The Form On The Inside
I tend to think absolutes. Since most of my thinking each day is dedicated to the ideal of strength training, I spend a great deal of time thinking about proper form in strength training – absolute form. By absolute I mean perfect. I think about it. I teach it. I attempt to live it. I believe I benefit from it greatly, outside and in.
Strength training is an endeavor where perfection actually can be attained, and done so daily. Think about that. Few opportunities in life can provide us with a chance to approach, let alone achieve perfection. It’s possible to do with strength training. Perfection in strength training is a choice – a series of choices.
Proper form in strength training is the heart of it. Internal and external benefit to one’s body notwithstanding, strength training is where a supreme connection can be made between mind and body – between spirit and flesh. Though good form may be visible to, and appreciated by an onlooker, good form in strength training takes place first on the inside.
The Singular Repetition: A Timeless Place
An arm is extended and retracted. A leg is raised and lowered again. A torso turned and returned. Through all if it there can be purity if the mind chooses purity. It can be heavy and not require momentum. It can be intense and not require a breach of form. It can be productive and still be perfect.
A connection is first made – a realization that the weight moves up or down only when the mind and the body reciprocate with one another to achieve this objective. The objective is to challenge the body and the mind, simultaneously, to direct heavy objects despite gravity. As the mind and body intermingle to achieve this, the world beyond is minimized.
The singular repetition of a strength exercise, executed in proper form, through a complete range of motion, dialed into with absolute concentration, is as cleansing to me as a deep breath of fresh air. For that one moment, that one repetition, I am alone in a perfect state that transcends time. I am not even aware that there is a world beyond my repetition, let alone beyond my workout.
When the fatigue from the set – from the cumulative effect of the perfect repetitions allows the weight to feel so heavy that perfection gives way to momentum, I will break from my trance as cleanly as the break between two Saltine crackers and stop the lift. I will then regroup, catch my breath, sip some water and begin again.
The Choices: A Brief Seminar On Momentum-Free Execution of Strength Movements
1) No weight selected on a machine, barbell, or dumbbell ever be so heavy that perfect form could be not be attained for the desired number of repetitions. A body doesn’t know how heavy a weight is. It only knows how heavy a weight feels.
2) Concentric: With weight in hands, or at the ends of the feet, one begins a slow raising of the weights. This lifting phase of the exercise (when the weight in whatever medium is headed upward toward the ceiling) should take 3-4 seconds. Regardless of the exercise or apparatus, whenever a weight is rising toward the ceiling, one should exhale slowly through the mouth as the weight rises.
3) Pause: When the weight is at its highest point away from the floor, that muscular contraction should be held a moment. An extra breath or two should be taken between each completed repetition. This increased oxygenation will allow the set to be sustained longer.
4) Eccentric: The weight is slowly returned to its starting position. This phase should take 5-6 seconds. One should breathe in slowly while the weight is being lowered.
5) Pause: When the weight is at its lowest point, the extension should be held for a moment with the muscles involved fully stretched yet still engaged, then returned upward.
6) Going excessively heavy will not make you stronger. Cheating your form won’t make your muscles any larger and certainly not any shapelier. Taking away from the purity of the exercise is to take away from the purity of the functional and the aesthetic effects of strength training.
The Perfection Connection
Moving weights perfectly, slowly through a complete range of motion will add value to your human experience. Choosing perfection in strength training will not only help you look better, but it will make you stronger where it matters most; outside the gym in this ongoing challenge we call everyday life. Whether one is carrying a basket of laundry across a room or a bucket of tools across their property, a better outcome awaits from the pursuit and the practice of the perfect repetition.
It is though, the mental clarity I gain from this age old form of body-prayer, which keeps me coming back – perfect repetition after perfect repetition. Be well. rc
Please check back in two weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head… Oh, and to learn more about Carrie’s other creative outlet, please visit www.babyasart.com