What is ‘good exercise technique’ exactly?

Categories: Videos & podcasts


00:00 Introduction

00:27 Good technique looks good?

01:26 Good technique is slow?

03:22 Good technique is the safest?

04:05 Conclusion


What exactly defines good exercise technique? What makes some ways of performing exercise good, whereas other ways might be considered bad? Many people have some associations with what is good technique, but few people, in my experience, can very objectively and clearly define what it is that makes certain exercise technique better than others.

The first association that many people have with good technique is that it looks good. It’s all nicely vertically aligned or horizontally aligned, it looks pretty. But in reality, serious training often doesn’t look pretty. You get tomato face, you’re shaking. So exercise doesn’t have to look pretty to be effective. Moreover, sometimes making an exercise look worse can actually make it more effective. Recently, in my video on the RP channel, I demonstrated that performing concentration curls, while leaning slightly back away from the dumbbell, makes the exercise more effective because it increases active and passive tension in a bottom position, which may stimulate stretch mediated hypertrophy and should stimulate higher active muscle mechanical tension, thereby likely promoting more muscle growth. It looks a bit awkward. It’s a little less comfortable, but it is more effective. So good exercise technique is not necessarily pretty. A second association that many people have with good technique is that it’s slow. In many textbook demonstrations of good technique, people perform the exercises very slowly. But in reality, you don’t always want to train slow. Repetition tempo is another variable. I discussed it in a recent video. What do you want to train? Fast or slow should be separate from the consideration of what the technique is. You can have good technique that is performed very fast and you can have good exercise technique performed very slowly.

The reason most textbooks and most illustration shows of good technique demonstrate the exercise slowly is because they use very low weights. Models are a little bit awkward and you want to demonstrate the exercise very clearly. So that’s the reason. Not that it’s inherently better to perform exercises slowly. Again, repetition tempo is a separate variable to consider. In fact, momentum can be very valuable in some exercises like lateral raises or exercises that have a pronounced sticking point. You can use momentum during the easier part of the exercise to kind of push through the more difficult parts, thereby live more ways, get more muscle activity, stimulate more mechanical tension, and thereby likely promote greater muscle growth. Sometimes it’s actually much better not to make your exercises look very smooth and actively use momentum, for example, during a pulldown. It can be more effective to jerk the weights down and actively use body movements involving muscles that you’re not necessarily training, like hip extensors to get the weight down. The reason you can do this is when you are pulling the weight down to go back, lean back is that you can pull more weight down. But this momentum that you generated with hip extension does not help you control the weights on the way up. So using momentum in this way can actually induce eccentric overloading. And there are multiple other exercises where this also applies. For example, calf raises. So for some exercises using momentum and making the exercise less smooth and less pretty can actually help you stimulate eccentric overloading, which in some research has been found to at least increase muscle activity and mechanical tension on muscle fibers and also muscle growth and strength development.

The last misconception that I’d like to cover in this video is that many people think of good exercise technique as the safest exercise technique, and that’s also not necessarily true. For example, if we think of a powerlifter doing a deadlift, their main priority is to lift as much weight as possible and often powerlifters lift with a certain degree of spinal flexion. Now I have an article on my website around the debate whether spinal flexion is really more injurious than lifting with a more arched, neutral posture in your lumbar pelvic alignment. But the main point is power lifters can be willing to sacrifice potential safety risk for performance. Athletes routinely do this. So this illustrates that good technique is not necessarily safe. It’s not necessarily pretty.

So what is good exercise technique? Good exercise technique is the biomechanics that stimulate the desired training adaptations. That’s it. There is no universal one size fits all technique. There isn’t one way to perform an exercise that’s better than other ways just because it inherently is. There are different ways to perform different exercises that have different costs and benefits. Whether an exercise technique is appropriate for you depends on your goals and how you perform it. If the way you perform an exercise is in line with the goals and what you want to get out of the exercise, then that is good exercise technique for you and that’s all there is to it. So there isn’t a universal good exercise technique. There is only the use of certain biomechanics that are in line with your training goals. That’s it.

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About the author

Menno Henselmans

Formerly a business consultant, I've traded my company car to follow my passion in strength training. I'm now an online physique coach, scientist and international public speaker with the mission to help serious trainees master their physique.

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