More often than not you’ll most likely notice someone swinging weights around the gym at some point during your workout. We will use a bicep curl for example: they’ll bend at the knees to bounce upwards, hurl their back and lift their entire arms up. Onlookers may comment or stare because they see this as a danger and know that they aren’t doing much!
This is the full exaggeration (although it does happen a lot) but what we must be careful about is letting form slip without notice. Keep in mind that the following information should be useful for all, but is specifically tailored to a bodybuilder’s goals.
Are You Activating The Right Muscles?
Pay attention to those around you the next time you workout, specifically their body parts that are not part of the exercise they are currently performing. Using the bicep curl as an example again focus on their feet, knees, upper arms, and the angle of their back. Are any of these in motion during the set? A bicep curl involves a contraction of the bicep which originates and inserts at the scapula and radius, respectively. Any movement outside of this will not help the bicep to contract any better, and if your goal is muscular hypertrophy, that is what you want. Bouncing at the knees, feet, or leaning backwards may help you move the weight through the range of motion to complete the rep, but the bicep is no longer working to the same extent.
The very reason you are performing that exercise is to stimulate that muscle through working it, not by some magical exchange system where you get through the reps and your body grants you with the appropriate gains for how many you completed.
Why Proper Form Is Important
Performing an exercise with strict, proper form has more benefits than just being conducive to effective hypertrophy; it is also an important rule to avoid injury. The body is in many regards very lazy. It wants to do what it needs to while putting forth the least amount of effort possible as efficiently as possible. This can be noticed in many respects, whether it be cardiovascular exercise, nutrition, or in this instance, kinesiological muscle efforts.
While bench pressing, the primary muscle targeted to control the weight is the pectoralis major. During the seconds you are approaching failure on a heavy set your brain will recognize the situation and determine you need to exert more force in order to push away the bar attempting to crush you. The body utilizes more muscles as it realizes more will be needed – it will attempt to recruit whatever muscles it can to aid in moving the bar away by straightening your arms. If you are in such a position to allow the smaller, surrounding muscles to come into play they will, in part, be supporting the barbell you are holding. As you may well figure, these muscles might possibly be unable to withstand the tension and tear.
Training Until Failure
Training until failure is a difficult practice and a requires a high degree of mental toughness to complete properly. When you are unable to move something it is difficult to resist the natural urge to bring another body part into play to assist and complete the movement. This opens up opportunity for injury with these unpredictable movements. While bench pressing you may rotate your arms, unset your shoulder blades, move your legs, back, and neck trying to push up the weight. These can all be recipes for disaster and to be clear are not using the muscles you want to complete the exercise.
Using these other muscles is disadvantageous from both a safety, and progress point of view. When muscle awareness is implemented while proper form maintained, you should be able to recognize you are using the correct muscles and protecting the others. Mentally visualizing the muscle(s) you are intending on targeting can be a helpful tool among beginners and the advanced alike. When you picture things in an anatomical sense you first ensure that you know what muscle you are working, and then make sure you know how it works. Many do not actually know the muscles they are using when it comes to less glorified exercises such as lat raises or bent-over rows compared to ones like the dumbbell curl. Viewing the exercise like this will tend to keep you focused more on form and working the proper muscle(s) rather than just moving the weight.
It may also be a good idea to record yourself performing an exercise and evaluate it yourself, or ask a friend to help. Look for any movement that would contribute to momentum of the weight, but is not generated by the targeted muscle(s) of an exercise.