Practice makes perfect, right? Wrong. Only perfect practice makes perfect. Practicing the correct skill is more important than repeating any random thing and hoping for the best. Whether you’re practicing piano, pull-ups, or paella, you’ll only improve if you ingrain the right technique.
When it comes specifically to weight training, one of the most effective methods for drilling proper form is known as “grease the groove” training, or GTG. When you grease the groove, you deliberately practice an exercise with relatively light weight for low reps, which makes the exercise feel “easy.”
This unique approach lets you focus on technique rather than focusing on tooth-grinding intensity in each set, and it can be an incredibly useful way to master an exercise by building skill and strength. Here’s an in-depth look at this unconventional and highly effective approach.
“Repeated submaximal training” is technical-sounding jargon for the method known as grease the groove training, often referred to as simply GTG. It’s a rethinking of a training week. And a rethinking of sets and reps. And a rethinking of intensity and recovery. Basically, GTG encourages you to rethink your entire approach to training in order to improve technique, increase strength, and build endurance.
Instead of performing gut-busting sets to failure, every set is stopped long before muscular fatigue sets in. Instead of attacking a body part with 15 sets once or twice per week, you might train a specific exercise for 10 or 20 total sets over the course of a single day, and then repeat it the next day, and the next day, and the next.
GTG specifically uses high frequency training (multiple workouts per week and/or per day) combined with low intensity (less-challenging weights) and low volume (fewer sets and reps) to develop strength, endurance, and technical skill with complete recovery.
The “grease the groove” method, and expression, was popularized by kettlebell expert and strength coach Pavel Tsatsouline in the early-2000s. Pavel has summarized the method as “training as often as possible while remaining as fresh as possible.”
“Training as often as possible” can actually mean training multiple times per day (time permitting). Because GTG training is commonly applied to bodyweight exercises like push-ups or pull-ups, the convenience of those exercises lends very well to being performed at nearly any time of day, in nearly any location. For a person working from home, for example, this can be ideal.
“Remaining as fresh as possible” refers to restricting intensity, as well as volume, to allow the recovery necessary for the frequent training. GTG hinges entirely on frequency. By repeating an exercise with increased frequency, you’re creating patterns within your nervous system that build strength by “learning” how to perform the exercise more efficiently. (1)
GTG training involves your central nervous system as much if not more than it involves the muscles moving the weights. A weight training exercise is just like any other skill or activity. There’s technique involved, and regularly practicing that specific technique under ideal conditions is the most effective way to improve it.
For example, if your goal was to get better at hitting fastballs, you’d be at the batting cage every afternoon telling the pitching machine to forget about the curveball and just give you the heater. You wouldn’t just show up to the ballpark on Saturday, take some swings, and come back next week to try again.
The same general principle applies whether you’re knocking dingers outta the park, doing pull-ups, squatting, doing the clean & jerk, or performing any other movement you might need to focus on.
GTG is a way of training the nervous system to create motor pathways from the brain to the muscle fibers required to perform an exercise. (2) By repeatedly performing a given exercise using textbook form, proper technique and movement patterns develop. This improved technique can allow a lifter to improve strength, as both the CNS and the muscles involved in the exercise adapt to the training.
Weight training typically requires progressive overload — adding more weight or performing more reps each week to consistently challenge the body — to trigger an adaptation. GTG works on a nearly opposite progression model. Not only does GTG not require extra weight or more reps in each session, but consistently adding that type of overload would prevent GTG from delivering results.
To grease the groove, every rep needs to be performed relatively comfortably and with minimal difficulty. A reliable rule of thumb is to perform roughly half as many repetitions or load nearly half as much weight than you’d be fully capable of. For example, if you can deadlift 315 pounds for six reps, you’d grease the groove with 155 or 185 pounds for six. If you can perform five pull-ups, you’d grease the groove performing two reps per set.
The training is specifically meant to feel easy in every session, almost like warm-up sets. Once you start cranking up the frequency and performing multiple sessions per day, you’ll appreciate the relatively low intensity.
Grease the groove training is primarily a method to increase strength. It can also serve to improve technique and build high-rep endurance, but it’s most widely known as a training method for improving basic strength.
GTG is most often applied to bodyweight exercises like push-ups and pull-ups, due to their convenience for high frequency training. However, any weight training exercise can be used as long as the load is properly chosen and the exercise can, of course, be performed often.
