Grease the Groove (or GTG Training) is a high frequency and volume strength training method. The term is probably best recognized with Pavel Tsatsouline, a well-respected Russian strength coach who is also responsible for the current popularity of kettlebell training.
Grease the Groove is often the foundation for programs that aim to increase pushup (or pullup) reps. Even though it works really well for bodyweight exercises, it can be used with any exercise.
The Russian and Bulgarian lifters have dominated their sports for years using this type of method with barbell based exercises like the squat, deadlift and snatch.
Although Grease the Groove is seen primarily as a strength program, the overall higher volume also helps with muscle building. A larger muscle can generally do more work, which means more weight for more reps.
The idea behind Grease the Groove is simple, strength is a skill that requires practice. The more you practice (more reps completed), the better you get at the exercise by becoming stronger.
Specificity + Frequent Practice = Success – Pavel Tsatsouline
There are several ways to increase strength. One can be from increasing a muscle’s size.
The other is by being able to better use the muscle you currently have.
When one tries to increase strength and muscle size, it generally involves tearing the muscle down by fatiguing it (training to failure) then allowing enough recovery time to grow a little stronger and bigger.
But you can also get stronger through repetition.
By performing the same movement (exercise) repeatedly, you improve the neuromuscular (nerve to muscle) pathways so more of the muscle fibers you do have can be used with greater efficiency.
This neurological efficiency is how well the muscles are activated by the central nervous system.
Some estimates are that an average person can only contract 20-50% of the muscle they currently have. Beginners (untrained) would be on the low end and even a highly trained athlete will not be anywhere close to 100%.
Grease the Groove works to improve the neuromuscular efficiency by practicing an exercise as often as possible while minimizing fatigue.
By performing the movement (exercise) so frequently, your nervous system develops and becomes more proficient at getting your body, nerves and muscles to work together so the movement becomes easier and more natural.
The technical term for this is synaptic facilitation. Basically it means to lift as heavy as possible as often as possible while staying as fresh as possible.
For this method to work well, it’s important to minimize fatigue by not taking sets to muscle failure.
Failure and fatigue require recovery time which works against being able to perform the exercise frequently.
This is the opposite of traditional bodybuilding sets where fatigue is one effective way to muscle growth. However, in the strength and powerlifting world sets are rarely taken to failure when the goal is to get stronger.
Grease the Groove (GTG) Workout
- Pick 1 exercise you want to improve. You could also use 2 (max) non-related bodypart exercises such as pullups and pushups.
- You can use any exercise but the Grease the Groove method works best with bodyweight exercises simply because it requires minimal setup and can be completed easier.
- If you pick a bodyweight exercise, you should be able to do at least several reps to failure. This workout setup won’t work if you can’t at least do a few good reps of the exercise.
- If you can do 15 or more max reps on an exercise, additional weight can be added (such as backpack or weight belt). If you don’t have weight to add, you could also use isometrics and add pause reps (iso-holds) to add intensity.
- Grease the Groove works well with an exercise (and weight) you can do between 6-12 max reps with. Too many reps will make it more an endurance builder than for true strength.
- For each set you will use 50-80% of you max reps. For example, if you can do 10 max pullups, you would do sets of 5-8 reps (50-80% of 10).
- No sets will be taken to failure.
- Do 4-6 sets total per day.
- Spread out the sets as equally as possible during the day. Try to allow at least 1 hour rest between sets if possible to minimize any accumulating fatigue.
- Do these sets on 4-6 days per week.
- During this time you can continue with your normal workouts. Try to complete the Grease the Groove sets away from the workout if the same bodypart is used.
- Do this for 4-6 weeks before retesting your new maximum reps on the exercise.
- You could now start another cycle with a different exercise or even repeat for the same exercise. If you to repeat for the same exercise take a complete week off from the exercise first.
Blast the Groove Intensifier
For some extra intensity and stimulus (the technical term now being synaptic potentiation), you can also add an extended negative rep on the last rep of the last set for the day.
Using the pullup example above, after doing the last 5-8 rep set of the day (assuming a 10 rep max) you would hold the last rep as long as possible and slowly lower yourself back down.
Some people even add this negative rep on the last rep of EVERY set. But it’s easy to overuse this method and decrease its effectiveness.
Doing too many negative-emphasis reps would unnecessarily extend recovery time and reduce the volume that can be done without overtraining.
Grease the Groove Alternative Workouts
The workout above is the common way to use Grease the Groove but alternatives can be used.
Smolov Jr. is just one popular and effective program that uses the principle behind Grease the Groove. It doesn’t follow the traditional setup but instead all sets are completed during one workout with several workouts done per week. Although fatigue is higher, the workouts are still generally below failure.
The basic goal for Grease the Groove is to do the most reps and work with the most weight by frequently practicing an exercise (while avoiding failure and minimizing fatigue).
As long as this goal is followed, any setup can be effective.
Some options include simply doing reps of the exercise anytime you do another task such as going to the bathroom, walking through a doorway or even eating a meal. It doesn’t have to follow a formal structure. Just get the sets done.