Training at Altitude kicks ass, or should I say, kicked my ass. I stepped outside of my hotel in Cusco, Peru to do some training just a few minutes ago. I thought that this workout wouldn't be too hard to handle:
1. Twelve 1-arm push-ups, each arm
2. Fifteen pistol progressions, each leg
3. twenty handstand push-ups
4. Fifteen 9-count burpees.
Repeat 3 times.
Well, I couldn't get through the third set of burpees. My head and lungs where aching, trying to get enough oxygen into my body in this 3,000-plus meters-above-sea level city. By the time I got to the last set, I my form was slipping, BAD! It was all I could do to get through the handstand push-ups. I probably would get a few fuzzy eye balls from form police if they'd seen me half-assing my final 6 push-ups.
They might have a point. I wasn't getting the full benefit out of each rep by only going partially down to the ground on my 1-arm push-ups. I'd get more upper back work out of the handstand push-ups had I touched my nose to the ground rather than my head. Still, they'd be missing the point.
If you think about it, form serves two basic purposes: to keep our body safe while exercising and to get the most out of each and every rep of the exercise. Safety is pretty easy to understand. If you don't keep certain parts of your body rigid and in the right positon during the exercise, you could injure yourself to varying degrees. Take my handstand push-ups for example. If you don't keep your glutes and abs contracted, you risk hurting your lower back. The same thing applies for the single leg squatting work. If you don't keep your hip flexors contracted to control the movement, you'll throw your hips out of alignment. So, a basic form for exercises is required and necessary.
When it comes to tweaking form, or losing it, from a performance standpoint, things get murky. Form must conform to the needs of the practicioner, to some degree. If you have to go with kipping to do decent pull-ups, then who is anyone to say that you're doing it wrong? After all, if you're working your way up to a full pull-up, then it's a issue of progression. If you´ve exhausted yourself and you´re just trying to get a few more in, then so what?
As for fatigue, well, I doubt that everyone's reps on the final set are as clean in form as the beginning set. If you're really killing it, it gets really difficult to get all the way down to the ground on the last one-arm push-up. The body's capability to do so is dwindling. Even so, it's not like you're not getting some benefit out of the exercise. You're just doing what you can.
Now, I could go into the ¨form police are assholes¨ rant from here but, frankly, Ross Enamait already covered that base so well. Let´s just leave it at this for now: Keep enough form to protect yourself during the exercise but feel free to modify based on your needs. The ends do justify the means so if you get strong and healthy with a modification, then nobody is to say whether or not your form was good or not.
As far as I´m concerned, unless you have a video out there proving how perfect your form is, then shut your face about anyone else´s.