‘Greasing the Groove’ – an unconventional way to increase strength

greasing the groove
I’ve recently started using a relatively unknown and unconventional training technique. For those stuck in a rut with their training or trying to break through a plateau, this will be very useful for you too. The technique is known as ‘greasing the groove’, or if you prefer the more technical term, synaptic facilitation.

The man responsible for pioneering the ‘grease the groove’ technique is Pavel Tsatsouline, one of the world’s premier strength and conditioning coaches and former trainer of the Russian special forces. Most of your usual gym-goers will see his techniques as a little unconventional, or perhaps even defiant of conventional strength training wisdom.

For more information on Pavel and some of his unconventional training check out his books, The Naked Warrior or Power to the People.

His products, although good and packed with solid information, are known for being really expensive and full of marketing, with him trying to sell you his other products, so be warned!

Here is a promotional video for The Naked Warrior, although a little cheesy, it does show that he’s capable of some pretty impressive things:

If you’re looking for a killer training program and want to burn fat, build muscle, get strong and look great, go here

What is ‘Greasing the Groove’?

The premise of this training technique revolves around the simple equation Pavel came up with to explain the technique:

Specificity + Frequent Practice = Success.

Contrary to the belief of most Western bodybuilders, who believe strength comes purely from larger muscles, the Russian philosophy is that in addition to strength being somewhat correlated to muscle size, strength is also a skill.

Like with any other skill, the ‘skill of strength’ should be practiced, because as we all know, practice makes perfect. 

Russian, Bulgarian and other former Eastern bloc powerlifters and Olympic lifters made use of this  technique. They dominated these sports for years, proving it may definitely have some merit.

Practical use of the ‘Grease the Groove’ technique:

‘Greasing the groove’ works best with bodyweight movements, but can be used with bodybuilding, powerlifting or weightlifting moves too. 

To explain the technique, I am going to use pull-ups, one of the best upper-body developers.

Right, so lets say you want to get better at pull-ups, i.e. be able to do more pull ups. According to the above equation, you need to frequently practice pull-ups to get better at them and do more. 

In order for this to work and not lead to overtraining, the key is to not train to failure. 

For example, lets say you can usually do 10 pull-ups with good form. What you’d then do is perform 5-8 reps (50-80% of your best/max) 4-6 times per day, 4-6 times per week.

It works because by performing the movement so frequently, your nervous system develops and becomes more proficient at getting your body, nerves and muscles to work in sync to perform the movement more efficiently. Over time, the movement gradually becomes easier and more natural.

As the movement becomes easier and more natural, you will be able to do more and more reps. You can then GRADUALLY start adding more weight/resistance to keep the exercise challenging. 

Over time, this process of gradually becoming more efficient or ‘more skilled’ at an exercise will allow you to handle bigger loads for more reps. 

If you’re looking for a killer training program and want to burn fat, build muscle, get strong and look great, go here

But will being ‘more skilled’ at an exercise make me more muscular?

Ask yourself this question, if I go from only being able to squeeze out 10 pull-ups with my bodyweight, to being able easily do 15 pull-ups with a 20 kg plate, what’s going to happen to my muscles? Are they going to get smaller?

Of course not.

Even though the ‘skill of strength’ is largely neurological, your muscles are still responsible for creating the movement and overcoming the forces preventing movement (gravity, friction, inertia), so as a natural ‘by-product’ they HAVE TO adapt and grow larger in order to keep up with the increasing neurological demands. Form must follow function.

Putting ‘Grease the Groove’ into practice:

The reason the grease the groove technique works best for bodyweight movements is that they require no equipment, and due to the fact that an exercise needs to be performed at such high frequency, the need for equipment could be a limiting factor.

So, for exercises like dips or pull-ups, set up a bar or dipping station in your home or office (or wherever you spend a lot of time.) Several times per day, for example, each time you go to the fridge or bathroom, stop and do 1 set of 50-80% of your max reps. 

This will add up to many sets throughout the day. You will not build up a sweat and wont need to shower after only 1 set, so there are no excuses.

It’s a little more tricky if you are trying to use the technique for an exercise requiring equipment, but its still doable, you just need a bit more planning. For example, let’s say you are using it for the bench-press:

On 3-4 days of the week when you go to gym, preferably when you are not training your chest, do 1 set when you get to the gym. Do another one a quarter of the way through your workout, then another half-way through, another a bit before the end, then another after your’re done with your usual workout. Then after you have showered and about to leave, quickly do another. 

Because these sets are not done to failure and at only 50-80%, they should not interfere with your usual workouts. 

The main thing is get creative and figure out ways to ‘grease the groove’ throughout the day for a particular exercise.

To summarise and some final key points when ‘greasing the groove’:

  • Do it with only 1 or 2 exercises at a time.
  • Do 50-80% of your maximum, NEVER go to failure.
  • Grease the groove only when feeling fresh, if you feel weak or sore, then you have over-reached your recovery abilities.
  • ‘Greasing the groove’ is an addition to your existing workouts, you are replacing the way you do ONE specific exercise, not your entire workout for the rest of your body.  
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Article by: Bryan Hamann.

Bryan is a personal trainer, certified bootcamp instructor, Ironman Triathlete and author of THE PRISON WORKOUT.

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