Tip: The 4 Principles of Great Technique

Keep these rules in mind for every lift and you'll make more gains and keep your joints healthy.

Everyone assumes their lifting technique is good. If you have a coach or a training partner to keep you honest, perfect. But if not, you'll need to be your own worst critic.

When it comes to lifting technique, the overriding goal is to maximally stress the muscle while minimally stressing that muscle's associated joints and connective tissues.

While the details of exercise technique are specific to the exercise being performed, there are a few general principles that should be applied:

  1. Ideally (and especially when muscle size is the goal), the rep should begin with the target muscle fully stretched and it should end with the muscle fully shortened. For example, this means that a chin-up starts with the arms fully extended with the head between (not behind) the arms, and ends with your clavicles touching the bar (not with your chin cranked up to meet it) and the elbows tucked to the ribs.
  2. Most people should use a slower eccentric tempo than they currently use. "Eccentric" just means the negative or lowering portion of most lifts. Many lifters tend to use the "easiest" lifting speed (both concentric and eccentric). The eccentric phase of each rep has more effect on the total training effect of that rep than the concentric or lifting portion, but only if you perform it relatively slowly.
  3. Continually remind yourself what the goal of the exercise is. If you're squatting for quad strength, but your squat is really more of a "squat-morning," your form isn't totally congruent with your training objective. Now, in this example, leaning forward on a squat isn't necessarily bad per se, it's just bad relative to your stated goal.
  4. Finally, inconsistent exercise technique can lead you to the false impression that you're respecting the principle of progressive overload when you're really not. The most obvious example of this is the squat, where a lifter manages to add 20 pounds to the bar every week, but only because each week he's cutting his depth, leaning forward, and rounding his back more and more.

In reality, he's not getting stronger at all, but rather progressively reducing the challenge through various biomechanical shortcuts. This all-too-common phenomenon never takes you anywhere you want to go.

I totally get the desire to do whatever it takes to put more weight on the bar, but if you use suboptimal technique you'll need more weight to achieve the same end result, which means you're creating unnecessary wear and tear on your joints. Please feel free to explain to me why this is a good idea.

Charles Staley is an accomplished strength coach who specializes in helping older athletes reclaim their physicality and vitality. At age 56, Charles is leaner than ever, injury free, and in his lifetime best shape. His PRs include a 400-pound squat, 510-pound deadlift, and a 17 chin-up max. Follow Charles Staley on Facebook