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The grease the groove method is a workout protocol that has gained a fair amount of popularity in the workout world in recent years. Used by everyone from law enforcement and military to kettlebell lifters, and on exercises from deadlifts to pullups to presses, grease the groove (GTG) has seen widespread use. This article will describe GTG, how to implement it, and when it might not be a good fit for you.
The term “grease the groove”, popularized by Pavel Tsatsouline in the early 2000s, applies to a basic idea called synaptic facilitation. Simply put, you’re training neural pathways in your body to more efficiently harness strength you already have. If you’re not good at doing pullups, for instance, it might not be because you’re not strong. It might be simply because you’re just not good at doing pullups. GTG can change that.
Grease the groove workouts are generally signified by doing many sets of an exercise, well under you max capability – generally 50% or so. You’ll want as much rest as possible, so spreading the sets out throughout the day is often recommended if possible. Repeat for several days per week for a few weeks before testing your max for improvements.
So say you tested your max pullups and got 10 before hitting failure. You’d then do 4-6 sets of 5 pullups spread throughout the day. Do this 4-5 days per week for a month, give yourself a couple days off, then re-test your max again. By this point, you should have significantly increased your max rep count.
Grease the groove training is actually much more akin to practice or a skills workout than it is a strength training program. This is because via constant repetition, you’re “grooving” the neural pathways used to send signals from your brain to your muscles in order to contract and work in a particular way.
Think of it like a baseball player practicing his hitting. By constantly going to the batting cage and swinging the bat, he develops better muscle memory and bat control. This leads to him being a better hitter out of sheer practice. GTG is more or less the same sort of idea applied to exercise.
Most people who start using grease the groove see significant performance improvements in only a few weeks. However, if they stay with GTG for too long, they see those improvements plateau. This is, again, because grease the groove is about getting better at using strength you have already applied to a specific exercise – not developing more strength in general.
This is why greasing the grooving on your pullups will improve your pullups, but not your rows – because that’s not what you’re “practicing”. It’s also why after a few cycles, you’re better off switching focus to general strength development. You’re already as efficient as possible with the strength you have, so now it’ll be time to add more strength to the equation. Then you can grease the groove again later on to become more efficient with your newly developed general strength.
Greasing the groove is perfect to use when preparing for some sort of physical test or competition. This is especially true when you’re going to want to go for max reps on an exercise (such as during a fitness test). This makes GTG perfect for maxing out pushups, pullups, and other such exercises on military and law enforcement PT tests. Start a few weeks out and “peak” right before your test is scheduled.
Grease the groove is an excellent program for improving performance – especially anything rep-based. Use a cycle or two a few times per year to enhance your strength efficiency. Just don’t fall into the trap of using the program non-stop, as that’s not what it was meant for.