We talk a lot about the correct form of exercises because that’s how we get more efficient workouts. The muscles work harder that way, they get stimulated more and that enables them to grow faster. But there is another aspect of performing an exercise and that is your strength.
Strength is determined not only by the size of your muscles and to be stronger, to lift more weight, to do more reps you have to use the correct technique not so much as increase your muscle mass. That is because strength is functional, it comes from correctly using the muscles of your entire body, not only those directly involved in the movement. It requires you to stabilize your body and generate force directed to the movement from all muscles.
What does that mean? More often than not we focus on specific muscles and keep the rest of the body loose. Take pull ups for example, as you pull yourself up with your arms, you put your all energy and focus on your arms, shoulders and back but you leave your legs dangling. That’s a problem which impairs your strength more than you think.
You see, leaving your legs loose and letting your body swing freely you let the force generated by the muscles dissipate through your core, quads and calves which are not engaged in the exercise. You don’t create the stability required to pull yourself up easier and a lot of the energy is wasted on that dangling and swaying action. Same happens with pushups, bench presses, dumbbell exercises and so on. Every single exercise can be improved by just engaging all of your muscles and making your body more stable.
Shown in the picture above are the energy leaks cause by muscles not engaged in the exercise.
How to Improve?
In the example of pull-ups, you can increase your strength instantly by engaging your core and legs. Keep your legs straight and bring them a little bit forward, keep them tense, keep your core tense as you pull yourself up. You will feel that this alone makes the pulling movement easier, because you don’t have to deal with stability issues and your legs dangling around.
When doing push-ups, don’t keep your knees loose, set your toes into the ground, keep the legs straight, tense your butt and your core. Getting more muscles engaged in the movement will let you push yourself up a lot easier. Don’t make a mistake thinking that if you keep your legs lazy you will save more energy, when in fact the opposite happens – you waste your energy by having your arms compensate the lack of stability.
When doing bench press, lock your legs on the bench too, engage your core, don’t let your lower body laze around while your upper body does all the work. You will feel that generating all that force and directing it to pressing weight makes it easier for you.
Apply this same principle to every single exercise you do and you will notice a significant increase in your strength, the strength that you already have and just have to use it by employing the correct technique.