At SPARC, we take exercise form very seriously. Exercise quality will always outweigh quantity. In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the importance of achieving full range of motion during exercise. The next checkpoint for perfect form is control. While anyone can jerk and throw their way through a workout, there are some serious benefits to training with deliberate, controlled form:
- Reduce Gym Injuries: Many tears, pulls, and strains that occur during exercise happen due to someone exercising beyond their means (too much weight) and recruiting the wrong muscles to help with the load. Focusing on controlled movement ensures that you are utilizing the correct muscles and not subjecting your body to forces it can’t handle.
- Prepare for the Real World: How you train in the gym dictates how you move outside of the gym. Every repetition you perform in the gym reinforces a movement pattern that your brain will habitually and automatically fall back on when needed. Take the deadlift: if you deliberately brace your core, keep the spine neutral, contract the lats, and begin from a dead stop while training in the gym, your body will learn to create that same pattern of muscle activation when faced with a similar movement in the real world. This reduces the risk of real-world injury and makes tasks easier by recruiting more muscle.
- Increase Efficiency: The more you rely on momentum, the less your muscles actually work. Would you rather perform a 100 lb biceps curl that relies 50% on momentum, or a 60 lb curl where your body maintains control and the biceps perform 100% of the work? Furthermore, the muscles of the core are designed to resist momentum. Forcing your body to remain aligned and rigid activates the core muscles and turns any exercise into a core exercise.
The next time you train, utilize these 3 tips to improve your movement quality and reap the rewards:
- 3 Parts to Every Exercise: There are 3 phases to muscle contraction: Concentric, Isometric, and Eccentric. While most people understand the concentric phase of an exercise (think the “push” part of a bench press or “standing up” during a squat), they miss out on the other 2 phases. The isometric phase is the amount of time you spend at the halfway mark. Pausing at the bottom of a squat or bench press, or squeezing the shoulder blades together and “sticking” the end of a row adds valuable isometric tension that boosts muscle growth and neuromuscular control. The eccentric phase of an exercise is often the “resetting” portion: lowering the weight in a squat, biceps curl, or bench press, or lengthening the arms during a row. Spending 1-2 seconds in the isometric phase and 3-4 seconds in the eccentric phase per rep increases time under tension and ensures you are getting the most out of your exercise.
- Fight the Temptation: While this may require some humility, only pick weights that you can control for all 3 phases of contraction, and only count the reps that you considered perfect. If you perform 5 good reps and 3 with momentum, only count 5. If you can’t “stick” the isometric phase and pause for 1-2 seconds, go down in weight. Set a high standard of technique and hold yourself to it!
- Muscle, Not Momentum: On exercises like the shoulder press or biceps curl, utilize external forces such as a wall or bench to brace yourself against. The wall will prevent your torso from arching back and generating momentum. Avoid bouncing weights off the floor or your body, and always strive to silently return the weight to the floor.