The Form Police

As Youtube video clips become more and more popular, it appears that there has been a simultaneous increase in self-certified exercise form freaks. It is officially time for the form police to return their crack jack badges. I am calling for a worldwide recall.

Just recently, the following video clip was posted to my forum. Within the clip, you will see an absolute beast (Matt Kroczaleski) perform rows with a three hundred pound dumbbell.

Matt Kroczaleski is an accomplished powerlifter with some incredible lifts. He’s squatted over 1000 pounds, benched over 700, and deadlifted over 800. You can read more about him here.

Most members of the forum were blown away by his strength display. Anyone with any experience in any strength related activity will realize how impressive Kroc’s strength truly is. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before the form police came out from hiding.

I had someone email me asking what was so impressive about the video. Rather than offering a written response, I wish I could have instead strapped three hundred pounds to his arm and let him find out for himself. He ridiculed Kroc’s form, and of course had his own suggestions. Such a response is typical from the form police. They almost always include a line such as, “What I would do is…”

No One Cares!

Do these people ever stop to think that no one cares what they would do? I don’t mean to sound rude or offensive, but if someone wanted your opinion, I’m sure they would ask for it. I find it particularly amusing when members of the form police hold down other positions such as armchair quarterbacks or 120 pound 15 year olds who struggle to carry in a few bags of groceries.

These self-appointed know-it-alls are quick to offer advice and suggestions on topics that they don’t understand. If knowledge is power (as suggested by Sir Francis Bacon), these people need to buy a generator.

Despite what some might like you to believe, working out isn’t a sport. Unless you compete in a specific lifting event, no one is keeping score. You don’t get judged on how you pick up a piece of iron or how you perform a pull-up. There are times when you need to go for broke. You bite down and use everything that you have to lift the weight or complete the exercise. Yes, there are benefits to this kind of training!

Just for example, did you ever play tug of war as a kid? Did anyone judge how you pulled the rope? Did your parents comment on strict pulling form? Did they offer advice on controlled pulling to maximally target the latissimus dorsi? Of course not! There was only one thing that mattered and that was pulling as hard as you could to ensure your side won. You clenched down and pulled with every ounce of strength that you had. No one had to tell you to do it. It’s just what you do. You naturally wanted to win!

I knew this even back in the 1970’s at age 3! (I’m pictured in the middle)

And I still know it now…

If you’ve never lifted a significant load the way that Kroc demonstrates, how can you comment on potential pros and cons? It doesn’t make sense. I don’t offer advice to NASA on how they should improve their space shuttle design. I don’t know what I’m talking about. My opinion on the subject is about as useful as pissing into a windstorm.

And please don’t misunderstand this entry. I’m not suggesting that we disregard form entirely and seek out ways to injure ourselves. Conversely, we all need to realize that others often do things for specific reasons that we may not realize or understand. For example, in the video below, Kroc discusses his use of the row and how is has benefited him significantly in terms of improving his deadlift:

Clearly, his use of heavy rows has benefited his performance significantly. Whether the resident expert on a fitness message board approves of his form is irrelevant. No one cares. Improved performance is what truly matters to the competitive athlete. The results don’t lie. Kroc’s results speak volumes to the effectiveness of his training.

Talk Is Cheap

No one wins an argument on the Internet.

To the former form police officers (who have returned their badges), we don’t hold your past against you. We’ve all made mistakes. I simply encourage you to focus your time and energy on yourself. Worry about your goals and needs, and realize that others are likely doing things for different reasons. There is a good chance that you won’t understand these reasons. You don’t walk in another man’s shoes, so you have no idea why another man does what he does.  Whether or not you understand doesn’t matter. Athletes don’t do things in the gym to satisfy the form police. Athletes work in the gym to better themselves for specific events. Competition is specific, and working out isn’t a competition.

Athletes don’t argue with each other on the field or inside the ring. Athletes compete. What you do in the gym is often unknown by all spectators. No one cares. Fans come out to see you compete. Differences are settled not through verbal insults, but instead through live competition.

When it comes to training, the ends often justify the means.

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42 comments:

  1. I totally agree.

    Being able to lift in proper and safe form is important for obvious reasons. But people need to realize there will be times when breaking form is necessary in order to achieve certain goals.

    Exercise form has always been a touchy issue.

  2. Recently, the athletes I coach were deadlifting and another coach hopped in with them to show he could lift more. The kids wanted to see me lift something heavy so I obliged and simply did 135, 225, and 315. They asked me to do 405 as well and I did, but not soon after the other coach called me out claiming “that was ALL back coach. you’re gonna hurt yourself.”

    “oh really? then, by all means, please show me how to do it right.”

    “I can’t lift that,” was his reply.

    “exactly.”

    and, honestly, its 405 lbs. anybody with a little bit of serious strength training can pull that.

  3. Damn, that is just insane. 300 lb. rows. That’s power. They were not textbook form, but damn, who cares. He’s a POWERBUILDER, not a BODYBUILDER.

