training & exercise Oct 05, 2022

You know, this technique debate is a funny thing.

On one side there are people who say that technique is the most important thing in strength training; then the other side is people who disagree, say it doesn’t matter at all, and think that the people who say it’s important are all idiots. In the fitness industry, this debate exists amongst strength coaches, physios, bodybuilders, gym rats on reddit, and now fitness “experts” on Instagram.

I’ve been in the fitness industry for a long time and even if you’ve only been here a short time, you’ll know that there are trends that come and go.

Lifting technique is one of the latest “trend topics”, so let’s talk about why so many people are completely missing the mark on it.

Every time a topic reaches “trend topic” or “fitness fad” status, the debates around it are usually really repetitive, circular, dumb, and not helpful.

People take normal things that are perfectly appropriate in the right time and place, then market them as a “one size fits all” solution that will fix everyone’s problems, all of the time. For example, low carb diets, low sodium diets, high sodium diets, booty bands around the knees, tempo training, training to failure/not training to failure, and the list goes on. These things can be the right thing, in the right amount, for the right person, at the right time, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best option, for everyone, forever.

And something we also know is that whenever you pull a pendulum hard in one direction, it’s always going to swing back the other way.

If people say “Technique is important, but it needs to be considered in context”, then nobody can really argue with that. Well, they can, and they do, but that’s a discussion for another time.

BUT… when people say “Technique is all that matters, and this is the technique you need to use”, this is when the pendulum starts swinging. The programming nerds will get upset, and anyone who uses a different technique will disagree, then you’ll get people arguing for the sake of arguing, and this is when the “debate” gets really stupid and completely misses the mark. It basically becomes a big circle jerk, with no one winning, and everyone falling back on name calling and ab hominem arguments. 


Yes, technique does matter, but we also need to understand why it matters, when it matters, and what else matters.

So let’s talk about why it matters.

If you look at our bodies, we’re not actually designed to lift excessively heavy weights. But for some idiotic reason, we insist on doing it. 

Forklifts were invented for a reason, and they were also designed to have the precise mechanical advantage needed for moving heavy loads – a mechanical advantage that we, as humans, don’t have. We’re built to run, to move, to hunt, to exist, but we’re not built to be strength specialists.

This means that if we insist on lifting heavy weights, we need to have some kind of an idea about mechanical advantages so we can maximize our lifting capacity, but also so that we can protect our joints, muscles, bones, and tissues from this unusual repetitive load we’re exposing them to.

Now, it’s not just that we’re putting our bodies under heavy loads, repeatedly, but we’re also doing it in a performance setting where we’re competing with ourselves and others to constantly improve and out-perform. Forklifts just lift, they don’t do it competitively. But we’re out here trying to do what a forklift does and then improve on our performance every time. Some of us have even turned it into a sport.

Yes, we’re idiots. Yes, I’m including myself in this. No, I’m not going to stop anytime soon, and neither should you. We just need to be smart about it.

If you look at anyone who is good at anything, they’ll tell you that technique matters. Golfers spend hours perfecting their swing; classical musicians have spent years practicing their technique so that each note sounds just right; and the best surgeons in the world are known for their technical prowess.

So, if we look at lifting weights from a performance standpoint, it’s clear that technique is an important part of being good at anything. And not only that, but also seeing where our technique breaks down can highlight the weak areas we can improve on to be better overall.

On the flip side, it’s also true that if you want to be a good lifter, other things matter as well. 

You can take a technically great lifter and put them under a load that’s currently too heavy, and their lift will turn to garbage. If you give someone way more volume than they can handle, they’re going to fatigue and perform the exercise poorly, and not only that, they won’t be able to recover and are not going to get good results.

So technique matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters. Programming also matters. Work ethic is important too. Mindset, attitude, environment, recovery, nutrition, it’s all important. But the fact that these things matter doesn’t discount the fact that good technique is central to lifting performance.

And finally, we need to know when it matters.

I’ll start this bit off by saying that the “right technique” for one person might not be the “right technique” for another person. The technique that works best for a person will depend on their body, their goals, and the load they’re lifting. This is why it’s important to know various styles and modifications for all lifts. Having multiple tools is always going to be better than only having one.

And to address the elephant in the room during any technique debate – yes there are people who take the “good technique” thing too far and don’t ever push to the point of seeing any movement breakdown. Form is important, but so is progression, and testing to see where a movement breaks down is an important part of becoming a better lifter.

Take a PB lift for example. When you lift maximal weights, you’re going to see some technical breakdown. But the idea is that once things start getting bad, it’s time to back off – pushing past this to the point that your back literally breaks is just stupid. Take the lift, look at the form breakdown, and use this to figure out your weak points so that you can improve on them for the next time you max out.

This is all a learning process, and we are trying to learn how to become better lifters. Holding yourself to a higher standard with technique is not a sign of weakness, it’s a show of discipline. It’s just one of the tools we have available to make ourselves better at what we do.

When we lift weights in the gym we are teaching our bodies how to move well, and be strong under load. We are learning where our weak points are. We are teaching ourselves how to leverage our bodies. We are learning how to overcome adversity. We are squeezing what we can out of our performance, and this is why technique matters. It’s why technique has always mattered – to engineers, to athletes, and to anyone who gives a sh*t about performing anything well.

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