For those of you who train alone, like myself, you may often wonder if you are using sound technique. Since there is no coach or trainer telling you "chest up," or "spread the floor," or "elbows forward," you simply just have to go by feel. And sometimes what you feel isn't exactly what happened.
In the case of powerlifting, depth is a huge factor in the squat. If you do not hit depth, then your rep does not count. While you may have felt you sank low enough, in reality it could have been a high squat. Also, unless you were actively looking for mistakes during the rep, it is tough to remember how it went after the next set or even the next day.
The value of recording your workouts
The first and best way to make sure you are lifting properly is to videotape yourself. I know it may seem like a simple solution, but it's pretty damn effective. Not only do you get instant feedback, but you also get to watch your squats over and over again for years to come.
Even if they look solid, a few more views and I am sure you can pick out things you need to work on. You also get the added benefit of sending your videos to competent lifters and trainers and receive their advice.
Don't feel embarrassed if you are not squatting double bodyweight yet, you are doing this to better yourself. Forget the high tech GoPros and Flip cams, just use a little ingenuity and set up your camera phone at the right angle and start filming!
While most people will only record their one rep maxes, it is important to see your other sets as well. When you take a look back, everything should look exactly the same. The set up, the grip, the unrack, EVERYTHING should match up to your max attempts. It is important to establish a routine to help get you prepared for your lift.
Another reason why you would want to see your warm up sets is because form on max attempts receive a little wiggle room because of the amount of weight that is being hoisted. It is imperative to record your other sets because if you cannot seem to dial in your technique with 80%, how can you expect to hit a flawless rep at 100%?
Do not limit yourself and only pause in one position. You can change it up each session, or even pause twice during a rep.
How to use paused reps to improve form
Now, if your form is still pretty shoddy even after you have discovered your issues, I present to you a solution: paused reps. Wherever you feel your form starts to break down, pause and hold that position for a few seconds.
For example, if your hips are shooting up too early during your deadlift, just break the weight off the floor (about an inch or so off the ground) and hold that position. I tend to go for at least 3 seconds. If you are using considerable weight, you will feel your body put itself into the proper position: chest up and driving up from your heels. Try to do this with your hips high in the air and your low back will be very upset with you.
Likewise, if you are flaring your elbows on the bench press, pause on the way up with the bar an inch off your chest. Flaring your elbows will only put stress on your shoulders and make you want to quit. An added bonus is that paused reps require a greater time under tension (TUT), which makes them great for adding on slabs of muscle.
In my opinion, one of the best ways to implement paused reps is within your Olympic lifts. The snatch and clean and jerk require a tremendous amount of technique that must be constantly worked at. Even some of the best weightlifters in the world regularly perform pause cleans and pause snatches.
Pauses below the knee, above the knee, or at the hip are very common and build a great deal of strength. As with the other Olympic lifts, you generally want to work with low reps, usually going for singles.
You can apply these ideas to any of your lifts, with compound movements obviously receiving the most benefit because of their more technical moving patterns. Videotaping and paused reps can only help make you a better lifter.
Do not limit yourself and only pause in one position. You can change it up each session, or even pause twice during a rep (double paused deadlifts are quite the challenge). I like doing these paused reps as a warm up to my primary movement or as accessory work done immediately after the primary movement work sets.
True beginners may not feel the same benefit because the weights are not heavy enough. But for intermediate lifters, anything over 55% seems to produce enough of a stimulus. Since it can be a lot of TUT, keep reps low (usually less than 6). Have fun!