Everyone knows that you should always use correct form on every exercise.
And everyone knows you should never deviate from correct form.
But, as usual, there is another side to the story.
If you use perfect form 100% of the time, you are never really testing yourself. Never pushing yourself to the limit.
A true, gut-busting set of heavy, max-effort squats simply CANNOT be done using perfect form. If your form was absolutely perfect, then your max is higher than you thought.
And once in a while, you need to push yourself to the edge just to see where your limits really are.
A maximum effort dead lift may cause your back to round slightly. Clearly, this is not perfect form. But if you never pushed the weights up and never pushed your limits, you will never grow.
But if you let yourself slip away from perfect form just once too often, and you will end up injured.
So in reality, maintaining perfect form and achieving new personal records are in direct conflict with each other.
The key to remaining (relatively) injury-free while still notching new personal records on a consistent basis is finding a balance between the two.
Here are some keys to helping you find the perfect balance between perfect form and incredible strength.
#1) Use perfect form 98% of the time.
This point probably does not need much explanation. The vast majority of your training sessions should be done with perfect form.
#2) Use perfect form on 98% of your reps.
The only time it's acceptable to SLIGHTLY deviate from correct form is when you are chasing a new personal record or pushing out a gut-busting effort.
Which means on a set of 5, the first four reps should still be done with perfect form. If you are trying for 315lbs on the bench press and your butt is coming off the bench on the first rep, that is just asking for trouble.
#3) Fight hard to maintain perfect form on maximum efforts.
Even though it is acceptable to temporarily deviate from perfect form on a maximum effort rep, it should not happen on purpose. Any deviation should occur because you are so focused on grinding out a heavy weight and gravity is fighting you every centimeter of the way. You should not plan to deviate from perfect form. On the contrary, you should fight hard to maintain perfect form. But every once in a great while, completing that one extra rep with slightly less than perfect form can be beneficial for strength and muscle gains.
#4) Understand that any deviation from perfect form carries a risk of injury.
Let us be perfectly honest here: If you allow your back to round on a set of heavy dead lifts, or bend over to far on a set of heavy squats, or allow your elbows to flare out on a maximum bench press attempt, you might get hurt.
There is no way around it. And that is why you should strive for perfect form 98% of the time - because this minimizes your chance of injury.
#5) Understand that sometimes you can still get injured even using perfect form.
As much as we would all like to believe that we are invincible and will never get injured, that is simply not the case. If you rarely train, or if you never get any stronger, then perhaps you can avoid an injury. But if you train for long enough, and you get significantly stronger, there will be some injuries along the way. If you start out squatting 185lbs and work your way up to 500lbs over the course of 10 years, you better believe there will be an injury or two along the way.
I know this article will be controversial. To be honest, I thought twice about posting it because a few people will probably take this article as an excuse to get lazy.
But here is a real life training example that should illustrate my point:
Over the past few months, I have been training hard to bring up my strength in the front squat.
For many months, I used perfect form and made steady strength gains. But eventually, the weight started to get extremely heavy. When coming out of the bottom of the exercise, you should keep your elbows high.
I know this.
But on one day, when striving for a new personal record, I came out of the bottom of the squat and started to get stuck. In short, it looked like gravity was winning. I could have simply bailed out on the rep.
But instead I tried to fight through it. My elbows dipped a bit (a form breakdown) and my hips came up, putting more torque than usual on my lower back.
I got the rep.
But as a result, I tweaked my lower back and was in pain for the next few days. But in my opinion it was worth it. Because the injury healed. And a few months down the road I am now using 50lbs more than I was before on the front squat. If I were to drop down to 50lbs to the weight I was using when I initially had a form breakdown, I would be able to handle the weight easily and with perfect form.
But only because I consistently increased the weight and forced new gains even when that meant a small sacrifice in form on occasion.