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STRICT REPS VS. LOOSE REPS WHEN WEIGHT TRAINING

BOTH HAVE VALUE

This will be a relatively short post. There are differing ways to lift weights or to otherwise work out with resistance. We can use light or heavy weights, short or lengthy numbers of reps and fast or slow movements. We can carefully perform an exercise by isolating the muscle or body part being exercised. Or we may make slight deviations from good form and thereby increase the amount of resistance being used.

As a beginner in my teen years, I was immediately concerned with using strict form at all times. This was the safest way to handle weights in order to get the best results and to prevent injuries. It seemed that “cheating” on the movement would not be in my best interests in any context.

After several months, I began to read about “cheating curls“. This was a method of barbell curling that would allow us to use much more weight. I found that I could use 30-40 more pounds in a barbell curl by engaging my legs and back – swaying a bit. Later, I saw a video of Lou Ferrigno doing dumbbell curls. He was not returning the dumbbell to the beginning point. He was stopping his downward “negative” before he locked out the arm being engaged. In this manner, he was maintaining tension on that arm. This made a lot of sense. I noticed that Arnold Schwarzenegger would also use swaying to enable him to use more resistance.

So…”cheating” on a dumbbell or barbell movement does not necessarily suggest something illegal, unethical or unhealthy. It is merely another tool in our kit of weight training options.

I had also noticed that I could do more push-ups by doing them very quickly and without coming to a full stop with my chest against the surface for a couple of seconds. There seemed to be many ways to extend a movement by using looser form.

Some people seemed to overdo the looser method of weight training. I would go to gyms and occasionally see men who were handling heavy weights while groaning loudly with each rep and then letting the weight fall to the floor with lots of noise. (It seemed that these people were childishly seeking attention).

WHAT THIS TAUGHT ME

My tendency has always been to favor strict form over looser ways. I did experiment with “cheating” barbell curls as a teenager with over a year of training. I don’t know whether this was helpful or not, since I was gaining so quickly at that time in any event.

Here is the distillation of my personal experience and thoughts on the subject:

  • Strict form is best for beginners – learn correct techniques.
  • Strict form is also best for seniors – be careful. Our bones are more brittle.
  • Arnold and Lou are not wrong. They know what they are doing.
  • But the rest of us are not that strong or resilient.
  • Experiment carefully

By far the best use of both strict and loose forms together, in my opinion, is the following:

  • Begin a set with strict form. Continue until you can no longer physically manage the resistance, At that point, use other body parts to assist in the reps or – while using heavy weights for bench pressing – have a workout partner assist very slightly by placing a hand under the bar as you continue.

RESOURCES

Here are a few relevant items from Amazon. As an Amazon affiliate, I may earn from qualifying purchases. Scroll around from these links for similar options:

Bullworker isotonic/isometric products give us tools that will enforce correct technique.

Dick’s Sporting Goods remains my favorite source for sports equipment and apparel

CONCLUDING

Strict form vs. loose form recently became an issue for me in my personal workouts each morning. I felt that my push-ups needed to be “tightened up”, since I was rushing through them to reach my rep goal. Also, I needed to brace my elbow against the back of a chair on my dumbbell curls to isolate the biceps muscle.

As a senior, I needed to go back to the basics of strict form, even if this meant fewer reps. I have been able to get good results from this change. Periodic changes – of any kind – have generally been helpful in all of my fitness routines. It is easy to “burn out” mentally with constant sameness.

Please leave me any comments or questions in the “Comments” section below. Or email me, richard@myworkoutathome.com.

Happy training and stay positive!

Richard

2 Comments

  1. I lift weights and work out at least 3 to 4 times a week and I can say that I always do strict reps. I have never actually heard of loose reps before and always considered how you describe it as simply bad form. However, I learned from your post that it is actually a technique that is used by professionals. Very interesting post.

    • Thanks, Al. Keeping tension on a muscle by not locking out completely is not bad form. It is another way to train. I prefer strict form, but try to keep an open mind. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferigno are not using bad form. Perspective is necessary.

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