I've recently been worried that I'm trying to lift heavier weights than I'm capable of, and therefore not getting the proper benefits that I could be- maybe not succeeding in going through the full ROM for exercises, getting good muscle contractions, sloppy form, etc. I'm thinking now about maybe going slightly lighter on the weights for a few weeks, really focusing on the mind-muscle connection, getting proper peak contractions, and maintaining impeccable form / path of movement and full ROM. Probably this would mean going higher rep-ranges, more along the lines of 10-12, rather than nearer 6-10.
Would this be a good idea, as it feels like it might be somewhat of a step backwards, especially when I'm trying to gain
Definitely lower the weight you're using if you feel that you can't get proper technique. The week or two of progress you lose will be insignificant in the long run. Much easier to fix form now then in a couple months.
As long as you're not causing any pain, I would just keep increasing weight. Other people will almost certainly disagree, but if you stick at low weight trying to maintain perfect form you are likely to stay there and never make any decent progress.
I found that I didn't feel exercises working the muscles until I got heavier. So I felt nothing in my chest when I benched, now I've gone a bit heavier I can feel it really well. The same thing applies (for ME) to BB Rows, Squats, Shrugs, Lat Pulldowns, and a bunch of other exercises.
This does not mean my form sucked. I kept good form, but I pushed myself to use heavier weights even when I felt my form was suffering slightly.
sounds like a good idea. i'm not a trainer but there are some good programs to follow, that i picked up after a run with starting strength.
for example, i got a lot out of the madcox 5x5 approach. also, i was very challenged by Waterbury's HIH program as it called for various volume and rep schemes so that i was (half the time) working in ranges that i did not like at all but felt that they challenged my body greatly. also, novel to me was the idea of max contraction (speed of concentric) to mobilize the max muscle.
you didn't specify "gain" as strength or hypertrophy, but in the latter goal area i also got a lot from the 10x10 program (german volume training) which called for a concentration on high volume, including a big increase (for me) on the so called time under tension (slow eccentric)
these are some things that you just can't do if every lift is for max weight.
I think on some movements you NEED to lift more than you could use with proper form. I can't imagine t-bar rows being worth a shit with weight I could hold at the top of the rep.
On some other moves, you need to drop the weight and focus the tension. I do stiff-legged good-mornings for hamstrings. If I go too heavy, my glutes take over and I can't feel it in my hams anymore.
The key is knowing which ones to be strict on and which ones to just move weight on. As has been said many times: "All the big guys in my gym use shitty form"..."Hey, I think you may be onto something!"