Form vs. Function

Posted on by Connie K

"Form follows function - that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union." - Frank Lloyd Wright I've selected this quote because it comes from an architect. Actually, a very famous architect known for his artistic designs that weren't just aesthetically pleasing, they were practical. As we continue toward our fitness goals, we're doing much the same thing - trying for something that we individually consider aesthetically pleasing (whether it be bodybuilding, toning up, or just losing weight) with a program that is also practical. If you've been on a fitness regiment for a while and aren't seeing results, it could be several things.  Usually, nutrition is the weakest link in the chain, but if you've got that under control and still can't seem to make progress in the gym, it may be that you're using poor form in performing the exercises. For example, I'll use one of the more popular exercises amongst the teenage guys that lift around my gym - the barbell curl. Of course, they're mostly interested in getting a larger arm circumference, and they have a slightly misguided notion that the heavier the weight they use, the quicker their arms will explode out of their sleeves. The result is somewhat disheartening for a trainer. First, they walk up to the barbell - loaded with far more weight than should be, they pick up the barbell, and hold it, in correct position - elbows at the side, forearms straight out, perpendicular to the body.  They then proceed to execute the "exercise", but because they're using entirely too much weight, they don't actually bend their arms. In fact, the 90 degree angle from their shoulders through their elbows to their wrists never changes. Instead, they lean backwards (working their lower back) and heft the barbell up using their shoulders.  There's no contraction on the bicep whatsoever.  By sacrificing form, they've destroyed the intended function of the exercise, and can't understand why their biceps aren't getting any bigger. (And I suspect later on wondering why they have such horrible lower back pain.) As important as learning which exercises work which parts of the body, it's equally important to learn how to use those exercises effectively - how to use the proper form. Back to our example above, the poor aspiring Mr. Universe isn't actually using the muscle he's trying to train - he's training by numbers and ego alone. Remember that the weight is a tool to work the muscle. The numbers really aren't important, unless you know that 30lbs gives you good resistance, and 10lbs doesn't do anything for the muscle. In fact, if it helps, just drop the lbs off the number. Just say, I can curl with a level 30 dumbbell and get a good pump. If our teenager wanted to really gain some size, he'd take down the weight and perform the exercise at the highest weight he could while preserving good form: in this case, locking the elbows at the sides, and only using the elbow joint and biceps to move the weight up and down. The only moving part of his body should be his forearms, hinging at the elbow joint. Take the time to research the exercises you're doing in your regiment. If you've been using poor form, don't worry about having to drop the weight to get the good form back. It's not a step back, it's a step in the right direction - you'll be doing the exercise properly, and you'll start seeing optimal results from it.  If you can't curl a 60lb barbell with good form, then you can't say you can curl a 60lb dumbbell. As you train with proper form, you'll develop that mind-muscle connection; you won't have a choice, proper form means you're forced to use the proper muscles to move the weight. As you progress, you'll find that eventually you'll do the exercise to feel the muscle work, and you'll realize that you're following proper form by necessity. Form and function will join, and you'll rocket into your fitness goals! Lift heavy and stay hungry!  width=Wayne is a former “IT” guy who decided to take his love for fitness and turn it into a new career.  Now a personal trainer by trade, Wayne spends his spare time hitting the weights and learning all he can about bodybuilding and nutrition.  He stays true to his IT roots by staying active on Twitter and several online games.