MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO IMPROVE LIFTING TECHNIQUE
In strength sports, lifting technique is one of the most important traits in creating a strong, injury-free athlete. Lifters of all levels and experiences will benefit from improving technique.
If you've ever lifted heavy, you'll notice at a certain % of your 1RM, your form starts to deteriorate. Let's call this the technical breakdown threshold (TBT).
For example, if your 1 rep max on the barbell back squat is 315lbs, and your form starts to breakdown significantly when you lift weights over 250lbs (~80%). 80% is your technical breakdown threshold.
Generally speaking, beginner and intermediate lifters will have a lower TBT compared to more advanced and experienced lifters. Case in point: Have you ever noticed that some top level lifters look relatively calm and controlled during 1 rep max attempts? While less-experienced lifters will show more form break down during 1RM attempts.
So how do we use the TBT to help us improve technique? Here's how to do it:
Volume Progression Right Below Your TBT
To improve technique and form over the long term, we must start right at, or right below your TBT. For most of you reading this, I recommend using a load 5% lower than your TBT and progressively overloading at that intensity by either increasing sets, or increasing reps over the span of a training cycle.
Using the same example above (315lbs 1RM), and a TBT of 250lbs (~80%), an 8-week training cycle might look like this:
Week 1: 3x5 @ 235lbs (75%)
Week 2: 3x6 @ 235lbs
Week 3: 3x7 @ 235lbs
Week 4: 3x8 @ 235lbs
Week 5: 3x5 @ 245lbs
Week 6: 4x5 @ 245lbs
Week 7: 5x5 @ 245lbs
Week 8: 1xTechnical AMRAP @ 250lbs
*technical AMRAP means performing as many reps as you can with acceptable form, be honest with yourself.
Let's Break It Down (No Pun Intended)
During Weeks 1-4, you'll be working with 5% under your TBT, which is 235lbs (75% of current 1RM). Each week you'll be adding 1 rep to each set. This slight increase in volume over the span of 4 weeks will allow you to practice and dial in your technique.
During Weeks 5-7, you'll be working with a weight JUST under your TBT (245lbs). By now, your form should have improved drastically (hopefully) enough to perform sets at 7-8 RPE at a weight thats near to your TBT. The goal here is then to be able to maintain proper form over the increasing number of sets.
On Week 8, you'll be performing a technical AMRAP @ your TBT (250lbs). Put the number of reps performed into a 1RM calculator... This will be your new max.
Increasing frequency is another good way to increase volume of the lift you're trying to improve. For example, if your squat needs work, I recommend increasing your frequency to up to 3 times a week. You can work at different rep ranges on each day, but keep the intensity low. The more quality reps you can perform and the more bad reps you avoid, the better. Using the same 315lb 1RM in the examples above, 1 week of training may look like this:
Day 1: 3x6 @ 235lbs (75%)
Day 3: 3x12 @ 190lbs (~60%)
Day 5: 4x3 @ 235lbs (~75%)
These are only examples, as there are other strategies that can be used here. However, the overarching philosophy of this method should be:
- Consistently working with a sub-maximal weight that you are comfortable with.
- Keeping intensity relatively the same (below your TBT) and progressive overloading by increasing reps or sets, NOT intensity (weight).
- Spending plenty of time performing reps at the same intensity will make you more aware of technical changes and improvements from week to week.
- Use this early on in your lifting career or ASAP if form breakdown is an issue for you.
- Use this in the "off-season" and not as preparation for a powerlifting meet.
Please note that the set and rep schemes listed above are specific to the % of 1RM at which technique breaks down in the example I used.