The following is a guest article from Professor “Stone” Paul who you can also catch in this week’s podcast on the Isometric Mind here.
Yes, you read correctly.
Contrary to what everyone has told you, using “proper form” is indeed setting you up for injury. Yeah, I know it sounds ludicrous, but hear me out and you can judge for yourself.
Like most conventional training techniques, relying on “proper form” in an effort to build your strength, endurance and overall athleticism is hopelessly myopic. Much like lifting straps, belts and chalk, it fails to address the issue of injury in the long term.
Sure, using “proper form” will help prevent you from getting injured today, but what about 5 years from now?
When you exclusively use “proper form” every time you train, you are constructing a crutch for yourself, a crutch that you become more and more dependent on with each repetition.
Let’s say you are performing a “deadlift”. According to the rules of “proper form”, there is pretty much only one “proper” position in which to perform a deadlift…tongue up, neck straight, shoulders down and back, lats wide, navel drawn in toward the spine, extended thorax, squeeze the bar and drive your heels into the ground.
This position may vary slightly from person to person, but generally speaking, one is encouraged to locate their most stable position and use that every time they perform a back squat.
Now, if your goal is to compete in a powerlifting event, then of course you want to be competing from your most stable stance. This will give you the biggest advantage when it comes to deadlifting the maximum amount of weight without hurting yourself. It’s also a fabulous way to develop the nervous system.
If I am specifically trying to increase my deadlift or overload my nervous system, then naturally I am going to utilize what the school of conventional weightlifting calls “proper form and technique”. However, as we will soon discover, the very terms “proper form” and “proper weightlifting technique” are misnomers.
It would be much wiser to refer to these training concepts as “preferred form” or “preferred technique”, since this is what weightlifters prefer to use most in the gym…and for good reason too, since they yield the best results given their context.
Now, let us now examine the word “context”. This is key, since after all, a text (about form) without a context is a pretext, right?
Given the context of a competitive weightlifter, exclusively using “proper form” makes perfect sense to a degree. However, what if we were to take the weightlifter out of his context?
What if we were to put him on the wrestling mat or gridiron? Better yet, what if we were to put him in the context of a lumberjack, farmer or traceur (parkour runner)?
Well, then we would see that his headstrong adherence to “proper form” has set him up for disaster. Yes, performing heavy lifts with “proper form” will increase overall strength and stability in one sense, but in another sense it will make you more vulnerable to any movement outside the range permitted by its rules.
The simple reason being that you never do a proper deadlift on the wrestling mat. Rather, you always find yourself in an awkwardly contorted position while trying to lift and manipulate your opponent. You barely have time to bring “proper grappling technique” into the picture, let alone “proper weightlifting technique”.
A quick and spontaneous reaction on the mat may result in a hernia if you’ve never trained a deadlift with your naval pushed all the way out. The same thing goes for a traceur who finds himself trying to race his way through uncharted territory.
The heavy logs, stones and timber that lumberjacks lift and carry all day long don’t have any handles. Utilizing all the rules of “proper deadlift technique” is out of the question.
Am I saying that you should never try and max out your back squat, deadlift or bench press using “proper technique” in an effort to get stronger, unless you are a competitive weightlifter?
Of course not.
What I am saying, is that “proper weightlifting technique” is not the be all end all and you need to be aware of its limitations and how it is setting you up for injury in the long term.
Let’s just think about it for a second.
First off, anyone doing the same lifts with the same “proper form” over and over again is eventually going to suffer from some kind of repetitive stress disorder. Given enough time, without proper variation, you are going to destroy your sinews. Little by little your joints are going to wear out and fall apart.
Putting a countdown clock on your joints in this way is going to severely limit your long term strength potential. “Proper form” might help you put up the maximum amount of weight today, but at what cost?
Knee wraps and lifting belts may fool you into thinking that you are getting stronger for a while, but with time, that illusion will fade right along with your sinews.
That’s the first and most obvious reason.
The second reason which isn’t so obvious to most athletes is this.
On a daily basis, the strength and endurance of the human body (especially that of an athlete) is put to the test from an infinite number of awkwardly contorted positions and from an infinite number of angles. When you train yourself to only excel in a handful of “proper form” positions, then you are throwing the balance of your musculoskeletal system completely out of whack.
Barring freak accidents or obstacles of genetics, when it comes to athleticism, susceptibility to injury stems solely from an imbalance in the musculoskeletal system.
This occurs most often in one of two ways.
The first situation would be when the strength of one set of muscles is out of balance with a corresponding set of muscles. When those two sets of muscles attempt to cooperate in the execution of a given task, the stronger set of muscles may bite off more than the weaker set of muscles can chew, so to speak.
Injury is the result.
The second common situation is when a group of muscles or sinews is called upon from an awkward or contorted position that has not been trained for.
For instance, when one is used to doing strict bicep curls with 100 pounds in the gym using the EZ-Curl bar, they are not prepared to handle that kind of weight when they use a straight bar. If they attempt such a lift they may suffer torn muscles, ligaments or tendons. In extreme cases, they may even suffer some sort of dislocation or bone fracture.
Now if you were to take things one step further, let’s say, into the context of a lumberjack, wrestler or traceur, then we really start to tread on shaky ground.
Your muscles and joints will often assume they can handle a bigger load than they actually can by failing to take into account the angle at which they work. Deviating only a few degrees from “proper form” puts the musculoskeletal system in a state of vulnerability.
What we are talking about here is not about remedying an “incorrect” way of training, but rather a dangerously restrictive way of thinking.
Using “proper form” to “max out” on certain lifts can be incredibly beneficial for all athletes and should definitely be part of a well rounded training regime, but your sights shouldn’t end there.
If you really want to train your body to “expect the unexpected” so you can avoid injury and maximize lateral growth as a long term athlete (lateral strength verses vertical strength is an in depth topic we will reserve for a future article), then you need to start incorporating exercises outside the realm of “proper form”. The further outside the better, and even the competitive weightlifter stands to gain vertical strength by widening his lateral foundation.
That being said, the last thing I would recommend is that you run off to the gym today and start doing lifts with “improper” form. Doing that might put you in the hospital.
What you need is a way to systematically recondition your mind and prime your body for working outside the range of “proper form”. This isn’t something you can jump into cold-turkey.
If you would like to learn more about how you can start eliminating plateaus for good while astronomically developing your nervous system and establishing a musculoskeletal system that is practically impervious to injury, then click on the image below.
Grab my new course, Developing the Isometric Mind here for 50% off for a limited time only.
Professor ‘Stone’ Paul is a strength coach, linguist and touring musician. He specializes in achieving maximum strength and wellness for his clients by reshaping their minds and implementing bizarre techniques which require little or no equipment. You can find out more about his methods at www.stoneagestrength.com