It seems like everyone has a different idea of form when it comes to lifting, but who is right? The strictness of form can range from just getting the weight up any way possible to super strict form where you can’t move hardly any other part of your body. My approach to form is termed “Biomechanically Optimized Form”. Basically, I perform my exercises in such a way that I will gain the most muscle mass, which is the goal, right? 😉
It’s not lose form, but not super strict form either. I will never let momentum get the weight up for me, I will always make my muscles do all the work. However, if I lean back a bit when doing my last couple reps for curls, that’s fine as long as I do not drop the weight but bring it down slowly. You see, a good amount of the muscle fiber damage comes from the eccentric part of the lift, the lowering portion. Therefore, the eccentric part is more important than the concentric part for building muscle. However, you cannot focus exclusively on the eccentric movement and ignore the concentric part because your nervous system improves during the concentric portion, allowing your brain to pump out stronger electrical signals (read: increase your strength). Also realize that the strict division between the two is for simplicity as well; both movements include strength and damage in some way.
That’s why one of the most important part of good form is that you squeeze as tight as you can, push as hard as you can, and go at a good, fast speed during the concentric movement. If the weight is heavy enough for you, you shouldn’t be able to go that fast anyway! Then during the eccentric part, you need to go down more slowly because you are going with gravity now instead of against it; if you bring the weight down quickly, you will be letting gravity do the work for you instead of your muscles. If you have to lean or move a little during the last couple of reps, that’s okay. Just make sure you keep the tension on the targeted muscles the whole time and never let momentum or gravity do your work for you.
It is very important to realize that the form should be pretty strict during most of the set. Only during the end of the set can “cheating” a bit be useful, as in getting 1 or 2 more reps that you might not have been able to get if you kept the form perfect. “Cheating” in this sense, though, does not mean allowing momentum or gravity to do the work for you, as another rep in that fashion would not be of much benefit.
In a few months I will start to post videos on this blog clearly demonstrating what I mean by “biomechanically optimized form” and its difference from sloppy form. I’ll add videos that address many different muscle groups so that you have a very good idea of how you should be lifting during each exercise.