|Form: The Difference Between Bodybuilding
and Lifting Weights
BodybuildingPro.com Training Database Advanced Training Tips Form: The Difference Between Bodybuilding and Lifting Weights
Form: The Difference Between Bodybuilding
and Lifting Weights
back day. I had just chugged my favorite pre-workout beverage (a
Grande Starbucks), which I used to wash down a couple of those
ephedra "thermo" capsules. My heart was pounding, the adrenaline
was flowing and I was ready to pump some HEAVY iron! I was pacing
back and forth across the gym floor, psyching myself up for a big
set of close grip lat pulldowns. I took a few deep breaths and
strapped into the bar. The pin was set at 250 lbs. - the full rack.
With a mighty grunt, I pulled the bar down to my chest, leaning
back slightly with just "a little" swinging and momentum. I
repeated eleven more times and then released it, exhausted but
exhilarated. Twelve reps with the whole stack! I was pretty happy
psyching up for my second set. This time I had the full stack plus
a 25-lb. plate pinned on for a total of 275 lbs. I started the
second set feeling even stronger; one rep, two reps, three reps...
Then, even through the Metallica blasting into my headphones, I
heard a voice from behind me say, "What the hell are you doing?"
Trying to maintain my near-hypnotic state of concentration, I
continued for the fourth rep, ignoring the blatant interruption.
Then I heard the voice again: "Venuto, what the hell do you call
it - my focus was ruined. I stopped mid set after just four and a
half reps. I turned around and saw that the offending intruder was
Richie Smyth, my trainer. Defensively, I answered his question:
"I'm going heavy today – I need more mass on my lats and you
have to go heavy for that." Richie replied, "You know what
I’ve been telling you for all these years; if you want a big
back, it's not how much weight you lift; your form is more
important than weight." I insisted that my form was good,
but Richie just disapprovingly shook his head.
I knew he was right. Usually when I work out on my own, I go a lot
heavier than when I train with Richie. Even though I grow like a
weed when he trains me, it just seems like the weights are too
light. So when I train on my own ( when he's not looking) I
sometimes slap on the plates for "ego food." This time, he caught
me in the act.
a cancellation that day, so he kindly "volunteered" to take me
through the rest of my back session. He then gave me a humbling
dissertation on proper form. Basically, he taught me the exercise
from scratch. First he dropped the weight down - a lot. "How much
is that?" I asked, looking down towards the weight stack. "Don't
worry about the weight," he scolded. I noticed that the pin was
somewhere near the middle of the weight stack - I was feeling
wimpier by the minute.
continued with his instructional diatribe: "First of all, keep your
body completely vertical. Don't lean back at all. Pull only with
your lats. F-e-e-l the lats as you pull down. Hold it and squeeze.
Now release slowly, fight the negative, let it back slowly, lean
forward and stretch…now pause, hold the stretch, hold it,
keep holding it. Ok, now pull, no momentum, don't lean, just pull
with your lats. Pull straight down, squeeze, hold the squeeze, now
slowly let it back, lean forward and stretch. Concentrate. Focus on
the muscle not the weight."
everything he said, but I guess I still wasn't doing it to his
satisfaction because he stood right behind me and stuck his hand
between my shoulder blades (so I couldn't lean backwards). When I
got into the extended position, he pushed me
forward and said, "drop your head, lean forward, and
S-T-R-E-T-C-H! I felt a tearing sensation in my lats under my
armpits like the muscle was going to rip right off the bone - I had
never experienced anything like it. I grimaced in pain while Richie
smiled sadistically. Rep after rep we went on like this.
last rep, he made me just hold the weight in the stretched position
while he stood there counting the seconds on his watch. Finally, I
couldn't even hang on anymore and I had to let go of the bar like
it was red-hot molten steel. I rubbed my aching lats as a burning
sensation shot through muscle fibers I never knew existed. Then I
looked at the weight stack - it was set at a humbling 170 lbs. That
meant that the other 80 -105 lbs. I was originally lifting was from
pure momentum - or pure cheating I should say.
was just the beginning of a 40-minute "torture session." Richie
continued the pain with close grip chin ups (his way), dumbbell
pullovers (his way), T-bar rows (his way) and some kind of heinous
backward incline bench pulldown exercise I had never even seen
before (not even in Bill Pearl’s massive encyclopedia of
exercise variations). There were slow reps, supersets, tri-sets,
descending sets, ascending sets, isometric holds, loaded stretches
and a variety of other tortuous intensification techniques. Every
exercise was done with moderate or even light weights with the same
fanatical attention to slow speed, perfect form, stretching and
same night, my lats got so sore I could barely put my shirt on. And
with God as my witness, I swear by the next day, they grew out an
inch from that one single workout.
of this story is simple: heavy weights are not always necessary to
build muscle. What’s most important is that the weight you
are using "feels" heavy to the muscles being worked. I know this
statement may sound blasphemous to bodybuilders who are sold on the
"heavier is better" mentality, so please allow me to
goal is simply to lift a weight from point A to point B, then you
would want to use every trick in the book to accomplish that.
