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  • Colby Hamasaki

The Importance of Exercise Technique

When strength training, proper technique is often under prioritized. Some ambitious lifters want to add weight and add more reps, even if sacrificing proper technique. Train hard to progress and become a better, healthier lifter. You will get stronger and move around relatively heavy weights, but it becomes much easier to cause injuries. Even when focusing on progression, technique has to stay on your mind. You want to lift more weight with good form, not crank out a few bad reps at the end of a set to hit a new PR (personal record), because that’s how you get yourself hurt. High effort is counterproductive without proper technique. If you hurt yourself squatting for a PR and then you can’t squat heavy for a month, you’re losing gains and regressing during that period of time. Keep your form tight and keep training. No strength athlete, whether it be powerlifters, weightlifters, or strongmen, lifts with poor form. They know they’ll hurt themselves if they sacrifice form for weight.


Mechanics @ main movers


When performing any exercise, you want to lift with proper technique to prevent injury, but also to stimulate the muscle an exercise is working. If you lean too far forward when squatting you’re going to stimulate your glutes much more than your quads as well as putting unnecessary strain on your low back. Same goes with a bench press. Pack your shoulder blades down and back to train your chest. If you don’t you will involve your delts more than your pecs as well as putting excess strain on your shoulder joints. You don’t want to create muscle imbalances by lifting with poor technique. The more poor squats or poor bench presses you do the more prone to injury you will become and the more difficult it will be in the future to lift with proper technique. You don’t want to be strong with poor technique, as it takes a lot more discipline to train with proper technique when you feel weaker that way.


Lifting should always be done for fitness and for sustainability. If you hurt yourself because you want to add weight to the bar and ignore your technique, your fitness will decrease over time. If you hurt your knee repeatedly it will eventually get to the point where it will never fully recover. You want to have strong joints and to be able to walk and do daily tasks into old age, so don’t sacrifice technique for weight. It will be detrimental to your health in the long run.


Mechanics @ stabilizing joints


Another important technique consideration is breathing and bracing. Proper breathing and bracing will prevent injury and muscle imbalance in surrounding joints as well as the main movers. For example, in the barbell back squat, your low back should maintain lumbar lordosis (natural low back arch), rather than rounding the back or leaning side to side. If your squat mechanics are imbalanced, these imbalances will compound and will affect other full body exercises, such as deadlifts. This can compound preexisting muscular imbalances in the legs and core and cause injury to joints including the knees, hips, or lumbar spine (low back). Another example is maintaining an upright torso position when performing split squats. If you let your upper back round forward, you will be enforcing poor posture. Lifting and living with poor posture can lead to neck, upper back, low back and/or shoulder issues. When exercising, don’t just focus on the moving parts. Keep your whole body in a mechanically stable position in order to lift the most weight and to prevent injury.


Range of Motion (ROM)


Half-repping bodybuilders set a bad example. There are plenty of clips on the internet of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the likes pumping out reps with a six inch ROM. Just because the big guys train this way doesn’t mean you should too. With every single exercise, you should focus on completing the full ROM. Feel a stretch at the bottom of the rep, and flex the working muscle at the top. There are many benefits from training with a full ROM. You have more muscle activation and stimulate the full length of the muscle, which means more growth. You also don’t need to use as much weight, which reduces injury risk.


Don’t sacrifice range of motion to perform extra reps. If you can’t perform a full range of motion at the end of the set and begin to do half reps, you will cause extra fatigue without adding worthwhile growth stimulus. You want to maximize your stimulus to fatigue ratio, stimulate as much muscle growth as possible without creating excess fatigue. Otherwise, you will lose effort toward the end of your workout and lose growth. It’s better to get 5 sets of 10 good reps than 3 sets of 12 with a couple poor reps at the end of each set.


It’s also better to keep technique & ROM consistent so it’s easier to track your workouts. When tracking and progressing through a program, you want to make sure the recorded sets and reps are all equatable. 3 sets of 13 bad reps is not progression from 3 sets of 12 good reps. The only way to know that you’re progressing when tracking is to know that your technique is consistent from rep to rep, set to set, and workout to workout.


Lifting Tempo


I could drag this out, but that would be unnecessary. We’re here for practical takeaways to take to our next training session. When lowering a weight, make sure you can control the weight, extremely slow eccentrics (lowering the weight) just cause extra muscle damage and take longer to recover from without adding much of a growth stimulus, and dropping the weight fast makes it much more difficult to keep technique tight and risks injury. Press as explosively as possible without sacrificing technique. Slow eccentrics, pauses, and static holds are all good ways to cause excess fatigue and lose stimulus in the muscle you’re trying to work. There’s no reason to change lifting tempo unless you’re rehabbing a joint injury.


Other technique considerations


Every rep should look the same, from the first rep of the set to the last rep of the last set (reps can slow down at the end of a set)


Maintain a firm grip during any exercise. This will maintain activation in forearm and elbow stabilizers and can prevent injury in the wrest, elbow, and shoulder.


Get your lifting mechanics right before your start focusing on hitting a target muscle. You don’t want to contort your body into positions where you can feel the target muscle but putting other joints into unstable positions. For example, it’s easier to squeeze the lats on a single arm pulldown if you lean to the pulling side, but do this improperly and you can hurt your low back, and sacrifice weight lifted. Proper lifting mechanics are always more important than the “mind muscle connection”.


If you lift with good mechanics and still can’t feel the muscle, focus on stretching the muscle at the bottom of the movement to improve your mind muscle connection.


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