REFLECTIONS IN THE IRON GAME: PROPER FORM AND DRUG TESTING
By Bill Piche
In the past on my website Cyberpump.com I have published surveys on various topics. The biggest one of interest to me over the years has been the survey of readers with this question: “How many injuries have you had in the last two years?” The results revealed that a whopping 65% of the respondents had suffered at least one injury in the last two years. Twenty-nine percent had suffered at least two injuries. It is part of the game right? I do not believe it should be that way.
“When lifting weights, a barbell is an inanimate object. There is no one to blame for an injury except the person using the barbell.”
In other sports, an athlete might make contact with another athlete and suffer an injury (e.g., football, basketball), but when lifting weights a barbell is an inanimate object. There is no one to blame for an injury except the person using the barbell. Proper form seems to be an afterthought with most trainees. Many trainees do not realize that without proper form they might short-circuit their potential. There is no question that injury is one of the biggest causes of stifling one’s progress. And, in my opinion, using poor form causes many of these injuries.
I also believe there can be a cumulative effect from using bad form, although the ramifications may not become apparent for many years. A good analogy is smoking. A person who smokes may not see the effects of the damage immediately, but only after years of smoking. Once the damage is done, it is too late. I believe the same thing happens in weight training when improper form is used over a long period of time. Everyone of my old training partners has at one point or another became a walking injury. Coincidence? I do not think so.
It amazes me how some people shy away from talking about the consequences of improper form. After all, if you think about proper form or switch to an exercise that may be just as effective but “safer” with respect to keeping proper form, you must be a wimp! It’s not macho to admit you lifted like an imbecile or made mistakes.
“To me, a characteristic of an advanced trainee is one who can take it to the limit with high intensity and not break proper form.”
You may have wondered why I am so adamant and outspoken on using proper form. Why? Because I love to train! If I could train every single day, I would. The liberties I took with my lifting form when I was younger have caught up with me and have held me back numerous times. My mind is willing, but my body is not. Do not get me wrong; my message is not for you to worry about getting injured every time you enter the gym. My message is to make proper form a priority in your training. Simply put, you can’t progress when injured. Your progress may be hampered when you get older as well. To me, a characteristic of an advanced trainee is one who can take it to the limit with high intensity and not break proper form.
The first rep looks like the last even when going to failure. If you look around in most gyms, this is the exception rather than the rule. In other sports, many hours are spent perfecting proper form. For example, have you ever asked a really good basketball player how they became a good player? Do they just show up for the games and shoot the ball? No. They spend many hours shooting the basketball. They practiced the skill by shooting the basketball. Unlike basketball, lifting weights daily is probably out of the question. However, some devoted attention to using proper form is a small investment that will reap large returns in the long run.
When a basketball player is standing at the free-throw line to shoot a free throw do they just throw the first few at the rim without concentrating or before settling into the proper form? You bet they don’t. So, why do many trainees often blow through their warm-ups? Your warm-up sets are a great time to practice and perfect proper form. How can you practice proper form when the warm-up weights may be significantly lighter than your work weight? It’s simple. Treat every set like it is your work set. Approach the bar with the same fire and enthusiasm you would have for your work set(s). Often a lifter will get discouraged during warm-ups because the weight may feel “heavy”. This may set the tone for a sub-par performance on the work sets or the trainee may alter the workout plan before even starting. This is another reason to treat your warm-ups like your work sets. Strive to become a machine so that if someone watched you train and could not see the weight, they could not distinguish between a warm-up, a work-set, or the last rep before failure.
“There is more to the deadlift than just walking up to the bar and pulling.”
Proper Deadlift Form
There is more to the deadlift than just walking up to the bar and pulling. However, that’s what I did for years. I never worried about back position or anything else for that matter – as long as I got the weight. If you’ve ever seen a world-class Olympic lifter in action, their starting position must be flawless to be in the proper position to execute a successful clean and jerk or snatch. The first portion of an Olympic lift is nothing more than a deadlift. They keep their backs flat. In my opinion, this is one of the most important aspects of proper deadlift form. The initial pull from the floor should be deliberate so the bar does not get out from your body or your hips rise too quickly. The bar should come straight up.
“Using proper form does not mean you should become paralyzed in your training by over analyzing your form.”
I have found that a pre-pull on the bar can help maintain the proper starting position. The pre-pull is nothing more than pulling on the bar hard enough to tighten the lats and muscles in your upper back. This is a not a light pull on the bar. It should completely lock your arms tight and they should remain that way. Do not perform the pre-pull and then let up slightly just before trying to break the weight from the floor. This should be done every repetition. The fastest way to break form is to add weight too quickly before this position can be maintained and becomes automatic. This same pre-pull should be used whether you use a shrug bar or a standard Olympic bar.
Using proper form does not mean you should become paralyzed in your training by over-analyzing your form. Perfect your form and make sure it stays perfect. If proper form was such a “given”, we would be able to walk into any gym and see everyone using good form. Do not just give it lip service. You can’t attack the weights if you are injured. Remember that cumulative damage due to sloppy form may not show up for years. Do not get me wrong; I am not saying to be “afraid” of getting injured when you are in the gym. You need to go to war with the weights! Just do it with impeccable form.
Back in the early 80’s I traveled many hours to be able to compete in a powerlifting contest that was drug-tested. My mindset was never that all the competitors would be drug-free because there will always be cheaters who try and beat the drug-tests. In sports today with millions of dollars on the line it is not a surprise that the ability to test and catch those using illegal performance enhancers would lag behind. However, this does not mean we just put our heads in the sand and give up with respect to testing.
There is a significant factor, known as deterrence, that does enter into the picture. The definition of deterrence is as follows: the act or process of deterring; the inhibition of criminal behavior by fear especially of punishment. Obviously, the higher the level of competition the less deterrence there is, especially if there is a large amount of money involved. My opinion is that the lower the level of competition the higher level of deterrence when there is drug-testing. Or, so you would think.
“The true fact of the matter is that the two things that truly ‘work’ are training and eating.”
I have to applaud the International Physique League (IPL) for not going half-baked in checking for PED’s. In my opinion, the full list of known PED’s should be tested. People also seem to have the tendency to justify the use of an aid by twisting the word “natural” in its definition. The true fact of the matter is that the two things that truly “work” are training and eating. If one notices a huge difference from any supplement not yet on a banned list, one can bet that it will likely end up on that banned list.
Myself, I would rather just change the wording to Drug-Free rather than Natural or create the term Drug-Free/Natural Bodybuilding. Athletes proclaiming themselves “natural” when they skirt the true meaning of the word by using substances not yet on the banned list are just as bad as those using known PED’s and trying to mask their use. GAINZMAG
BILL PICHE | CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Bill is lifetime drug-free powerlifter. In 1989, he pulled an over triple bodyweight deadlift of 600lbs at 193lbs bodyweight that ranked 49th in the nation in the American Drug Free Powerlifting Association that year. Bill created the Cyberpump network (Cyberpump.com) in 1995, one of the oldest training sites on the Internet. Bill has written numerous articles for various publications including HARDGAINER, Powerlifting USA, Monster Muscle, and various web sites.