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Why good form matters for building muscle

Form head cut

Whether you’re doing bodyweight exercises or weight training, the importance of good form can not be overstated. And with good reason! The most cited reason for focusing on technique is injury prevention, but did you know that good form also builds muscle more effectively? Training expert Christian Soetebier explains why.

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What is good form?

Before we start our deep-dive into why good form matters for building muscle, we should consider what “good form” actually means.

Firstly, there is no holistic definition of it. What’s considered good form in an exercise will differ wildly between different schools of thought among coaches and athletes. However, there are some common key points:

  • It should minimize the chances of injury
  • It should employ sound body mechanics

Reducing the chance of injuring yourself relies on having control over the movement. You should be able to keep your joints in proper alignment at all times during an exercise. When you lose control of a joint, you significantly increase the risk of injury. Maintaining good body mechanics allows our muscles to work optimally.

Injury prevention: You can’t build muscle in hospital

Nobody wants to get injured! But when we’re trying to squeeze out that last rep, we sometimes take unnecessary risks to get through it. This is because we often focus on the outcome rather than the process, using muscles that aren’t up for the job and compromising form just to complete a set.

In the worst case, this can lead to injury which is not only painful, but can also mean that you have to take a long training break.

The right tension on the right fibers

When we change the roles of our muscles during the set, we effectively stop training the muscle we wanted to train in the first place. We only stimulate growth in muscle fibers that experience the right amount of tension. So, by compromising our form, we reduce growth in our target muscles.

Muscle roles: Agonist, Synergist, Antagonist

How does this work in practice? Well, when we talk about the work muscles do during movement, we must look at certain roles our muscles take when we move. Take the Push Press as an example:

If we follow good form, we keep our body in a straight line by squeezing our abs. This is to allow the upper traps and triceps to move the weight over our head; these muscles are working and are called the agonist muscles. Our chest muscles will support this movement, so they work as synergists, enabling but not driving the movement. The muscles in the upper back relax, as they would hinder our overhead movement, so these are the antagonists to the Push Press.

When we lose alignment by leaning backwards during the movement, we start to engage the wrong muscles. In the case of the Push Press, this engages the chest muscles to move the weight over our head, making them agonists instead of synergists. As a result, we work our traps and triceps less than we should within the exercise. At the same time, the lumbar spine is compressed, putting the lower back at risk of injury.

Let’s recap:

Focusing on good form provides you with two key benefits:

  • Less time away from training due to injury
  • Maintaining tension on the muscles you want to grow

Of course, good form also depends on the goals of the exercise and your personal anatomy, but by following the key points you’ll be able to keep on training efficiently and effectively.

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