Powerlifters are a perfect example: In a bench press competition,
powerlifters speed up their reps, wear bench shirts, arch their
backs, tuck in their elbows, push with their delts and tris, drop
the bar low on their chests and do anything else they can think of
to get the weight up without seeing a red light. By the time
they've used all these tricks, some barrel-chested, short-armed
powerlifters only have to move the bar about 6 inches! Their
concern is not exhausting the pectorals – it is lifting the
weight. But that's not bodybuilding!
the difference between bodybuilding and simply lifting weights.
Poor form with too much weight takes the stress off the
target muscle; momentum moves the weight, not the muscles.
Bodybuilding is accomplished best with strict form, controlled
tempo, optimal tension, and total concentration.
size is your number one priority, you must do everything in
your power to make the exercise harder, not easier. You must
select the path of maximum stimulation – which also happens
to be the path of most resistance, effort and pain. My trainer
Richie put it this way; "When you are child, your parents tell you
to keep your hands off the stove - they tell you not to put your
hand into the flame – because if you do, you’ll get
burned. If you’re serious about bodybuilding, you have to
un-learn what you were taught as a child. When I train people,
basically I’m telling them to put their hand right into the
fire and keep it there. I have them train into and beyond the pain
zone. That’s what makes you grow."
people are on a constant search for the path of least resistance. A
drug, a supplement, a "breakthrough technique" a new machine, a
shortcut in exercise form - anything and everything they think will
help them reach their goals with less effort and in less time. This
is typical human nature. Unfortunately, this is also faulty
thinking and you will NEVER become a champion with this type of
follows are six ways you can use better form to develop more muscle
mass. All of these techniques have one thing in common: they all
involve ways to use better form to make the exercise harder, not
easier. Use these techniques faithfully and you’ll be amazed
at how much muscle mass you can develop without ever needing
Eliminate extraneous body movement and
body movement – or "cheating" as it is so often called, is
responsible for more injuries than perhaps any other cause. At the
same time, it provides little stimulus for new muscle
popular barbell curl for example: The way some people do a barbell
curl looks more like a lower back exercise than a bicep movement.
Watching some people do cheat curls, I often wonder if their biceps
are working at all.
To get a
jarring realization of just how much your cheating contributes to
the weight moving and just how little biceps force is actually
being generated, then take the "post curl" test. Stand against a
post with your heels, butt, and upper back all touching the post.
Now see how much you can curl without losing contact with the post.
Don’t be surprised if those 45 lb plates get reduced to
25’s or even 10’s!
cheating, done occasionally, is a legitimate way to shock
complacent muscles into growth by allowing you to use more weight
than you normally would. However, cheating should be the exception,
not the rule. It’s all too easy for "a little cheating" to
turn into totally sloppy, injury producing form. The general rule
for bodybuilding should be to avoid most extraneous body movement.
Let the muscle move the weight, not momentum, swinging or
Think "Squeeze" & ‘Contract"
rep you perform in every exercise, you should mentally incant to
yourself, "stretch and squeeze." Many bodybuilders habitually
shorten their range of motion and completely miss two of the most
important parts of the exercise: the contraction (the "squeeze")
and the extension (the "stretch").
technique of constant tension without locking out can be very
effective on certain exercises (as you will learn shortly). The
majority of the time, however, the bodybuilding rule of thumb is to
take every exercise through the full range of motion from full
stretch to full contraction.
"squeeze" is especially effective on "peak contraction" exercises
such as standing calf raises, concentration curls, tricep rope
pushdowns, cable crossovers, and Leg extensions. On these types of
exercises where the maximum resistance is placed on the muscle in
the contracted position, pausing to "squeeze" the muscle will give
you a much stronger contraction.
stretch is most important on exercises where there is still a full
load "pulling" on the muscle in the stretched position. Lat
exercises like pulldowns or cable rows are an example. If you skip
the stretch on these, you are not getting the full effect of the
exercise (as Richie painfully demonstrated for me on close grip
Leave your ego at the door
true that the most muscle growth occurs by using a weight that
allows perfectly strict form, then why don't people cut back the
weight and use perfect form more often? The answer is a simple
three-letter word: EGO!
