Workout Progression – Make Gains By Improving Technique


When it comes to progressing to new heights, the obvious methods are to keep upping the stakes with more weight on the bar or a few more reps. While those methods are fine, we humans have a limited capacity to progress in how much weight we can lift and how long we can workout. The good news is that progression through improving your technique is infinite. You can squat for 50 years and still learn ways to improve.

The down side is that technical progression isn’t the easiest of roads to travel. So many folks throw on another 5 pounds or crank out one more rep because it’s the simplest way to progress. Improving technique takes time and practice, not to mention some investment in learning. It’s for this reason, that technical progression is the road traveled only by the most dedicated and disciplined exerciser. If you’re one who endlessly strives for better technique, then you’re in rare company my friend. If you desire greater strength and power through technical progression, then simply read on.

Improving your technique is just like improving any other aspect of your abilities. The S.A.I.D principal roughly states that we improve and enhance those capabilities we challenge. If we challenge our strength, we will improve our strength. If we challenge our balance, we gain balance and so on. So the first step to look at is how do we challenge our ability to use correct technique?

Technical Enhancement #1 – Destabilizing The Body
The easiest way to challenge technical ability is to destabilize an exercise. A perfect example would be to start doing overhead presses while standing rather than sitting on a bench. By standing up, you no longer have the support of the bench. You have to work much harder to keep your back and hips in line with the downward pressure of the weight.

Other examples include doing body weight squats on balance disks and push ups on gymnastics rings. It can be quite humbling how difficult it can be to maintain proper technique now that you don’t have nearly as much support helping you maintain that technique.

Technical Enhancement #2 – Unlocking Your Arms
Unlocking your hands and giving them free range of movement is similar to destabilizing. This is when you use tools that allow each of your hands to move in an infinite number of ways and independent of one another. Doing curls with dumbbells instead of a barbell is a common example as is dumbbell pressing and rowing.

This helps to improve your technique by giving you the option to further custom tailor the movement of each rep to your exact preferences. It gives you more options and angles to work with and over time, you’ll find the precise angles that suits you best.

Technical Enhancement #3 – Check Your Spine
Almost all forces generated by the body travel through your spine. Because of this, your spine can be a fantastic divining rod to detect slight imperfections in your technique. While each exercise has its own technical considerations, most of them require that the spine remain neutral without any movement throughout the exercise.

Typically, it’s unwanted spinal movement that gives away when a technique is falling apart. One of the most prevalent examples is what the spine may do during squats. If the lower back rounds or if there is any action side to side, that could be a tell-tale sign that something else is moving in a funky way.

Technical Enhancement #4 – Use a Mirror
Of course it goes without saying that the mirrors in the gym are not just there so you can check your hair. Watching yourself as you move can instantly give you volumes of feedback about how your body is moving. It’s also a great way to tell if your technique deteriorates through each set. The key is to watch your reflection for imperfections in technique rather than just watching yourself. Have a critical eye towards what you are doing and your form will improve with each set.

Technical Enhancement #5 – Watch Videos
Never underestimate the power of watching other people do what you desire. The mind has an almost magical way of taking things you like and transferring those aspects through your own body. This is why watching some videos on the Internet can be so inspiring and effective. Simply watching elite athletes performing the moves you want to master will give you new information to use in your next workout. You don’t even have to pick out specific changes that you wish to make. Just seeing someone performing at a high level and trying to emulate them will improve your technique even on a subliminal level.

Technical Enhancement #6 – Using a Pause During Each Rep to Emphasize Control
Our ability to maintain good technique varies during each individual rep. We can usually use good form at the start of each rep, but somewhere between the bottom of the rep we may hit a weak point where the technique may erode. This typically happens at the bottom of a squat, the top of a pull up and the bottom of a dip.

Because we are slightly weaker in these positions, we may bounce or speed through this point in our range of motion. This can increase our risk of injury since we are essentially making haste through the area where we have the least control and confidence.

To combat this tendency, it’s helpful to practice the technique where you pause and hold that weaker position for a few seconds. This will help build strength and confidence within that point in the range of motion. It will also help you discover any technical breakdown that you might otherwise not notice because you spend so little time in that position.

Technical Enhancement #7 – Using a Full Range of Motion
The final consideration is to look into expending your range of motion with each technique. There are a number of technical rules we may come across that recommend we use a short range of motion to protect various joints but these rules can often be bent. Adding a few centimeters here and there can do wonders for improving your strength and technical ability.

The final point to consider is that many of these technical improvements may come at the cost of decreasing our weight or volume. In fact, this is often why many people don’t seek to improve their technical ability because it means lifting less weight or getting fewer reps. This is also why a lot of technical breakdown can occur. Even I was known to sacrifice technique in the name of lifting more weight or getting in a few more reps.

While the idea of lifting less weight or fewer reps might seem like a step backwards, think about it another way. Improving your technique is always a step forwards. If it means you must lift lighter, then that means you can get the same results, or better, without needing to lift as much. Ever since I’ve taken on this perspective, I’m relieved to improve my technique so I don’t have to lift as much or workout as long.

At the end of the day, know that improving your technique will make you stronger, faster, more agile and less prone to injury. Investing in improving your technique is always a worthwhile investment of time and effort.

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About Author

Matt Schifferle

My name is Matt Schifferle and I'm an A.C.E. Certified Personal Trainer, CrossFit Level 1 coach, underground strength coach and I'm a 5th degree black belt in Taekwon-Do. I specialize in outdoor and playground based underground and CrossFit style bootcamps. See my profile page for more information!

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