  4. The form police run rampant on youtube videos featuring kipping. The majority of the people that run around talking shit on youtube have zero credibility and zero videos to back up their claims.

  5. I think it’s good that you drew the distinction that working out and competing are not the same thing. Automatically I thought about chess and how training with precision and form IS all important. I guess that can be likened to specific skill training, whereas with work outs, as you say, it’s much more about the effort and results than form. Your philosophy of exercise as “means not an end” is helping me pick stuff that is fun that I’ll actually DO, instead of stuff I hate but people say is optimal.

  6. Todd – One of the points that I’m trying to make is who says what constitutes good form? Unless it is a competitive event, there is no scoring. If an exercise helps an athlete improve in his event, that is good form in my eyes.

    And that is the message I hope to convey.

    Ross

  7. I rather like this blog. I often use a technique on barbell bench press where I do not go all the way down. In fact I stop 1.5 Inches from my chest in order to isolate my chest and not get my shoulders too involved in the lift. People often tell me that it is poor form, and ignore the fact that I am experimenting. Certainly if I was in a competition lift, it wouldn’t be counted, but the only person I compete with is myself.

  8. This is why I always disable comments on any video I upload. It’s always guaranteed the know it all’s, asswipes, etc will come out of the woodwork

  9. Two things from that video really stood out to me. Firstly, Matt is a beheamoth! Unbelievable physique for a guy that is a function first athlete.

    Second thing that stood out was… did you see the size of that DB??? I didn’t even know 300lb DB’s existed! It must have been custom made. Just looking at the size of it is crazy, let alone Matt lifting it with one arm! That’s more than most people squat or deadlift!

    On the exercise form, the “body english” does make me wonder, maybe that’s WHY these guys are as strong as they are. I wonder if the whole concept of “perfect form” really does have as much merit behind it as people think. Just about every strong man I have seen train uses some body movement when lifting. Pushing the legs when benching, slight leg kick on shoulder press, torso movement on rows. Maybe this is the key to strength, more weight, teaching the body to work as unit, not over exaggerating to the point of injury.

    Sometimes I think people follow the “perfect technique” mantra, not because they know or have proved to themselves that it holds true, but because they’re following the old “everyone knows it to be true” route.

  10. Er, I just saw this. This is pretty damn good form for a 300 pound lift!! I mean, he took that MF load and pulled it up from a full stretch.

    Jay Cutler and Ronnie Coleman (past Mr. Olympias) are freaky strong (especially Coleman, with 700 lb deadlifts), 250+ plus in contest shape, and lift with a similar technique.

  11. These wannabe cops are missing the most obvious point – if the form doesn’t compromise safety, it would be natural to conclude that the PROFESSIONAL athlete is doing such incredible feats to a greater end that they (so-called police) cannot fathom.

  12. I recall another incident by the “form police.” This was in the ross training forums. There was a post to a video of an Iowa wrestling strength and conditioning workout. There were all kinds of posts about the so-called horrendous form they were performing. But when you get down to it, they were doing a workout that would cause most men to walk away scared.

    IT is about the competition and not the means to get there. The Iowa program is renowned for taking their athletes to their mental peak. Sometimes an athlete needs to look at an overwhelming “workout” and determine what they are made of.

    Iowa won the national championship last year without a single national champion. IT took these wrestlers a tremendous amount of intestinal fortitude to accomplish what they did, being knocked off the front side of the bracket and fight back on the back side. This video gives a glimpse of one piece of the puzzle on what developed this kind of mental toughness.

  13. Great post. When I was a sophmore(I’m a senior now) in high school i got pulled up to varsity some loser 3rd string quarterback said something under his breath about my form on a 110 dumbell row… little did he know my ipod had the wire pop loose so i heard loud and clear. The conversation turned into

    “You got a problem with my row asshole”
    “Nahh i just said you have bad form”
    “Yeah well it seems to have worked for me considering im 2 years younger then you and start and you get to go in for the last minute to kneel the ball”

    Havent spoke to him since 🙂

  14. i showed a “master trainer” and head inhouse instructor [6yrs experience] with a major luxury fitness chain a viddy of KB specialist Steve Cotter [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcvHaRaqJNo] specifically because i knew what his reaction would be to the hopping pistols beginning at :29
    “his form sucked”
    “you’re f*cking kidding me right? you just watched a man do 5 bounding pistols onto a standard height table without touching down and THAT’s al you have to say?”
    “but it wasn’t [whatever BS he babbled- i can’t be bothered recalling]”
    “can YOU do it ONCE?”
    “that’s not the point”
    “no, actually it kind of sort of is the point”

    but then this was the guy who opened his lecture series to newbie trainers telling them that bodybuilding doesn’t work.

    but then his skinnyfat *ss never actually tried.

    just sayin’ 😉

  15. Totally agree with you Ross!

    Basic principle of human movement is that we are designed to move through up to 3 planes of motion with all of our body systems working together to achieve any given movement. Isolation training has its purpose but its not how we are naturally designed to move.

    Sometimes you just got let it rip and put yourself to the test!

