How to gain strength by Greasing the Groove

Updated: Oct 7, 2019

If you’re someone that struggles with a particular movement or exercise then Greasing the Groove could be the answer.

Greasing the Groove is a term coined by Pavel Tsatsouline, chairman of Strongfirst and the man who introduced kettlebells and Spetsnaz training to the west from the former Soviet Union.

You can see him explain this concept in much more detail in this video.

Essentially, it means creating neurological pathways between the brain and the muscles to improve the ability to perform a certain movement, as well as increase strength in that movement pattern. This is achieved by performing many sets of low reps, so you’re never going to the point of failure or even getting a sweat on. Easy, right?

How does that work?

Well, for the muscle to contract, it first starts in the head. 

A signal is sent to that muscle via the nervous system. The brain needs to learn the pattern too so as we repeat the pattern over and over again, it increases the speed in which that stimulus is sent by the brain and received by the muscle, improving the neurological pathway or, in this case, “the groove”.

The improvement of that pathway is realised through the body creating a fatty white cover that wraps around the axons of the nerve cells which allows the impulse to travel faster.

Now that we have a more efficient and faster movement pattern instilled in our brains, we can now contract more muscle fibres, faster, meaning an increase in strength. This is also why certain things come naturally to us without even thinking, such as walking. We’ve repeated that pattern over and over again so it becomes second nature.

You’re essentially practising strength as a skill.

What do I do to Grease the Groove?

OK, now we understand what’s happening in the body, this is what you need to do...

Pick an exercise you’re not so good at - Maybe you aren’t great at pushups or pull-ups. Or as part of your yoga practise, you want crow pose or lolasana. Either way, pick a skill or exercise you want to achieve or improve.

Pick a trigger - Pick a room in the house or something you walk past. Perform the exercise and reps every time you enter the room or walk past the trigger

Pick a rep scheme - If you’re training a movement you can barely do, then aim for 1 good rep. If you are looking to increase volume, Pick an exercise where you can perform under 15 reps and perform, roughly, about half of your max reps. We aren’t looking to get a sweat on or go to failure so bear this in mind.

Make the last rep a negative - This won’t apply to holds such as crow pose but if you’re doing reps like push ups, make the last rep the one where you lower your chest to the floor slowly (like, 3-5 seconds) and don’t push back up.

My example of using this method was for lolasana lifts (Sat on heels, lean forward onto straight arms and lift my tucked knees into my chest and off the floor…effectively, balancing on my hands in a tuck).

To increase my strength in balancing on my hands, I would perform 3 reps of lolasana lifts every time I went upstairs. The end game was to actually do lolasana which is a static hold but wanted to build upto that. I can now do lolasana for a short time, so the aim has changed to focus on that hold for a few seconds every time I go upstairs.

Because we aren’t going to failure, you can do this skill work everyday and not feel fatigued (obviously, if you have an injury, don’t do it…little disclaimer there!).

What are we aiming for?

You aren’t going to lose weight or build muscle from doing this. That isn’t the point.

The point is to get better in a particular movement or skill to then reach a point where you can perform these exercises for good reps and sets…and then you will start to see the bigger benefits.

It’s a great way to learn a new movement quickly and once you start performing that exercise, you can change the game to more advanced versions of that exercise to continue your strength build.

Try it. Pick and exercise and start greasing that groove!

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