perfect shape for progress:

The body knows nothing about the shape and how the movement should look like. The only thing the body knows is stress and adaptation, and you will always adapt to the stress put on the body. So even if you do something with the shape that is not like what you would see in the tutorial, you still win.

As long as you remember the purpose of form and understand the limits of your body, everything is fine … except for the following two cases.

Avoid movements that cause pain

Ask ten different trainers about the safety of the below parallel squat and you get ten different answers. I’ve heard coaches say that below parallel squats are bad for your knees, and I’ve heard the opposite. You probably do too.

Even more confusing: While research has debunked the myth that ” deep squats are bad for your knees, ” I personally have experienced more pain with deep squats than with shallower squats. So what gives?

Health and fitness is full of confusion , and the science of exercise is no different. In fact, according to David, there is only one hard and fast rule:

When it comes to “bad taste,” the only hard rule is pain. Exercise should never hurt, and pain is the number one signal to change. If it hurts you, stop. Vary positions until you find something that works, or stop moving completely throughout the day. If something starts to hurt later or the next day, then you need to be a detective and find out exactly what you were doing so that you can change it next time.

When in doubt, let the feeling of movement guide your decision; avoid pain at all costs.

Avoid movements that target the wrong muscles

When you decide to lift something relatively heavy, you are making a trade-off between training with intensity and using targeted muscle groups (not to mention the risk of injury).

For example, assume that you are doingcurl withdumbbells . If you put on too much weight, say 50 pounds, you can do the exercise, but only by rocking your back and putting more stress on your shoulders.

Conversely, you can go too easily with a 10-pound weight. Sure, everything looks fine and you are using “perfect shape”, but you are probably not using enough intensity to gradually overload. There can be too much error on both sides, so finding the right balance requires common sense.

As practice shows, it is better for beginners to err in the direction of the easier one. Even if you feel like you can use a heavier weight, you are instilling the correct movement patterns while you are still a beginner. Don’t worry, you will still be building muscle because you are doing things your body is not used to.

However, if you’re more advanced, it might make sense to be a little more aggressive within reason (for example, don’t try the 200 pound bench press when your previous record was 135 pounds).

For example, suppose you have a choice: always squat in parallel with a light weight, or constantly strain yourself, but rise slightly above parallel. According to Jordan:

In this case, interrupting the parallel is arbitrary. Obviously, I want my lifters to go as deep as possible, but if they are a quarter of an inch above parallel, I can honestly give two craps. In fact, I would prefer that they stay above parallel if they are uncomfortable going parallel or below. In other words, I would rather have someone gain strength by squatting a quarter of an inch above parallel than with their butt pressed against the grass, but never pushing on the barbell.

In other words, push yourself, but do it wisely.

Like ” wellness, ” the form is completely contextual. Find what works for you, improve, and don’t let anyone tell you that your shape is wrong due to some arbitrary aspect of your movement. Sure, professional guidance can be helpful, but the only person who can determine the ideal shape is you.

This story was originally published in March 2015 and was updated on June 21, 2021 to follow the Lifehacker style guidelines.

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