  16. Whist I agree with the thrust of the arguments expressed here about ‘armchair critics’ or ‘form police’, especially when directed against powerful and experienced athletes such as shown, I would ask that we don’t ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ and forget that good, professional, advice on proper training form (for a given exercise) is designed to maintain safety and, ultimately, improve performance.
    Experienced athletes know that all sport is risky and perfect technique is no guarantee of sporting success, but, then, neither is sitting on the sidelines with a sports-related injury.

  17. My favorites are the ones that actualyy approach you unsolicited at the gym to critique you.Especially when they are about half your size and strength.

  18. @Roy or even worse, big ‘assisted’ meat-heads that actually offer you advice on how to grow larger. Do I get a free trial-pack of Dianabol with that buddy?

  19. Thanks Ross. I love it! “Despite what some might like you to believe, working out isn’t a sport” – “Athletes don’t do things in the gym to satisfy the form police. Athletes work in the gym to better themselves…”

  20. It’s funny that I came across this article by chance while randomly browsing the Rosstraining site, not by Google search, because I recently had this debate with my girlfriend about form. Her and her family are into fitness and they constantly criticize form. It can get very annoying. I usually focus on weightlifting, in which I believe form is actually quite important, but I have recently gotten into cardio, hiit, and odd lifting this past summer to lose body fat. Other than trying to avoid injury, I completely agree with this article that form is NOT nearly as beneficial for these type of intense workouts compared to weightlifting exercises such as bench press, skull crushers, or bicep curls. I think anyone who disagrees or criticizes someone else’s form is just wasting their own time when they could be minding their business and pushing out a few more reps themselves. they are LAZY! You may work your legs and core a bit on a treadmill, but the POINT of running on it is to burn body fat… You’re not selling yourself short just because your form isn’t absolutely perfect on a treadmill, as if you would be if you were doing a bench press and not lowering the bar all the way down.

  21. The whole “if you can’t do it, then shut up” argument reduces to absurdity; by that logic, we have no reason to listen to the elderly, retirees, or people with injuries. Joe DeFranco can’t complete the NFL combine’s battery of tests, but that doesn’t mean everybody should ignore his advice on how to do so. Indeed, his advice was so good that the NFL had to implement rules to counteract it because his athletes “beat” the tests. It doesn’t matter whether an out-of-shape slob or an Olympic athlete tells you how to train more effectively; facts are facts. Knowing HOW to do something and being ABLE to do something are two totally different things.

    I also am stunned to see the logical fallacy of mistaken causation. Just because somebody trains a certain way doesn’t mean that one can attribute any success he may have to that training style; indeed, he may have succeeded in spite of his training style. I can find somebody out there who deadlifts with a rounded back and still wins championships at his sport; that doesn’t justify the rounded-back deadlifts, though, because they probably didn’t contribute to his success.

    There’s a reason why there is a correct form for every exercise: it is the optimal form for achieving a goal. Kroc wasn’t performing bad form DB rows; he was essentially inventing a new exercise that helped him achieve his powerlifting goals. If you’re performing an exercise, you should do it right rather than take shortcuts.

  22. No one is suggesting that we ignore form and strive for careless execution of each movement. The simple point is that those who often critique others may not understand the context of the movement (ie. those who have criticized the Kroc row without understanding the intent). That’s it.

  23. intensity intensity intensity is the only ingrediant for contiuous gains.that guy is so strong his increased poundage to increase intensity has left form behind.it will become harder and harder to increase weight.the only way to increase intensity at that stratosphere is by maximum contraction(failure at the limit of your strengh usualy 1 rep)hats off to that guy though awesome

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  24. i can see what ross and everyone here is saying, but those are not “rows”. it’s unimportant and knitpicking on nomenclature i know, but saying “man does 300 lb rows” raises some expectations.
    back in the day, when my work out philosophy was based on putting on as much weight on the bar as possible, i routinely “squatted” 650 lbs for reps – i.e. i would go down about 3 inches then go straight back up. if i posted a video of this on the strength and conditioning forum with the title “check this out – me squatting 650 lbs”, i guess i would receive some friendly advice on better ways to squat.

  25. Dear all,

    it is quite a old topic but still up to date.

    My personal opinion is that it comes strongly on your training experience. I never would recommend this kind of form to a beginner in exercising.

    On the other hand powerlifters such as Matt Kroczaleski have many years of expereience. They know the “right” form and discard it by purpose. This is complete different to sloppy form.

    They know their body and what they are capable of, how much they can handle and recognize different types of pain which helps them to recognize pre injury situations.

    But as I said for beginners it is okay to show them how correct form is looking like especially when joints are not used to such wheigt loads.

    !ATTENTION! This is a personal opinion. !Attention!

    Best regards from Germany.

  26. Good article! With the internet, everyone feels comfortable criticizing experts, whether it is a world-class powerlifter, such as Kroc, or professional climatologists and their research. Opinions aren’t facts and evidence matters. Kroc has used his Kroc rows to improve his deadlift. He’s not a competetive dumbbell rower, so who cares if his form is textbook perfect, especially considering his results.

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