For most people, form is something that they’ve heard about briefly, think they know, and assume doesn’t make that much difference when they exercise. They assume as long as they are working hard and following some general movements, everything is A-OK. While gains can be made in the weight room with this method, you will be wasting up to 40% of your time, and studies are backing it up.
A muscle grows as a result of your breaking it down (through weight lifting or exercise). You break a muscle down and when it repairs itself, it repairs itself to a stronger level than it was previously. The best way to maximize the “tear down” effect is by stimulating as many muscle fibers as possible. Muscle fibers are, perhaps obviously, the things that make up your muscle. Simply put, you want to stimulate as much of the muscle as possible when you work out.
Of course one exercise alone cannot stimulate the entire muscle. This is why it is often preached to workout the muscle from various angles (flat bench, incline bench, decline bench, for example). You want to maximize the number of muscle fibers targeted. Since muscle fibers learn to adapt to a certain stimulus, this is also why you keep hearing that it is best to mix up your exercise routine every 4-6, but that’s another topic for another day.
Now, how does all this relate to maintaining perfect form while you lift you may be wondering. Studies are showing that the individual who bench presses 150 pounds with perfect form will stimulate almost 40% more muscle fibers than the individual who is benching 225 with reckless form. You’ve probably seen these guys before, they do a lot of heavy breathing before the lift, throw the weight up there and let it carelessly descend, before bouncing it off their chest and locking their elbows at the top of the lift.
Think about that for a minute; despite using 75 pounds less weight, the individual with perfect form is able to stimulate nearly 40% more muscle fibers. This should show you that it’s not just about lifting heavy weight to lift heavy weight. If the weight is too heavy for you to maintain your form, you’re simply wasting your time.
Why do you think most gyms are lined with mirrors on the wall? Use these to strictly watch your form. Keep nice controlled movements all the way up and all the way down. Look in the mirror and notice if you are favoring one side or not completing a full range of motion. The mirrors are your friend – use them to help you.
For the next couple weeks, drop the weight you are lifting across the board by 10-25% depending upon the exercise. Really focus on using perfect form and using slow, controlled movements throughout your lifts. It’s almost a guarantee you will wake up with a soreness in your muscles that you haven’t felt in a long, long time. Keep this in mind as you approach your weight lifting from here on out.