Cheating, Really?

Weightlifters who cheat in the gym are most of the time looked down upon by other weightlifters. It’s generally said that if you need to cheat then your simply showing off. In terms of gains, you’re not getting any. It’s best then to lower the weight, do the exercise correctly or, just go home. Why? Simply because by cheating, you are wasting your time and also increasing your risk of a serious injury.

A lot of the time weightlifters refer to this as snap-city. If there is a serious injury waiting to happen, it’s usually the spine that takes the fall. Ouch! That has got to hurt. If anything happens to your spine you’re out of the game.. Most of the time I would absolutely agree with all this. With most exercises (particularly the big 3 compounds), you are not going to get any benefit by cheating. In fact, the only thing you are doing is increasing your risk of a serious injury. You might not be sorry now, but you will be later! I will be honest with you, while flawless form is needed on most compound movements; there are cases were actually, flawless form is not needed and might just serve to limit your progress in the gym. Sounds weird, right? Perfect form means less gains. I am now confused. Help me out!

Cheat Rows Or Perfect Form Rows?

The group of exercises I am talking about are those rows and shrug movements: T-bar rows, pendley/yates rows, dumbbell rows and barbell/dumbbell shrugs. Plenty to keep you busy! If you ask me, these exercises are fantastic for building the ultimate back. In fact, contrary to popular belief, I have found that my back development has been much better through a combination of these exercises than deadlifts alone. Honestly, deadlifts are overrated for a great back for all sorts of reasons. Now let me guess, most of you strive for a well built, kick ass back, right? Then keep reading. The secrets are waiting to be revealed.

Everytime I see someone doing a barbell/dumbbell row or shrug exercise with less than flawless (textbook form), someone always gets ready to pounce on top of them with the words: stop jerking, upper back straight, no leg drive, use full ROM and, stop thrusting with your hips. In other words, get rid of all this useless body language and stick to the textbook form (slow, smooth and controlled). Note: Body language is really just a simple weightlifting termed used to describe people that utilize less than perfect form. I can’t tell you how many people have came up to me telling me to change my rowing/shrugging form.

“I am talking about are those rows and shrug movements: T-bar rows, pendley/yates rows, dumbbell rows and barbell/dumbbell shrugs”. Usually, these people will tell me how I will get so much more gains from reducing the weight and practicing flawless form. The kicker is, these people usually suffer from zero back development themselves! Now, I am not some meathead that throws weights around, shows off and performs exercises with no observable form just to boost my ego. The reason why I never perform flawless form on rows/shrugs is for one simple specific reason: to maximize development, eccentric stretch and overload. Many fitness gurus will tell you that less then perfect form will simply get you injured. Nope! Contrary to popular belief, loose form does NOT mean dangerous form. You can still be completely safe with loose form. The only difference now is that you are now performing the exercise in a way that is more conducive to growth. When it comes to rows/shrugs, loose form will always outstrip flawless form if you are looking for maximum back development. Honestly, slow, controlled and smooth with less overload and eccentric emphasis got me nowhere in terms of back gains. Don’t fall into this narrow thinking of: flawless form or go home. This advice is just not going to benefit you more experienced lifters out there.

So, What Is The Difference And Why Is It Better?

When it comes to loose form, you should only be doing it when you are a more advanced weightlifter. This is simply because of conscious full body control. If you are a new weightlifter, you just don’t have this yet. If you are new to the game, then be patient for now. At this stage, you have no business using any loose form whatsoever! Your task as a new weightlifter is to: learn the basic compound movements, develop a foundation of strength and size, build up connective tissue strength and, learn how to consciously control your body (e.g. keeping tight and stabilized) during exercise execution. The only time loose form becomes dangerous and ineffective form is if you are a newbie that wants to join the big guys club without having yet developed these above capabilities. There is a good reason why loose from (particularly on rows/shrugs) unfortunately gets a really bad rep. I see too many new weightlifters jumping straight into the cheat rows/shrugs without any clue on the importance of maintaining strict conscious full body tightness. It seems to fly over their heads. The result being? Well, it’s really not a pretty picture. They tend to jerk their body like crazy, their body is not tight enough, there is no conscious contraction and stabilization of their muscles and as a consequence, they are simply just too loose. They end up yanking things out of place (usually the lower back). The result: major injury.

When it comes to loose form, you should only be doing it when you are a more advanced weightlifter”.