If you wanted to perform GTG with the bench press, but didn’t have a home gym, your primary hurdle would be getting to the gym at least once a day, every day, to make grease the groove training as effective as possible. That’s impractical for some people, but if you can make it work, you can reap the benefits.
High frequency training has been repeatedly shown to be extremely effective for building strength. (3)(4) Grease the groove training allows a higher training frequency without compromising overall recovery.
Because GTG builds strength and is well-suited to bodyweight training, it’s a popular method for calisthenics-focused lifters, especially beginners. If you can only do three pull-ups, GTG is an extremely effective way to bump your max reps into double-digit range. Similarly, it can be a useful technique for conquering challenging exercises like single-leg squats (pistols) or handstand push-ups.
Many lifters who are required to pass bodyweight exercise fitness tests, often used in law enforcement or the military, have used GTG training to improve their testing scores by increasing their max rep push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, or other testing criteria.
One aspect where GTG falls short, however, is for muscle-building. Intensity and volume play extremely significant roles in building muscle, and those programming cornerstones are necessarily minimized with grease the groove training. (5)(6)
GTG is most commonly and most effectively applied to one specific exercise or movement, rather than a general body part. Multiple exercises could be trained with GTG if they have minimum overlap and don’t work similar body parts.
Choose the Right Movement
For example, training pull-ups and barbell rows with GTG would be counterproductive because the back would be directly worked in each exercise and you wouldn’t be fresh for each session. However, training pull-ups and squats or dips and barbell rows could be very effective because the exercises involve different muscle groups.
GTG could make you reconsider your idea of “high frequency.” Repeating a workout three times per week would certainly be considered high frequency under normal training circumstances, but GTG takes it to the next-level.
Repeating workouts every day is common programming for grease the groove training. Repeating workouts every few hours, multiple times per day, is even more common. Again, sheer practicality can be one limiting factor with this approach.
Investing in a simple doorway pull-up bar can be an excellent decision for anyone working from home. Performing one set of half of your max-rep pull-ups every few hours is a time-tested approach to build pull-up strength and increase your total numbers. If your current max is three pull-ups, performing one perfect rep every time you walk past the bar (on the way to the bathroom, on the way back from the kitchen, etc.) is a textbook GTG training plan.
Over time, you’ll build both the skill and strength to perform more than one rep per set without being significantly fatigued. As you adapt more, you can sporadically test yourself and should find that you’ve beaten your former “max rep” limit without ever struggling in a workout.
A similar approach can be used for other exercises, most effectively with free weights. Again, many lifters don’t have access to a variety of machines on a regular basis, but if you’re a personal trainer working in a gym, for example, or an office worker with an on-site gym, it can certainly work.
Maintain a relatively low effort in each mini-session, performing one set of three to five reps with roughly half as much weight as you’d be otherwise capable of. If you can overhead press 155 for five reps, perform GTG using 75 pounds for five reps, as often as possible without fatiguing yourself, whether that’s every two hours or twice a day.
Soon enough, you’ll find that 75 pounds for five will feel even easier and you can increase the weight very slightly, to continue the process before eventually testing (and breaking) your old PR.
Avoid Training Overlap
One key to optimizing recovery is to avoid performing the same exercise in both your GTG plan and your standard training. If you’re in the gym training your back once per week, you could simultaneously perform GTG pull-ups every day as long as pull-ups are not part of your in-gym workout.
Overlapping GTG with your current training program is simply a matter of choosing your priority exercises and applying the GTG method (training those movements daily or multiple times per day with low volume and low intensity), while removing those same exercises from your current routine.
You could also follow an entire program based on GTG. Because it’s a strength-focused method, choose one compound (multi-joint) exercise per body part and train each movement every day or multiple times per day, performing one set of low reps with a weight suitable for a warm-up. Remember that you should never struggle or strain on any rep during GTG training and your form should remain picture-perfect.
It’s Easy Being Greasy
Grease the groove training can be used by beginners as well as the most experienced lifters. It’s perfectly suited for refining technique, sharpening the CNS, and building strength, which are benefits no lifter ever outgrows. Consider your overall training plan, pick one or two priority exercises, and get a little greasy.
- Carroll, T. J., Riek, S., & Carson, R. G. (2001). Neural adaptations to resistance training: implications for movement control. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 31(12), 829–840. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200131120-00001
- Duchateau, J., & