by Larry Maile
The Importance of Proper Technique:
Many people think of powerlifting as an endeavor which involves brute strength. Big guys (and women) runnng up to the bar, grabbing it, and grinding out a repetition. And there are a few people who approach it this way. Some of them have even been successful. They are practitioners of the "ugly rep." It isn't pretty, but, at least sometimes, it goes up.
Most of us, however, aren't able to lift that way. We are too old, or weak, or lack the determination to take a painful, ugly rep to completion. For "the rest of us," technique is the difference between making an attempt, and being utterly crushed. For most lifters, the difference between a smooth, easy bench and one that gravity drags back to our chest is ½ inch of upward or downward movement. A squat can fail because of foot placement that is just a little out of our usual form. A deadlift can stall at our knees due to a little forward lean.
So, how does one train for perfect technique?
One way is to do every single rep, from the first warmup to the last work set perfectly. Many lifters have a tendency to rush warmups, and to concentrate on form only when they are in complete gear, and performing maximum lifts. But, in order to build a solid base of perfectly completed reps, you need to make sure that EVERY ONE is done perfectly. I have heard it said that until you have done 10,000 reps, you haven't laid down a strong memory program for a type of movement. I am not sure that it is that many, but I am sure that there is a reason that basketball players practice their shot for hours on end, and place kickers spend much of practice kicking over and over.
Another consideration is training to adapt to changes or variations in conditions that you are performing under. If you haven't build a consistent base of perfectly performed attempts, any slight change in seemingly minor factors can through you off. Take for example, a lifter who always squats facing a wall in the gym. When he or she gets to a meet, looking out at the audience provides a completely different set of inputs. The space is bigger, the point they set their eyes may not be easily available (or close), there is movement, and many other distracter will be present. Those who aren't able to screen these annoyances out are more likely to bauble their attempt. One way to become accustomed to changing conditions is to move to different locations in your gym, face a different direction, or even train away from home occasionally.
Another strategy that may help is to add a technique day or series of sets for novice of inconsistent lifters. I've trained with several Olympic lifters over the years and all of them spent a great deal of time doing LIGHT snatches, cleans, jerks, and combinations, as well as powerlifter-type exercises, like squats. The reasons given always involve the athlete's need to be able to perform each movement automatically, regardless of weight. Even more than powerlifting, Olympic lifting demands impeccable form. Failure to attend to details can mean not only a failed lift, but may cause serious injury.
Finally, and this should be done carefully, you might try an attempt with more weight than you are able to do (Never do this without spotters). Your objective is to select a weight that causes you to fail, but is not so heavy that you are "crushed." You should strive for a controlled attempt that comes to a stop in perfect form. If squatting, you should fail part of the way up in exactly the groove you would use on a successful attempt. Your spotters will then take the weight. Please note: if your form falls apart close to failure, you haven't overlearned it to a sufficient degree. Please also note: this is not a forced repetition!!! Your objective is to fail, flawlessly, and then be relieved of the weight. It is to test your form above your previous max, not to overload you muscles. If your spotters are slow and hold you at your sticking point, or don't take the weight soon enough or aggressively enough, you may go into that overload/overtraining zone that most powerlifters try to avoid.
The desired effect of these strategies is to train your technique to such a high degree that you can perform each attempt, regardless of setting, equipment, or weight, exactly the same way. You may not complete an attempt in competition because the weight is too heavy that day, but you should never "blow one" because you didn't attend to proper form.