One of the simplest and most effective ways to gain strength very rapidly and efficiently over a short period of time is by using grease the groove. This term was first used by Pavel Tsatsouline in his 2003 book The Naked Warrior. But what exactly is grease the groove? Does it work? How does it work? Can it work for me? In this post we will answer these questions and many more as we explore this topic.
What is it?
The million dollar question. Before we answer it, let’s look into a little background information first.
Muscles are what we commonly think we are training when we are in the weight room, on the field, etc. However, this is simply not true. There are several factors that contribute to the term we call “strength”. One of them is muscle hypertrophy, or size, and the other one is neurological factors. Grease the groove trains the neurological factors.
When you lift weights, for simplicities sake, let’s say bicep curls; your brain sends a motor pattern from your cerebellum down the spinal column, out through a major peripheral nerve to the specific motor units that contract the bicep muscles that are responsible for curling a dumbbell. A motor unit is a motor neuron and all of the muscle fibers it innervates, or contracts.
Greasing the groove trains these motor patterns and motor units to contract smoothly and with more efficiency when performing a certain motor pattern. In other words, you practice a specific movement, such as a deadlift, as frequently as possible in order to train the movement itself more than the muscles.
So when people ask the question of what is grease the groove? I simply respond by saying that it is movement practice for strength gains.
How Does It Work?
Applying grease the groove is very simple. Pick any exercise you want to get stronger and perform a small number of repetitions (2-3 reps) throughout the day as often as possible. Typically, I recommend for beginners to perform the reps every hour on the hour.
Now this may not seem like anything special, but if you add all of those repetitions up throughout the day, you will get a good amount of repetitions. For example, let’s say you are trying to improve your pull-ups with grease the groove. You perform 1 set of 3 repetitions every hour for 12 hours. Well you don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that you performed 36 repetitions throughout the day.
The best part of all of this is that since there are such long rest periods between each set, your form is perfect for all of those repetitions. Thus, you practiced your pull-ups perfectly.
When you are in a training session and performing high rep sets, your form will slowly start to deteriorate as time goes on and the nervous system will have a harder time coordinating and executing those motor patterns. Grease the groove trains around this problem.
Best Exercises To Use It For
By far the best exercises to use grease the groove for are bodyweight exercises. I have seen tremendous success with this method, both for myself and for others. This is because bodyweight training demands perfect form on the progressions. You can’t just muscle your way to a planche, you have to have perfect technique.
This technique can also be used for barbell exercises, such as a deadlift. Now barbell exercises are pretty simple to learn compared to some of the more advanced bodyweight exercises. However, when the weight starts to increase past certain thresholds for these lifts, your body has to write new motor patterns to lift these heavier weights even though the exercise is fundamentally the same. So let’s say you are having trouble with deadlifting 365 lbs. You can deadlift 50-80% of your 1RM (185-295 lbs) every hour on the hour for 2 reps for an entire day. This will help strengthen the nervous system for that heavy 365 attempt.
Although this technique can be applied to anything, it is really best for the types of exercises listed above. The only other time I would recommend using it is when you are just trying to perfect your technique rather than getting stronger. Some examples are kettlebell snatches, double unders, etc. Do not use it for assistance exercises.
1. This can be repeated forever
For a beginner, this technique can be repeated for quite a long time (1-2 months). However, for an advanced lifter it will be a much shorter time frame (1-3 weeks); this too will all depend on the intensity of the weight. Nothing ever lasts forever. Therefore, you need to be strategic when using grease the groove. I usually recommend it when you hit a “never-ending” plateau, or when you just want to increase the repetitions of a particular exercise.
2. This will get me huge
Although this is not entirely accurate, let me elaborate. It will allow you the ability to get huge, but this technique itself will not add large amounts of mass. Remember, the whole purpose of grease the groove is to train the nervous system. Therefore, the reps for the most part will be kept low (especially for barbell exercises). To add mass we want high reps (8-12) with medium to heavy weights. So with the strength you get, you’ll then be able to apply your new max totals to a higher volume program, allowing you to add some significant mass.
3. Training this often will make me over-trained
No it won’t. Overtraining is a concern only for professional and elite athletes. Most of the general public as well as most fitness enthusiasts are nowhere near overtrained. This doesn’t mean you should try to max out every day, but you still need to push yourself. Keep your intensity between 50-80% of your 1RM (for barbell lifts) when using this method. For bodyweight exercises, you want to keep the same percentage except you want to use it for your max amount of reps. For simplicities sake lets say you are trying to increase the amount of reps of pull-ups you can do and your current rep max is 10 reps. Then for the first week of grease the groove do 5 reps, the second week 6 reps and so on.
4. I can do this for all of my exercises
No, do not do that. There is an old saying that I refer to when I think of multitaskers, you can either be great at few things, or suck at a bunch of things. Never use this technique for more than 1-2 exercises. Focus on the most important exercise first, then once perfected, move onto the other exercises. There is no such thing as overnight success.