Lee Haney's Pointers for "Perfect Form"

Lee Haney explains the importance of mental focus is in achieving "perfect form"

QUESTION

It’s recommended that bodybuilders use “perfect form” for every exercise. What exactly does that entail?

ANSWER

To be honest, we in the pro ranks have probably thrown around the adage “use perfect form” too much without explaining it fully. Part of it is simply maintaining control and correct movement in an exercise, but it’s more than that. 

A “perfect movement” doesn’t necessarily refer only to the conscious steps you take during an exercise — feet planted, spine aligned, core tight, etc. — but also to focusing on your body’s learned automatic response. Timothy D. Wilson, of the University of Virginia, points out in his book, Strangers to Ourselves, that of the 11 million bits of information our brain can absorb in one second, only about 40 of those bits are processed consciously. 

The rest go into the unconscious part of the brain, where such things as muscle control are handled automatically. Why? Because muscle control is contingent upon repetition, instinct, experience and visual-mental-nervous system relationships that are too complex for the conscious part of our brain to process; so complex, in fact, that they must be constantly reinforced by our training regimens. 

If you’ve ever taken a layoff from training, you’ve noticed how “weak” and awkward you are at a given exercise when you come back. That’s not purely weakness; it’s that your body forgot how to gather its strength for the lift (mainly its ability to synchronize the firing of nerves that cause muscle contractions), and no matter how much you concentrate on putting it all together, it still takes a few workouts to retrain yourself to your prelayoff level. 

An equally important facet of the automatic faculty of the mind is its ability to override the conscious mind when a physical act needs to be performed more efficiently or urgently, such as going for a personal-record lift. The more your conscious mind intrudes in such a situation, the worse you will perform; the more thought you impose on an intense activity, the more cautious, tentative, weak, inhibited and isolated your muscle responses will be. 

To execute technique without necessarily thinking about every single step along the way depends on the automatic mind — when a response is required to counteract an exorbitant stress, your mind and body marshal all of their forces in a coordinated, synergistic attack. Whether the result is a personal-best lift, or simply a great rep, correct form becoming an automatic response is a beautiful thing indeed. All it takes is the patience to learn the proper way to do exercises and gain valuable experience. With consistent practice in the gym, “perfect” becomes second nature. 

PERFECT POINTERS

BE CONSISTENT

Condition your unconscious mind with a consistent training regimen; stops and starts and long layoffs will only leave you beginning over at square one instead of learning exercise form and becoming an efficient muscle-building machine.

BE SENSIBLE

Don’t trade off form for higher-weight lifts because, in the long run, learning to lift correctly will make you stronger and allow you to achieve gains that someone who’s sloppy in their training never will attain.

PUSH YOURSELF

The relentless pursuit of “perfect form” doesn’t mean you should sacrifice effort and intensity to attain textbook reps. Don’t ever lose sight of the need to challenge yourself to ever-greater poundages. - FLEX

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