book Get Buffed, Australian Strength Coach Ian King wrote, "I would
say that most load selection in strength training is based upon
what impact it will have on those watching, not what impact it will
have on the body. If you were more serious about your body than
your short term ego, you would take off 75% of the load and perform
the movement in a manner that had some lasting impact on your
strength coach Charles Poliquin echoed King’s sentiments when
he said, "Trainees who use proper form usually have high levels of
self esteem. They show it by their interest in progression not
theatrics, and by lifting for themselves, not for others. They are
not concerned about what the other guy thinks of him lifting
somewhat lighter loads. Successful bodybuilders feel the muscle not
it’s nice to have an audience see how strong you are by
watching you hoist up ponderous poundages, but remember –
you’re in the gym to grow, not to show off! Keep your ego in
Always think "More Tension"
look for ways to maintain or increase tension on the muscles you
are training. In other words, DON’T LET THE MUSCLE RELAX OR
REST during the set!
easiest and most common way to maintain tension is to simply avoid
locking out. Here’s an example: In the barbell squat, the top
position provides close to zero resistance on the quadricep group.
The weight on your shoulders is being supported by your entire body
with bone on bone while the quadriceps remain relatively relaxed
until knee flexion takes place. If you want maximum growth of the
quads (as compared to pure power or strength) you need to keep the
tension on the quads continuously for the duration of the
way to maintain tension is to stay in continuous motion by
eliminating the pause at the top and at the bottom. Pausing at the
bottom of a barbell curl or dumbbell lateral raise, for example,
has absolutely no purpose whatsoever. You are simply resting
time you do biceps or shoulders, try a few sets of barbell curls
and dumbbell lateral raises with no pause whatsoever. Do not stop
moving until the set is finished. You will be forced to reduce your
weight substantially, but remember, form is more important than
weight. The combination of continuous motion with not locking out
will give you a killer workout you won't forget!
Use a slower negative (eccentric movement)
down! Yes, it’s that simple. A slow repetition, by its very
nature, is a strict repetition and a strict repetition is a more
effective repetition. This one little change in technique will go a
long way towards improving your form and increasing your muscular
system of training called "super slow" was developed based on this
concept. While it wouldn’t be wise to do super slow to the
exclusion of all other repetition speeds, I do recommend that you
incorporate more slow movements in your training on a regular basis
as a means of improving your form.
conventional repetition is usually performed with a cadence of one
or two seconds on the concentric (lifting) movement and three or
four seconds on the eccentric (lowering) movement. So how slow is a
"slow" rep? The sky’s the limit: You can experiment with
extending your eccentric movement for five seconds to as long as
thirty seconds or even more! Ellington Darden and Arthur Jones of
High Intensity Training (HIT) and Nautilus fame, used to recommend
the one-minute chin up as method of increasing biceps mass quickly.
(That’s right – thirty seconds up and thirty seconds
Use a slower positive (concentric) movement
You’re probably very familiar with the advice of slowing
down the negative portion of your reps, but have you ever
considered slowing down the concentric movement? If you think slow
eccentrics are hard, wait until you try slow
down your concentric can be equally if not more effective than
negatives – they literally force you to maintain perfect
form. When slowing down your concentric movement, you will notice
the biggest difference in exercises where you usually use momentum
to get the weight started. By removing the momentum you are forcing
your muscle to generate more force - and thus more tension –
just to get the weight started.
Curls, for example, are often started with a big heave that comes
from the hips and lower back. "swinging" the weight up launches the
weight off your thighs but robs you of much of the benefit. By
performing a slow concentric curl, you get the maximum benefit
possible from every inch of the range of motion, including the
bottom portion which is usually "wasted."
perfect form with less weight can be a humbling experience at
first, but if you’re interested in pure muscle growth –
if you’re a bodybuilder, not a weight lifter - then
concentrate on strict form first and weight second. Bodybuilding
and weight lifting are not the same thing. Bodybuilding is
visual, not quantitative. A magazine article with the photo of some
270 pound monster curling 110 pound dumbbells and a headline that
says, "Go Heavy or Go Home" makes for very entertaining reading,
but it has very little to do with reality for the average person.
Yes, heavy weights are great – the heavier the better –
but only if you can keep the muscle under tension by handling the
weight with a strict, controlled movement and good form. Then and
only then should you add weight to the bar. If you're willing to
swallow your ego, slow your movements down, stretch, squeeze,
control the weight, and concentrate, you’ll be able to take
your physique to new heights and do it injury free.
This article was provided
courtesy of Tom Venuto and www.burnthefat.com. Tom is a lifetime natural
bodybuilder, personal trainer, gym owner, freelance writer and
author of "Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle" (BFFM): Fat Burning
Secrets of the World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness
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