I received a response from one of my earlier articles where I stated that I’m not all that concerned with good form in my exercises.
This is very much in contrast with what most people believe, so it is worth going into more detail.
Good Form = No Injuries and
Bad Form = Injuries? I don’t think so
This man wrote back and said “Good form is basic to not injuring yourself. Only once you have it you can afford to “break” it i.e. keep the body organized even at weird angles… I am guessing this is what you meant?”
Well, I don’t completely agree with the statement that good form is basic to not injuring yourself.
People using great form still end up injuring themselves.
And those using bad for don’t always. Take my full ab wheel rollout. Horrible form, but I’m working on improving it. And my training has been safe the whole time. I don’t necessarily recommend this to beginners since they don’t have body awareness and “poor” form could lead them to hurting themselves because they can’t tell what is too much, but in my case it worked.
Form as Progression
I like the fact that at the Progressive Calisthenics Certification a few months back, form was taught as something to look at as progression. The first time you achieve a pullup, handstand pushup, lever or whatever, it is probably going to be ugly. That doesn’t necessarily mean its unsafe. But then as you get stronger you can maintain “good form” with it.
At that event I gave on tip to Al Kavadlo that helped him do his first ever stand-to-stand bridge as its called in Convict Conditioning. What was the tip? To raise up on the balls of the feet rather than having the heels planted. Its much easier this way. And after doing this for sometime he’ll be able to do it in the harder form with the heels down. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he already is.
Here the form you’re using is for the purpose of making an exercise progressive.
Handstands are another example. So many people claim that a curved handstand is wrong or poor form. For what? If you can hold a freestanding handstand in any way you’re far beyond the skill of most people. To get a straight handstand takes much more time, because its more of an unnatural position to the body. As a harder skill it has carryover to other hand balancing being easier, but that doesn’t make the curved handstand wrong, just different.
That’s why I teach people to do the curved handstand first if they want then later they can straighten it out. You’ll get a freestanding handstand faster that way, but then it will take some more time to straighten it out. It’s a choice you can make.
Loading Dysfunctional Movement Patterns
Almost every trainer says you should never load a dysfunctional movement pattern. The idea being that if you do its going to get worse and sooner or later injuries will occur.
I can see the reasoning behind that. However, you can also get stronger, more flexible, mobile, etc. while under load and doing a movement. This will allow you over time to do the movement in “good form“. Some modifications are likely to be made over time towards that aim if your conscious of the process. The bridge example from above is a perfect example. The weight is placed on the sides of the foot, the knees aren’t tracking the toes, but I do NOT think this is a problem, even though its contrary to most form teachings.
With my recent work in doing back squats most trainers would reduce me to using very little weight to groove in the “good form” pattern. I’m haven’t done that. Instead I’m going to continue training with moderate weights, sometimes heavier, sometimes lighter, and keep eye on what I’m doing.
My result is that I will get stronger and my form will improve both at the same time, instead of waiting to get the right form and then working on getting stronger.
Once again, this works well for me. If I had a complete newbie, then yes, start them out with “good form” or correct them towards that ideal. From the beginning its probably the smartest way to go.
But even in that there can be a problem. Here’s my second argument against “form”.
When Perfect Form is Wrong
Because of physiological individuality “perfect form” for one person could be the wrong form for them and lead to injury whereas “poor form” (meaning some modification away from ideal) does not.
There can, often times, be a big difference between what one person calls perfect form and what someone else does.
With kettlebells, an RKC and a GS competitor won’t agree on the ideal swing. They’re very different, as they have different purposes. Neither is necessarily right, as that would make the other wrong. But even if you look closely at all the different athletes in the same group you’ll see some dramatically different forms going on.
When it comes to the deadlift most people agree on “perfect form”, except lots of people violate it. Bob Peoples was one of the best deadlifters of all time and he fundamentally disagreed on what most people taught. In his form, many thing were directly opposite to what was taught.
I’ve heard stories of people being forced to do “good form” and it causing injuries. Forcing someone to move in a way their body can’t because it looks good to you is not a smart thing to do.
Is Perfect From Keeping You From Results?
Here’s another problem I see. A lot of the people that get hung up on “perfect form” don’t get stronger. Most people who are really strong break form at one point or another.
The “proper form” for any exercise is generally meant to tell in what standard an exercise should be done.
For instance if you do a push press and call it a press, there will be some confusion.
But there are many factors in doing an exercise that don’t change it from one exercise to another. Yet these are regarding as just as important for form. They’re not!
A good deadlift is one that is lifted from the ground to a locked out position by the hips. How you do it (round back, straight back, high hips, wide feet, close feet, head up or down) doesn’t really matter.
A strict pullup is going from full hang to chin over bar with the palms facing away. A kipping pullup is a different exercise.
With the kettlebell snatch it is lifting the weight overhead to a locked out position. I got a bunch of crap from people that my snatches weren’t locked out when I did 301 in 10 minutes with the 24 kg bell. I can understand that to some degree, although it didn’t make the exercise any easier.
Here is my definition of form:
Form allows you to accomplish the standard of a movement while being safe for you.
This also means if you’re not trying to do a standard than you can do the movement in any way you want.
I’ve come to much of the same conclusions on form. One must consider individuality, experience, and what’s actually happening in their training. It’s really the difference between the science of training vs the art of training. Technical knowledge is an important component, but at some point people need to develop body awareness. Body awareness is the only way of knowing how far is too far or if you’re not going far enough.
I agree with you completely about the importance of body awareness. Its one of the biggest benefits of training, and can also be quite tricky at times.
Logan, I think you have hit the nail on the head. I am a mathematics instructor and I have colleagues who advocate perfect rigor in theorems for beginning calculus. However it is just not possible for the majority of my students. I think that it is ok to do calculus slightly imperfectly and then get to the perfect details later, just as you have advocated. Also it carries over to violin playing, where I used to be hung up with holding the bow and holding the violin absolutely correctly. It comes down to how your fingers get to the notes and if they work well, then your form is cool enough. Thanks for speaking out. Cheers, Peter
I just heard this quoted elsewhere. “Perfect is the enemy of good.”
If I said “perfect form”, I apologize. What I truly meant was the form that will keep you or anyone from messing up the joints. Although (if the individual is a beginner) results are the first thing on their mind, they don’t go into account of the different styles of working out and the different types of results one can get from improper form. Yes, you can start out cardio or weight training with so-so form, but with stretching its a different story. When doing, lets say “super stretching” (’cause you don’t see the average Joe or Jane trying it), you need to understand that your joints are moving into extreme positions. Your bones and joints are made to move certain ways and certain directions, but your muscles can move with less attention paid to it. All I’m saying is that you see these rhythmic gymnasts go into these extreme positions, know that they have been training since childhood and their form is probably not that great either, but childhood is a forgiving time in our lifespan, so they just keep doing these stretches with so-so form. But does one ever think why we don’t see 30 to 40 year old gymnasts competing? Its ’cause their joints and back are ruined. Then the only thing they can turn to is yoga, and what is yoga? Its a way to fix and renew yourself. Some, that use to work with improper form, are a bit to far gone to totally heal themselves. The main thing I’m trying to say is, with stretching, please pay attention to the form rather than the results at first, ’cause when your form is placed incorrectly, your results may go up, but your practicality and efficiency goes down. Sorry for such a long comment, not trying to boss you or something, just trying to give you a longer run of commercial holistic fitness. Your work is da bomb. Keep doing what your doing man. Peace!