Greasing the Groove: For Super Strength and Success in Life

By Luke Jones. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook. 

Handstand, Health Room, Grease The Groove

Image by Oliver

What if I told you there was a simple method of training that would allow you to jump-start your strength gains, smash through your plateaus, and set ground breaking new personal records?

You would hopefully say that I’m talking rubbish, given the tone of that first sentence…

Dirty marketing ploys aside, there is actually one training method that I have found really useful over the years. It’s not a quick fix, and still requires some dedication; but it’s been great for both building strength, and developing just about any other skill or habit.

I hope it might help you too.

GREASING THE GROOVE

Believe it or not, strength is not just a component of fitness – it’s actually a skill. There are plenty of different methods that you can use for skill development, but one of my all time favourites is called ‘greasing the groove’.

Greasing the groove involves performing a specific movement pattern as often as possible, slowly increasing the difficulty but always staying fresh and well rested. It’s been around for a long time, but was popularised by Pavel Tsatsouline, former trainer of the Russian special forces.

Pavel described the method as ‘synaptic facilitation’, which he goes into detail about in his book The Naked Warrior, so I won’t do here. He explains that “repetitive and reasonably intense stimulation of a motoneuron increases the strength of its synaptic connections”, but that sounds a little complicated.

In simple terms, it means that by performing a movement pattern often, your nervous system adapts and becomes more capable of getting your nerves and muscles to work together, like good children. Over time, the movement pattern gradually becomes easier, and starts to feel more natural.

Greasing the groove works via the near perfect combination of specificity + frequency + overload = success.

  • Specificity – Focus on one or two specific movement patterns. E.g a pull up, dip, squat, deadlift, handstand – something you really want to work on, whatever floats your boat.
  • Frequency – Perform the movement pattern as frequently as you can, whilst staying as fresh as possible. Usually no more than 6 reps, and as often as you can throughout the day, on as many days of the week as you can whilst avoiding fatigue.
  • Overload – As the movement pattern becomes easier and starts to feel more natural, you can gradually begin to add more resistance to keep the exercise challenging.

I say near perfect, as there’s another part to the equation that I’d like to add – a trigger. Having a cue to remind you to perform the movement pattern is essential, otherwise you’ll probably forget to do it, and carry on with your normal routine. Some useful triggers:

  • Set up your doorway pull-up bar and do a few pull ups every time you walk past.
  • Hold a handstand for a few seconds every time you go to the fridge.
  • Perform push-up progressions against the bottom of the stairs before you walk up.
  • Do a set of pistol squats when you enter the lift in work.

Choose whatever skill you wish; it doesn’t have to be strength related. It can even be running to the shops every time you go, instead of walking. Or meditating for ten breaths every time you get in the car.

BENEFITS OF GREASING THE GROOVE, FOR STRENGTH AND LIFE

A few of the main benefits I’ve experienced from greasing the groove:

1. Faster gains.

In terms of strength training, greasing the groove allows you to considerably increase the training volume for your chosen movement pattern. Lets take the deadlift for example.

Say you left a 100 kg barbell lying around the house, much to the despair of your family. And lets say that by greasing the groove, you do five sets of five reps a day, six days a week. That’s 150 repetitions a week, equating to 15000 kg in terms of total weight lifted.

If you were instead to perform three typical hour-long strength sessions a week, lifting 5 reps of the same weight, for five sets – that’s a total of 75 reps a week, or 7500 kg total. That’s half the amount you lifted by greasing the groove.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that lifting more weight will make you stronger, quicker. I’ve used greasing the groove to go from one body weight ring dip, to sets of 5 with 20 kg added in just a couple of months, and I’m now using it to work on handstands. Many power lifting and strongman champions have also used it with huge success.

2. You avoid fatigue.

In a traditional block session of skill training, you only have a certain amount of time to get stuff done. Along with the actual time spent lifting, this time period includes your rest –  which is just as important as the movement itself.

To develop strength rather than muscle size, it’s most effective to have long rests in between movement sets – around 5 minutes. But this is often jeopardized by the limited amount of time you have in the gym, and the want to get as much done as possible. Fatigue is inevitable, which can sometimes lead to sloppy form, increased injury, and slower strength gains.

Greasing the groove, you spread your work load over a longer time period. You’re almost always pretty fresh if you’re doing it correctly, meaning you’re less likely to get injured and more likely to perform well.

3. You save time.

Not everyone has the luxury to go to a gym for a few hours several days a week. And lots of people like to use that old excuse – “I’d love to exercise but I don’t have the time”…

No more excuses. Greasing the groove, you don’t have to take a big chunk out of your day and dedicate it to the gym. You can exercise on your own terms (or on the terms of your trigger). You can fit it in throughout the day, and still reap the benefits.

4. You can focus on your weakness.

You are free to carry on with your normal training routine, but grease the groove with one specific movement you want to work on. If, for example, you have the classic rounded shoulder posture, with over developed chest muscles, and weak back muscles – you may wish to grease the groove with a pull-up. Skinny legs like me? Maybe work on squats or deadlifting.

You are free to choose any movement pattern that will take you closer to your goal.

5. It feels quite natural.

Spontaneous movement can be a great escape from the monotony of every day life for some people. I for one feel weird standing there staring at my computer screen all day. It just doesn’t feel natural. I need an outlet to escape, and move.

Greasing the groove serves as a much-needed mini break, a chance to recharge.

We are built to run, jump, climb, swing, squat. We were designed to move – not sit and slouch. Greasing the groove makes that movement possible.

6. It’s great for the kids.

The children of today are growing up with Ipads and Xboxes, as opposed to bikes and toy swords. Back in my day…

I’m by no means saying you should be getting your five year old to dead lift, but it may be a good idea to try different ways to get more movement into their everyday lives. Greasing the groove can be a fun way to do so.

I’ve heard one story of a parent that turned their house into a bit of an obstacle course, with climbing wall holds and ropes that could be used to reach the upstairs. This may sound a little extreme, and you might not fancy a jungle gym house right now (like I do), but I’m sure there are plenty of other ways you can be creative and get the kids more active.

A few star jumps before breakfast perhaps. Or some forward rolls before dinner. I don’t know, I’m no expert on this one… I think the ideal though would perhaps be to help the kids enjoy being active in the first place. Encourage them to move naturally, and treat it as play rather than military style training. Make it fun, and keep it fun.

7. Greasing the groove transfers across to habit-forming.

This is the big one that applies to everyone and everything, so thanks if you’re still reading…

The keys to success with greasing the groove: specificity, repetition, trigger and overload, apply to any habit you are trying to develop; whether it’s lifting heavy stuff or meditating. It’s a very transferable training method.

Start with a specific skill or habit, and make it easy enough so that you can do it frequently – ideally multiple times a day. Use a trigger to help remind you that it’s movement time, and as the habit gradually becomes easier, adjust it to increase the difficulty.

And you can grease the groove with greasing the groove, in a way. The more you practice greasing the groove with certain skills or habits, the more you get accustomed to it and the more you can apply it with other aspects of your life. The stronger you can become, the more healthy habits you can develop, and the closer you can become to reaching your health potential.

That’s all for today people. Have a think: what habit or skill have you always wanted to develop? What can you apply the ‘greasing the groove’ method to?


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Luke Jones
Luke Jones is a mover, blogger and wellness enthusiast. He spends his time exploring and sharing ideas in mindful movement, healthy living and adventure.

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