Without standards for good form, our bodies will fail us because they are lazy by nature. They operate in the short-term, encouraging us to eat too much and avoid the toughest moments during exercise. They aim to conserve resources and choose the path of least resistance with little regard for a better future.
We need to use our sense of reason to overcome them. Success, in fitness and life, often requires us to ignore our fleeting desires to support our long-term interests. As I write this article, the drive to distract myself with easy entertainment looms over me. I have to will myself to stare at the blank page and try to instill some life into these sentences, word after word. We all have to establish some self-discipline to overcome the worst of our instincts.
If you fail to overcome them, you will never achieve much and feel as happy as you could have. More specifically, this issue often affects those mastering good form. They never set standards for themselves, allowing their primal natures to take over.
Without standards for form, you may restrict yourself to the portion of the exercise where leverage is best but the muscles function worst when things get tough.
For some trainees, using the chest as the lowest point on the bench press can harm the shoulders. You only need to feel a slight stretch in the chest to achieve the ideal range of motion. This point occurs above the chest. If the elbows drop just below the planes of the shoulders then you have achieved enough range of motion. The length-tension relationship establishes this fact.
Trainees then decide to reduce their range of motion but set no clear goal. They eyeball it and inevitably the beast within takes over to make things easier precisely when they should not be. As the reps grow harder, they lose their consistency and fail to achieve enough range of motion.
On the bench press, they may only lower it a tad from the lockout yet convince themselves that this is enough. They stay within the easy portion with the best leverage. The length-tension relationship also establishes that the muscles form fewer connections in this portion at the top.
This reduces tension which harms results.
Success is the sum of small efforts – repeated day in and day out.
– Robert Collier
To establish good endpoints, you need the following qualities:
- They come through feel or sight.
- They allow the right range of motion, neither too much nor too little.
- They stay consistent from session to session.
On the bench press, a consistent endpoint at the top is easy, you just extend the elbows. At the bottom though, the chest may feel too far for you. You could wrap a towel or pad around the bar and stop when it grazes your chest.
The chest can still work well for most trainees. Those that can hit the chest may benefit from a greater stretch reflex. This small factor fails to outweigh the safety benefits for some trainees though.
On the squat, you may hit your standard for getting low enough when you barely rest your hamstrings against your calves.
On the pull-up, touching your chest to the bar brings way too much range of motion for everyone. Instead, go until your chin just clears the bar. This keeps the muscles within the strong range yet gives a consistent endpoint.
Using mirrors distract you and fail to develop your sense of kinesthesia, or the feel of the limbs relative to each other, so avoid relying on them.
Consistent Endpoints Maintain Standards for Good Form
Establish endpoints to ensure standards. The natural endpoints for an exercise that relies on body parts may work well for you. If not, find another way to ensure good form that relies on feel or sight, the right range of motion, and that stay consistent.