To Top

Perfect Form Not Always the Perfect Choice

If you can find that happy medium where your form is just loose enough to allow for more weight but you can still work the target muscle hard, including a few heavy sets like that in addition to sets done with a slower rep speed and better form can be a powerful combination.

How important is it to use perfect form? When we watch training DVDs of some of the most heavily muscled men who have ever lived, such as Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler and Branch Warren, it’s clear that they rarely use anything remotely resembling perfect form.

“Perfect form” may mean different things to different people, but here’s my definition: The rep speed should be controlled, not ballistic. The weight is lifted (pushed or pulled), the target muscle is brought to a full contraction, and then the weight is lowered under control. I started bodybuilding after reading the early Nautilus books by Arthur Jones and Dr. Ellington Darden, and the rep tempo they advised was two seconds up, four seconds down. I would add about a half second to squeeze the muscle being worked. You must use a full range of motion. It’s a pet peeve of mine. I very often see guys loading up a barbell for squats or a leg press machine and then doing half-reps—they don’t even get near parallel.

I also believe that the target muscle should do as much of the work as possible without assistance from other muscle groups. Obviously, in compound movements like squats, bench presses and barbell rows that is neither possible nor desirable. You can’t work your chest with a bench press without also involving the front delts and triceps. Yet on barbell curls the only part of your body moving and contributing should be your arms. If you’re jerking your body back and forth and doing little thrusts with your hips and knees to move the weight, your biceps aren’t getting all the stress. Ask a guy who can curl 135 in that manner to try it with his back up against a wall, which will force him to keep his body motionless, and I guarantee you he won’t be able to budge the bar an inch.

As I said, a lot of the most massive specimens you would ever hope to see do not train like that. Are other factors responsible? Of course. You can’t discount the roles of genetics and, yes, performance-enhancing drugs. But something else is going on here too.

Excellent form is critical in your early years of training. That’s when you develop the all-important mind/muscle connection. I consider that the major difference between bodybuilders and the millions of other people who merely lift weights. That connection enables you to forcibly contract a target muscle during the positive segment of a rep and maintain tension on it during the negative stroke. I like to tell people to think in terms of “squeeze” and “stretch.” Regular lifters simply move the weight and typically don’t consciously try to work the muscle hard.

Once you’ve mastered the mind/muscle connection, it does become possible to loosen up your form while still keeping the muscle under tension. To the casual observer, Branch or Ronnie or Jay might seem to be throwing the weights around, but if you watch the target muscle, it is indeed contracting on each rep. One huge advantage of being able to hit the muscle with looser form is that you can use a great deal more weight. Someone who can do very slow and controlled reps with a pair of 20s on lateral raises, for example, can probably handle 35s or 40s with looser form. As long as you can “catch” the weight at the top for a brief contraction and don’t simply let the weights crash down through sheer gravity, there is a very real benefit to the heavier resistance.

Those who are sticklers for perfect form at all times very rarely have much in the way of muscle mass to show for their devotion to the rules. I once believed that loose form was never acceptable, under any circumstances. Now I know that when used in addition to sets with strict form or as a way to extend a set after nearing failure with textbook form, it can be an excellent tool for stimulating further muscle growth.

Please don’t take what I’m saying as a license to use crappy form all the time. If you have not yet mastered the mind/muscle connection, it would do nothing to help you and would in fact prevent you from ever developing it. Also, in certain exercises, like squats and deadlifts, loose form would be very dangerous. One thing you should never do under any circumstances is lower a weight quickly and bounce out of the bottom position. Rebounding like that lets you get more reps, but the stress placed on your connective tissues at the moment of turnaround is astronomical. Tearing a tendon or ligament is no joke. In worst-case scenarios you would need surgery to reattach the muscle. Even in less severe cases, training can be affected for many months. Connective tissues have a poor blood supply and heal very slowly.

I feel that a mix of both strict and loose form in your training will yield the very best results in the long term. Again, I have to caution that you still want to maintain proper body mechanics for the most part—i.e., never let your back round or arch excessively—and always stay in control of the weight. If you can find that happy medium where your form is just loose enough to allow for more weight but you can still work the target muscle hard, including a few heavy sets like that in addition to sets done with a slower rep speed and better form can be a powerful combination.

Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding, available at

Instantized Creatine- Gains In Bulk

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

More in Training