The Reality of Using Lifting Videos for Exercise Form Checks

Posted on 12 Dec 2012 21:26

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Not many strength trainees have personal trainers or strength coaches to check up on them when they are lifting. I actually think that most people who do strength training have never had any formal help of any kind. Probably, if you did a survey or something, you'd find the number of trainees with this kind of luxury so small it is insignificant. This means that most trainees are on their own and get no advice whatsoever, or they get their advice from the internet. Most training advice on the internet seems to come back to exercise form. Everybody seems to be an expert on “form.” Also, there are a lot of technique experts. I doubt that most of these internet-experts even know what the word form means. And since the word form and technique are used interchangeably, they must not know what technique means either. It's not easy to explain, so I asked Eric how he would go about explaining it, and here is what he had to say:


“I think the problem is that form and technique are not the same concepts at all, but most everybody thinks they are. It's this misunderstanding that creates what is probably the central misconception about training for maximal training versus strength training for other purposes. When we say form we are talking about how the exercise looks when the trainee is doing it. That is, the outward appearance of it. Perfect form is just a concept. That is, that an exercise can LOOK perfect is a lot different than reality, much of the time. What we are saying is “this is the way the body should move in a perfect scenario. This is the angle the joints should make, and this is the pattern the body segments should move in, etc.” You have to realize that since this is but a concept, it does not represent everybody. It is a “rule of thumb” to guide us. Unless you have a highly experienced eye, and know the difference between textbook and reality, you probably should not be evaluating random lifts on the internet, or whatever.

The clincher to understanding is, indeed, the word technique. Like you mentioned, people use the terms form and technique as if they are the same, but don't have a clue what they are saying. Well, they are not the same. Form is how it looks. But technique is how you intend to do it. Good technique corresponds to a certain form but only in a “perfect world.” What is a perfect world in strength training? It's when the weight is moderately challenging. That's it. Anything past the “moderate” level and the form starts deviating from the intention in tiny ways, which become more apparent and larger deviations as the weight goes up. There is a range of good form, but perfect form, again, is only a concept. The take home point is that you always intend to use good technique, but intention and appearance (form) do not always coincide. That is the explanation. How we go about working within this, and planning training within it, is a whole big can of worms. But now, you should realize that when an internet expert tells you you need to work on your form he is making all kinds of assumptions that may or may not be valid. All he really knows is that you have deviated from his idea of perfect form, but he does not know WHY this deviation occurred, nor what should be done about it. You can't “work on something” if you don't know what the problem is, or if there even is a problem.”

So now we know what form is, and what we are really asking when we get a form check. I have noticed that most internet savvy trainees posting videos of their lifts for form check and video critiquing are using maximal or near maximal loads. They hope and expect feedback that will help their training in the future and get them closer to their goals. Taking advantage of the digital age is a good thing, but this is a not a good way to get useful feedback. You will have noticed that the immediate knee-jerk response of most amateur critics is to slam the trainee on the nuances of using such heavy weights. Getting a group of internet-experts to review your videos is a gamble in and of itself, but besides that; this form of feedback is another bad idea because your maximal lifts are probably not going to have “textbook” form even though the intention is to keep it textbook perfect.

In fact, if you execute a maximal lift with textbook perfect form it means that it wasn’t a maximal lift at all. A maximal lift requires absolute force production. That is why many of these lifts are going to be complete grinders with you straining against the bar. The intention behind every lift is to stick to the rules, but the reality is that with maximal or near-maximal loads the appearance of a lift will not mimic textbook rules regardless of the intention behind it. At the same time, it does not fall into the category of “bad form” because of the determination to keep it perfect. So do not misunderstand the appearance of a heavy lift: it is not done differently from any other lift but the way it looks is not going to be picture perfect.

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Lifting your maximum means committing yourself to completing the rep. There are no caveats in the word maximum. The most you can lift with perfect form is not your maximum, it is something else. The most you can lift safely is also another (related) caveat. Your training should prepare you to express your maximum strength with relative safety. In other words, your training should mitigate the risk by making your body fit to handle a maximum load. This is why we say “We don't lift weights to be fit; we want to be fit to lift weights.” So, performing a 1RM is a test of your ability, not your form.

Thus, when a trainee puts up a video of a new personal record of 300 lbs on the Bench Press, he receives a long yarn of how he needs to do some board presses for lockout, dumbbell presses for the bottom part of the press, etc. All this feedback is null and void simply because a new PR means all the form rules go straight out the window. It’s about whether or not the lift is successful. That is all.

If form check must be done, it should be with the working sets over a period of time – one workout is just a snapshot and may not reveal much. Eric Troy has written about this in his article Quantitative Measurements and Quality Evaluations. You should be lifting a load that is both challenging and one with which you can show proper form. Coaches would like to attest to a certain percentage of the trainee’s one rep maximum for the work sets but the truth is that while you’re doing form checks you’re being an historian. So, whatever weights the trainee has been handling for a while, whether it is 150 lbs with a max of 300 lbs or whether much higher, this working weight has to be taken into consideration. A few videos of this over some weeks gives a much more accurate representation of the ground reality of the situation.

Therefore,to all the form check police: don’t be overly critical of maximal attempts, they’re meant to be difficult. Maximal lifts are meant for trainees to struggle against and will rarely look pretty. Reviewing one maximal lift is not going to give you a strong basis to make recommendations for the future nor will it help in gauging weaknesses of the trainee. And for all trainees submitting videos and embracing the digital age: don’t just submit one video and expect useful critiquing. Do your homework and submit many videos over several training sessions so as to help the people helping you do a better job.

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This page created 12 Dec 2012 21:26
Last updated 25 Feb 2015 21:58

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