Keyboard warriors. Form police. Internet tough guys.
All people probably not qualified to give advice on what is proper form. The internet is a magical place and has changed all of our lives, for the most part, for the better. Advancements in technology have given us a unique opportunity to have a voice we otherwise would not. That voice is also a detriment, societally and communicatively. A lot of what we see being said on the internet would never be said otherwise. “Steroids, gross, fat, too much muscle, bad form.”
Now, I am all for constructive criticism. I think that the most constructive criticisms come from our peers; the ones that can relate to the trials and tribulations we share in life. If someone wants to pick apart the grammar in one of my articles and give me some feedback, so be it. I can learn and grow from that experience. If some idiot who has never written an article in his life, can barely speak the English language, and has no idea about the subject matter rips apart the article? Well then that just does not make sense, and nobody benefits from that.
Jump on Instagram and look at your favorite bodybuilder’s profile. Inevitably they will have some kind of short training clip on their page. Now scroll through the comments and prepare for the ensuing befuddling comments to come. “Poor form. Using too much momentum. I could deadlift 1000 pounds too if my form looked like that.” Now most (read: all) of these comments are from guys that are not IFBB Pros. Actually, most of these comments are from guys that look like they don’t even lift!
I am a form stickler as much as the next guy, but only to a certain degree. There are certain times and instances where proper form may not look like proper form. Go to the Hypertophy Coach Joe Bennett’s Instagram and you will see instructional videos on how to properly perform movements to get the proper range of motion and muscle contraction. On the surface this may look like incorrect form. However, everything he does is for a reason; and that reason is to maximize muscular hypertrophy.
Proper form is a hard idea to translate to words. Honestly it’s a difficult idea to grasp; because proper form in the purest sense does not exist. Everyone is built differently, with varying limb lengths, muscle bellies, and tendon flexibility.
Let’s look at some of the reasons why “proper form” is not always the end game.
To Gain a Further Range of Motion
To reach full range of motion on certain exercises we need to break form to a degree. Take a lat pulldown for example. If you want to fully stretch your lats at the top of the movement you have to break form. Your butt may even start to come off the bench slightly at the top of the movement. Watch Kai Greene perform a lat pulldown. He slowly and safely performs the eccentric part of the movement until his lats are completely stretched at the top of the exercise.
Full range of motion is more important on the eccentric part of the lift than it is on the concentric portion (we will dive into this shortly). If hypertrophy is the goal, then full range of motion is king when it comes to the eccentric part of an exercise.
Sometimes you just need to put some heavy weight on the bar and get that weight to move. The hard part about deciphering what is correct form and what is not is that it is difficult to know the individual’s goals. Powerlifters must complete “perfect” reps for those reps to count in a meet. However, they also manipulate their bodies in a way that they move the bar in the shortest distance as possible. For a bodybuilder this would not be considered correct form. For a powerlifter a bodybuilder’s form is not correct. Powerlifters may only move the bar half as far as a bodybuilder. Form is such a relative term.
As load increases near a person’s max weight, form tends to differ. I am not saying that form is necessarily worse, but other muscle groups may be recruited to move the weight. On paper, this sounds like form is worse.
Here is an example of what I mean: Say an individual can easily complete 10 reps of 135 on bench press. Now say that same person tries to complete 8 reps of 225 on the same movement. They can easily perform the 135 for 10 reps, but the 8 reps of 225 are much more difficult. However, they can still perform the movement, but more leg drive is used, the core is engaged, and some back muscle is recruited.
Partial Reps and Forced Reps
Sometimes you just have to push to failure and beyond. Yes, beyond failure. Pushing beyond failure requires some break in form. A training partner can help with this to a point, but to truly push beyond failure form must slide slightly.
Partial reps are another training technique used to manufacture intensity and push beyond failure. Once the muscle reaches failure in a full range of motion, you can get away with doing partial or pumps reps. Partial reps should not be used with an extremely heavy weight, and should only be performed once the target muscle has reached failure. Earlier we talked about working in a full range of motion for the eccentric portion; this is where we can go opposite of that idea and not complete a full range of motion for the concentric. Even with partial reps the eccentric should still be slow and controlled through a full range.
Everyone is Different
No, this is not some socially progressive statement; I am talking about individual builds and somatotypes. Not everyone can complete a low bar squat with the bar staying in a perfectly parallel movement pattern throughout the whole range of motion. So for example, you may see Arnold squat different than Franco. Does that mean Arnold or Franco have done the movement better than the other? Probably not. Arnold is a good foot taller than Franco Columbu. You have to understand what works best for your body type and musculature.
The people you see performing picture “perfect” reps in the gym are more times than not the smaller guys with less muscle mass. Find out what works for you and leave the criticism out. Just because you are watching someone perform a movement on a 3 inch screen does not give you the right to bash the form. The internet form police organization needs to be dissolved, and I for one will be the first to sign the petition.