Do you want to really improve your lifts? Do you want to blow up your bench press, deadlift and squat with solid gains in strength that are true? Then stop doing bad reps!
It doesn't matter how much weight you push in your lifts. All that matters is that you are doing the lift with perfect form and execution EVERY REP!
Doing squats with no weight at all will develop your strength and stamina. Doing pushups will develop your strength and stamina. The only purpose of adding the weight to the exercise is to increase the intensity of the movement in order to shorten the required reps to achieve the level of stimulation desired. That is to say that adding a barbell with weight on your shoulders during squats serves the purpose in shortening the duration of the workout needed to achieve stimulus. Meaning you can do a thousand squats with no weight or you can do a hundred with X amount of weight or 50 with even more weight to achieve the same stimulus. It doesn't matter if you do a thousand reps or ten reps if they aren't done to perfection then you're not going to get the desired or optimum stimulus.
In motion, efficiency of movement conserves energy by minimizing movement, time under tension and engagement of motor units. In the fight of your life you damned well had better be holding back and conserving your energy. In the gym however efficiency of exercise is applying the greatest amount of stimulus possible by maximizing range of motion, time under tension and recruiting the maximum motor units.
If you do a thousand reps and 90% of them suck then you would have been better off to not have done 90% of them. Your focus must always be on the rep in front of you. You can't perfect the rep you're on if you're thinking about the next rep or the last rep. You can't be focused on the rep if you're thinking about your set by worrying about whether or not you're gona make your goal for rep count.
Primarily I want to discuss the bench press, deadlift and squat but the ideas I am highlighting apply to every exercise you could do. In the bench press and squats your reps should always be at least 4 seconds in duration. At least 2 seconds for the negative portion of the rep, 1 second for the pause at maximum depth and 1 second positive portion of the rep. I call it the 2 second rule; no less than 2 second eccentric and no more than 2 second concentric movements.
If you're not controlling the negative to fullest extension then you are being sloppy in execution and your form is all over the place. You are placing a significant amount of traumatic/impact stress on your joints and connective tissues. Controlling the negative keeps your form, muscles, and connective tissues tight so there are no snapping impacts to cause injury and saves your joints from impact strain as well. You've heard it said that the negative does twice as much stimulus as the positive rep. So why would you short change yourself by being sloppy with the negative? Why would you waste a good negative just so you can get another positive rep out? That's just stupid!
Being sloppy with the negative during the bench press leads to a whole mess of injury potential including biceps tendon ruptures, rotator cuff tears, labral tears, triceps tendon ruptures, etc. Those of you who like to bounce that bar off your chest...what do you think your injury potential is going to be if or when you try to put 300 pounds on and do that? This is why so many of you are unable to make it much past 225. By winding up and dropping the bar in order to use momentum to get the positive rep all you’re doing is training a hole in the bottom of your lift. It’s like getting a run down one hill to help get you up the next hill. As the weight increases so does the hole because you need more and more momentum to get up a bigger hill. The impact stress also increases and you must bear in mind that impact stress is multiplied by the speed of the movement. Holding 10 pounds in your hand is just ten pounds but when it has momentum its impact is much greater than 10 pounds.
Get sloppy during squats and deadlifts and you could end up living in a wheel chair for the rest of your life or worse due to the opportunity for serious back/spinal injury along with the potential for leg crippling injuries that exist. Most of you avoid this by avoiding squats altogether, not going lower than 25%, not going heavier than 225 or a combination of these.
Why the pause? The pause in the rep for 1 second is to apply a stopping point to divide the negative from the positive portion of the rep and to eliminate the temptation to use momentum to complete the lift. Eliminating this momentum requires your body/muscle to drive out of the bottom end of the movement from its weakest point. If you don't pause then this is where your hole will develop. Those of you using momentum are actually training a weakness into your movement which is causing your progress to fail (Plateau). You turn direction when you touch or bounce from your chest or your knees in the bottom of the exercise and so you never develop the strength to drive from the bottom. Trust me...if you're hitting a wall in your progress, back the weight down and practice pause and drive and you will be surprised at the improvement. The pause also increases time under tension. The 1 second that you spend in this static position putting massive stimulus on the muscles you’re targeting.
I have been doing this for 26 years now and I still begin every workout with a form and execution check by doing and empty set. I put just as much focus into each of those practice reps that I do in my heaviest reps.
Don't do those slow, grinding tired reps. Those reps aren't hitting the muscles you're targeting anyway. Rack it, rest and save it for the next set. All your positive reps should explode out of the hole. Doing those slow grinding reps programs your muscles to work slowly in the movement and that is training your body to not progress.
As important as it is to use strict for with bench press and squats it is even more critical in performing isolation movements as your risk for injury is greater when you zero in on a muscle or muscle group. I see some of the worst form when it comes to curls and is generally being committed by a guy who really doesn't have the guns to be worrying about doing curls anyway. Lighten up and control the weight!
The key to success in fitness is long term commitment. You can't be committed if your sucking on an injury and most people will give up when their progress stalls. Forget your EGO and quit worrying about how much weight you want to impress everyone with. You do not impress anyone with your bunk lifts. Seek perfection in every rep and it will pay dividends in the form of steady progress and a quality active life without injury.
Get focused and get it done. 4 seconds of perfection, 1 rep at a time!