Correct Form Is Whatever Works For You

by Chris on July 31, 2012

If you ever want to bleed from your ears and eyes go watch a YouTube video of a max lift and read the comments section underneath. There you’ll usually find hundreds of comments left by people who couldn’t lift a gallon of milk without sweating ranting and raving about the form of the lifter in the video. Cries about how that person is going to cripple themselves or won’t be able to walk when they’re old resound throughout the halls of commentary. Everyone on the internet is an expert.

Look, I’m the first one to see some of the stupid shit people do in the gym and make a comment about it. I’m also an experienced lifter and coach and often see things that can only be described as a spinal surgeon’s new yacht waiting to happen. But I also acknowledge that different people necessarily lift different ways. A person’s build – everything from the length of limbs to the insertion points of their tendons – affects how they need to lift and what represented optimal technique for their body.

I’ll use myself as an example. There are a handful of lifts that I need to perform with certain form to be successful, among them the bench press and deadlift. I have always benched with a somewhat close grip compared to other people. Ever seen a pro powerlifter bench? Their hands are usually placed as far as legally allowed in competition. However, since I am a smaller-framed guy I never benched wide. Still, I didn’t take an unusually close grip. Until I suffered a shoulder injury a few years back. Now all of my bench pressing is done close-grip. As in close-grip-bench-press close. I’m talking index finger on the edge of the knurling close.

Now if you’ve ever close gripped you know that you sure as hell don’t lift as much weight as with a traditional bench grip. For me, however, that’s not really the case anymore. Since making the switch my close grip bench has actually caught up and nearly surpassed my best normal grip bench. And I feel a hell of a lot safer and stronger that way. It’s what works for me.

Deadlifting is a little simpler to explain. I pull semi-sumo. All of my deadlifting is done this way. In every day life if I pick something up I use the same stance. It’s what is comfortable for me. It’s what feels strong to me. And it’s what gets the job done. End of story.

So what’s the point of all this?

My point is that you need to go find out what works for you. Don’t just take someone’s word that you have to bench with your fingers on the rings. Or that your deadlift stance should be just inside shoulder width. Or whatever garbage internet gurus are regurgitating now. Here is a simple test of whether or not a certain form works. Ready?

  1. Did you lift the weight from starting point to end point? If yes proceed to 2.
  2. Did you die doing so? If no proceed to 3.
  3. Did you get hurt doing so? No? You’re good to go.

There it is. Strength training doesn’t have to be so damn complicated all the time. Go lift heavy things and don’t get hurt doing so. Obviously there are certain things that help with that second part and that’s obviously where you need to start. There is a reason that there are accepted norms on what is safe technique. Don’t interpret this as a wholesale condemnation of proper exercise technique. I still teach my lifters to arch their back when deadlifting and squatting and use sound, tested techniques on all the lifts. But those cues are jumping off points. I always make changes based on individual mechanics. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.

Use your head when you lift. It’s not freakin’ rocket surgery. Don’t do stupid things, and if you’re not sure about something ask a qualified, experienced trainer. Just make sure you, and they, take into account that there is no such thing as an “average lifter”. There are no absolutes in this world. Now go find what works best for you.


steve July 31, 2012 at 2:15 pm

nice article Chris.
I kind of compare it to baseball.Take the top ten hitters and you’ll find 10 different batting stances.They all get the job done.I guess it’s what works for you
oh by the way….my bench stinks,maybe I just need to keep trying to find MY form
gave up on it and started doing more overhead stuff.
after this article I’m gonna give it another try

Sven August 10, 2012 at 10:44 am

What’s your opinion on flaring out the elbows (say, to about 75°) during bench pressing, then?

Chris August 10, 2012 at 10:51 am

Like I said, if it works for you and meets the criteria I laid out above than why not? Personally I always recommend tucking the elbows as it’s one of those accepted cues to prevent injury, kind of like arching the back. There will always be exceptions to the rule – just remember that they are exceptions.

Sven August 10, 2012 at 11:40 am

This is a very helpful answer. I moved more weight, and didn’t feel shoulder strain when I was flaring quite a bit (but certainly not to 90°). I stopped doing it because so many experts said that form was dangerous long term. However, since I narrowed my grip and started to tuck more, my bench is indeed catching up.

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