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Effective Lifting Technique Explained

24/03/10 - This article has been published in the latest edition of Australian Ironman Magazine. View the correct lifting technique article.

When you’re training for maximum muscle development, it is essential that you exercise in an effective manner. Workout intensity, duration, time of day, set volume, rep ranges, split structure and exercise selection are all key ingredients to consider within the “workout mix”. However one other critical aspect to optimal hypertrophy is your lifting technique. The technique that you exhibit will have a profound impact on both your results and the risk of injury that you subject your body to.

Let’s begin by clarifying what is meant by “good” lifting technique. Good lifting technique isn’t necessarily that which is demonstrated within a personal training textbook. For a beginner, this may be appropriate as his strength, proprioception and confidence may be underdeveloped. Yet with more advanced training programmes, some deviation from more orthodox exercise motions may be required. Some examples would include functional training, or alternatively eccentric training, where some form of assistance from other muscle groups is required on the concentric phase. So within this article, “good” lifting technique refers to a motion that is effective for the desired stimulus whilst not increasing the risk of injury unnecessarily.

Arguably the most common misconception within the bodybuilding community is that more weight will necessarily encourage greater hypertrophy. As a result of this assumption, it is commonplace to begin moving around weights carelessly. Consider these two familiar scenarios:

  1. A novice lifter bicep curling heavy weights by swinging his body excessively.
  2. An inexperienced trainer may be bench pressing a weight that cannot be controlled. Rather, the weight is controlling him.

When we take a look at the poor form that can result from the “more weight is better” notion, there are two distinct disadvantages to this mentality:

  1. Increased risk of injury
  2. Decreased load on the targeted muscles

The first novice trainer who is bicep curling an excessive amount of weight risks back injury, shoulder injury and even causing soft-tissue damage to his bicep and associated connective tissues. If severe enough, any one of these injuries could inhibit his ability to train for many months.

Meanwhile, the bicep muscle itself cannot handle such an excessive load in isolation; hence why the legs, back and shoulders are assisting in lifting the barbell. In doing so, this trainer is effectively taking the load off the targeted muscle group – the biceps.

Within the second example, the inexperienced lifter is attempting to bench press as much weight as possible with little regard for exercise execution. In doing so, the barbell is not kept horizontal, the repetitions are being rushed and he displays a very limited range of motion. The most obvious risk with this approach is shoulder impingement – an all too common scenario with the bench press. Of course he also exhibits a heightened danger of soft tissue damage, let alone risking the bar falling on him due to his lack of control. The angled bar results in an uneven weight distribution across the chest, shoulders and triceps, increasing the risk of injury and causing uneven muscle development. Further, the limited range of motion means that the pectorals may not be overloaded effectively as they only obtain a limited degree of stretch on the eccentric phase.

Both of these situations demonstrate exactly what you should not be doing in the weights room; lifting more for the sake of lifting more.

Any natural bodybuilder will concede that muscle growth is a slow process. It requires years of dedication to accomplish substantial muscle growth. Therefore, it is imperative that you remain consistent with effective training, recovery and nutrition in order to accomplish long-term growth goals. Exposing your body to unnecessary risk by sacrificing good lifting technique is one sure-fire way to jeopardise all of your efforts to date. All it takes is one major injury; and this can happen in the blink of an eye.

It is important to note that minimising the risk of injury altogether is impossible when you are exercising. If it is your goal to train in cotton-wool, bodybuilding is obviously not a suitable lifestyle choice. However, an intelligent approach to bodybuilding is necessary to maximise the effect of your training regimen, whilst minimising the risk associated with physical exercise.

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