When I describe loose form on rows I mean a bit of leg drive, a bit of jerking, some upper back rounding (not as bad as people think) and a reduced ROM (no need to pull the weight all the way back up). By shifting away from the textbook form, one thing immediately becomes easier: overloading. You can now use more weight. When it comes to rows/shrugs and ultimate back growth, I am firm believer in the eccentric stretch portion of the movement as the main driver for ultimate size gains. Not so much the need to lower the weight and contract all the way back up (full ROM), but more, lowering the weight and feeling the intense stretch at the eccentric portion of the movement. Most people still tend to stick with full ROM rows emphasizing textbook form. The problem is months later I see the same people, but still no back growth! On the flip side, people I see using loose but controlled form, their backs totally blow up (in the good sense). The point is, with loose form you can easily use more weight and easily intensify the eccentric stretch portion of the movement. In terms of ultimate back size, being able to overload in this eccentric portion is the sweet spot for driving growth. Always sticking to textbook form means that overloading becomes harder, slower, and emphasizing full ROM over this eccentric stretch means your missing out on so many potential back gains. When I use loose form rows/shrugs, very rarely do I contract all the way back up to complete the movement. In fact, when I overload more and loosen my form up, the ROM becomes so small that I only really focus on the eccentric portion. Sometimes people ask me why the heck the ROM is so small! Yes, the concentric position of the lift becomes less and almost non-existent, but the eccentric stretch becomes so intense that this alone is enough to give you awesome back gains.

Loose Form: Its Not Textbook Form, But It’s Still Safe

Before using loose form, you need two things: a good initial strength and size foundation and, the ability to consciously engage your muscles to keep your body tight and stabilized during movement execution. If you lack both of these capabilities, then don’t even try to attempt loose rows/shrugs. You will end up just turning the benefits of loose form into dangerous snap-city inducing form. Let’s not further weaken the reputation of loose form! However, if you are a more advanced lifter, have a solid foundation and can exercise superior full body control then loose rows/shrugs can certainly help you reach new highs in your back training. Without doubt, if you are looking for ultimate back gains, loose form will ALWAYS outshine textbook form rows/shrugs. It just cannot be beaten. With my back training, I will never go back to super strict rows/shrugs. So far in my weightlifting journey, my results scream at the need for overload and eccentric stretch emphasis to maximize back gains. Using loose form simply makes this easier to achieve.

The general consensus at the moment is that flawless form on rows/shrugs will always be better for maximum back growth. In fact, no one will ever recommend that you try loose form rows/shrugs. People are just not convinced and they believe it’s just downright dangerous. When it comes to back growth most fitness gurus will tell you: lower the barbell/dumbbell slowly and contract all the way at the top, squeezing hard. Great advice for a beginner, lousy for someone more advanced! What I am proposing (based on my results and that of other people who also follow this approach) is that those more advanced lifters, loosen their form slightly, overload with potentially a lot more weight and really focus on letting this increased load intensify the eccentric (stretch) portion of the lift (no need to concentrically pull that weight all the way back up).

“If you are looking for ultimate back gains, loose form will ALWAYS outshine textbook form rows/shrugs”. So in other words, you focus in the opposite direction then what is conventionally taught. Honestly, you will quickly see and feel the changes in your gains. It’s unreal. I am not saying that you should abandon perfect form or that it is a thing of the past. You DO need it for those exercises such as the big 3. Why for the big 3? These exercises are just mechanically too complex to be taking shortcuts. By changing your form on these exercises you fundamentally reduce the effectiveness of them. In fact, loose form on the big 3 will tend to reduce the amount of weight you can budge because your body is forced into a sub-optimal position, so quite the opposite response! With rows, slight changes in form don’t actually change the nature of the exercise as such, but it can make it easier to load up more on the weight. In my opinion, there is certainly room in the routines of more advanced weightlifters looking for maximal gains, for loose form. Rows/Shrugs are the perfect example.

So, if you are a more experienced lifter and are looking to ignite your back gains, don’t hold yourself back through conventional wisdom. Give loose form rows/shrugs a try. As long as you maintain full body tightness, stability and control, you will quickly see the major positive impact loose form rows and shrugs can have on your physique.


If you have any questions about the article or would like to discuss further some of the topics mentioned, then please feel free to leave comments down below.Do you do cheat rows? What’s your experience been like? Let me know!