Quality over Quanity: Why technique is more important than numbers?

I always see this in the weight room: the guy or gal that is pumping out twenty to forty repetitions with bad technique. The guys (regrettably) are funnier than the ladies because they put the weight down a start to flex their muscles as they walk over to get a sip of water, full of pride with their empty accomplishment. Weeks later, I’ll see the same guy doing the same workout at the same weight and unfortunately still looking the same way. No strength gains or size gains. Most people will try to make an argument against me saying that at least they can lift more than me or the next guy. Yes, that bad technique may get you a higher maximum effort, but it also gets you closer to a few other things; all negative.

Form and technique is everything when it comes to strength training, including cardiovascular output as well. If you are the person that likes to do bicep curls halfway down so and come back up without giving providing the maximal lengthening of that muscle, you’re short changing yourself big time. You could actually be doing more harm than good. There are two reasons why:

  1. Muscle has both a flexibility and a strength component to it. The more flexible a muscle is, the higher the potential it has to perform better. Athletes that increase their flexibility, normally have secondary increases in performances well. Now there are some cases where stretching a muscle too much limits its ability to generate enough force to move heavier weight. That is due to a strength/flexibility relationship where tighter muscle fibers/spindles are needed for shorter, more powerful contractions. Professional weight lifters need to be more cognizant of this than the average trying to work out in the weight room.
  2. The potential for muscle injury is huge when performing exercises with improper form. Muscle performs best at or near its resting length. When a person performs a muscle contraction, the strongest part of that contraction takes places right around the middle of the range of motion. That’s because the muscle belly is taking on the majority of the weight upon itself, minus the tension given off to the tendons. As the range of motion increases or decreases, that tension is passed off to the tendons, which are made mainly to produce adequate tension to keep the muscle from tearing. As a matter of fact, the Golgi tendon organ within that muscle belly is programmed to shut the muscle down in the presence of dangerously high levels of tension that could cause injury. Continuously flailing through repetitions and using gravity and inertia to move weight, along with shortening end ranges, make you more susceptible to dampening the response of the Golgi tendon and allowing injury to occur.

Now I know that last part may have gone over your head a bit, but trust me when I say that performing exercises with less weight with good technique, especially when just starting an exercise plan is paramount in generating strength gains early on. I remember one time while I was at the University of Miami competing in track and field and the football team recruited a new strength and conditioning coach. The first thing he did was have the team log their bench press and squat maximal lifts. Then he looked at their form. The majority, if not all of them were performing both of the exercises incorrectly. He had them strip the weight off the bar and showed them how to do it the right way. All of the maximal lift amounts plunged, but as time went by, they rose to even higher levels than before, with less muscle injuries occurring during the football season.

It carries over to cardiovascular training as well. As human beings, we move by the size principal. We recruit smaller muscles first, calling on the larger ones for help only when it necessary to move heavier weights. Therefore, improper lifting not only puts smaller muscles at risk for injury, but doesn’t properly allow the safe transition from small to large muscles when performing heavier lifts. This can cause larger muscle groups to be ineffectively contract out of synch which can add stress and cause injury.

The Mayo Clinic recommends these Do’s with weight lifting and exercise:

  •  Lift an appropriate amount of weight. Start with a weight you can lift comfortably 12 to 15 times. As you get stronger, gradually increase the amount of weight.
  •  Use proper form. If you're unable to maintain good form, decrease the weight or the number of repetitions.
  •  Breathe. Holding your breath can lead to dangerous increases in blood pressure. Instead, breathe out as you lift the weight and breathe in as you lower the weight.
  •  Seek balance. Work all of your major muscles — abdominals, legs, chest, back, shoulders and arms.
  •  Rest. Avoid exercising the same muscles two days in a row.

Being safe early, with good technique will help you to develop good habits of exercise, giving you the potential to soar high above your own fitness goals.

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