“Greasing the Groove” was a term that was coined by fitness trainer, author, and the man who introduced kettlebells to the United States, Pavel Tsatsouline. It’s a term that means not working your muscles to failure, but working them often. For example, instead of 5 sets of 12 repetitions of a specific muscle group where you go to failure, just do 5 reps or less. Take a long break in between sets. Sometimes up to 20 minutes or more. You can do the same for other muscle groups during this time of rest. This way, you’re not beating yourself up while still getting a high volume of heavy reps.
Since its introduction, “Greasing the Groove” has become synonymous with “squeezing in a workout”. In fact, there are plenty of ways to use this concept to either get in shape, stay in shape, or develop new skills. Although this wasn’t the initial theory behind it.
The Theory Behind Greasing the Groove
Have you ever noticed very fit and strong individuals having difficulties performing movements they have never done before? For example, the bar or ring muscle-up. No doubt these individuals have the strength to perform the pull and push motions required. They just haven’t made the brain-muscle connection yet. Once their neuromuscular motor patterns strengthen, these movements become easier and easier. Similarly, putting heavy loads on the body requires the same brain-body connection. The more you practice these movements when you are not fatigued and at full strength, the easier these movements will become.
Greasing the Groove helps develop these neuromuscular connections when it comes to strength-heavy and difficult movement patterns.
The Convenience Factor
Sometimes getting in a 45 minute to an hour and a half workout is not feasible. Say you’re traveling and plan to be on a plane for the next 8 hours or more. You plan to hit the gym when you safely land and get back to your hotel. But unless you’re the type that can fall asleep anywhere, chances are, you’ll be too tired from plane travel to work out. If you wanted to squeeze in a workout while stuck on the plane, your options are limited. You could do 20-40 squats every time you use the restroom on the plane. This way, you will feel great knowing that you’ve already gotten some movement and exercise in for the day before crashing at your hotel.
Like many, I have a pull-up bar next to my restroom. When I was new to pull-ups, every time I went to the restroom I would do a few pull-ups. By the end of the day, you realize you’ve done a substantial amount of pull-ups. Especially in this time of Covid-19 when gyms are closed, being able to grease the groove regularly can keep you fit. You can do the same with pushups or squats or any other movement that doesn’t require any workout equipment.
Building Specific Fitness Skills
If you’re like me and find things like the Planche and Front Lever impressive, greasing the groove can be a great tool to get better at these movements. Instead of surfing the internet or watching a YouTube video, you can do 1 set of progressions for a difficult movement pattern. I’m currently using this method to improve my handstands and the improvement has been substantial. In the past, I would be too exhausted after my CrossFit classes to do extra work to build skills. Spreading the load throughout the day, especially when the gym’s closed due to the stay-at-home orders has allowed me to practice these movements consistently.
The focus should be perfect form, thereby building and strengthening the neural pathways required to execute the movement flawlessly.
If you have the equipment necessary, greasing the groove can build strength in a way that’s not as taxing on your central nervous system. By spreading small strength workouts throughout the day, you can build your strength without bringing your muscles to total exhaustion due to the normal lactic acid buildup that occurs with short rests between sets.
Bonus Movements Integrated Into Your Day
Ben Greenfield, fitness enthusiast, podcaster, and athlete has had a trap bar close to his work station where he can do sets of heavy deadlifts during his break. He also uses his breaks to knock out sets of burpees, pushups or pullups. This makes his “end-of-day workout” optional.
Here are a few simple but potentially heavy exercises you can squeeze in throughout the day
- Pushups, pullups or squats whenever you have a few minutes
- 1 max handstand hold every hour
- 1 single-arm pushup. (try negatives if you can’t do these yet)
- 1-5 reps of heavy deadlift or back squats
- Whatever strength or skill exercise you are focused on at the moment
Using this method you can fit in the volume of entire workouts without the ordeal of preparing to go to and from the gym. If by the end of the day you still feel like doing a focused workout or WOD, go for it!