You’ve been training for awhile now, and your progress has plateaued. It seems like the answer is to push harder or look for a new training program that’s more intense. But maybe, just maybe, the real answer is to look at your form, to assure that you’re doing the exercises correctly.

We all do it; sacrifice our form for the supposed benefit of beating the clock. We get caught up in the “competition” of working out with others—leave your ego at the door—and take shortcuts to go faster: hips don’t open fully at the top of a squat or get low enough, twerking under the bar instead of holding a tight body, chest doesn’t hit the floor in a push up or burpee, arms don’t lock out in a overhead lift, back rounds at the bottom of a lift, toes come close but not quite hit the bar. All the little “cheats” we wouldn’t accept from our children. Cheat may seem harsh but that’s really what it is. It’s cheating you of getting the most from the exercise.

These little cheats in training become our habitual movement patterns. We’ve been doing them for years and training the body to accept them as the standard and when the exercise doesn’t seem to be working for us we look somewhere else for the reason. The option is to commit to yourself to develop the best form and take the time, if that’s what’s required, to do the movements to the standard. To not count a rep that is not acceptable—that’s why it’s called a “no rep” in competition.

You don’t need to look for a harder program, you’re already in it! If you’re focusing on how much weight your can pick up rather than how much weight you can pick up with good form you’ve grabbed the wrong end of the stick. Doing a 200lb. deadlift where the hips don’t open completely—let’s say they can open another inch—because you’re focused on weight, will not help you meet your strength goals. Let’s look at this in a couple of ways:

  1. Not opening your hips at the top of the lift means you are not developing the strength in the gluteals that opening requires. That last bit of movement required to open the hips is the hardest piece—otherwise why avoid it—it’s at the least advantageous angle to the muscle and requires more work.
  2. Completely extending the hips also extends the hip flexors—having some tightness in your groin, we may have found a possible cause.
  3. Opening the hips completely, that last inch, requires moving the weight farther. Work is equal to the force (load) times the distance the force was moved, that extra inch requires more work.
  4. Not opening the hips completely causes the weaker muscle fibers to overwork, which can lead to problems like low back strain, sciatica… Opening hips spreads the load.

Leave your ego at the door. Give yourself permission to train the movements correctly. If you’re being coached to open your hips, or some other cue… listen and make the needed correction. No one cares what is written on the white board. No one cares if there’s an Rx next to your name, especially if your form is faulty. It’s written in dry erase not permanent marker for a reason, you should be striving to get better.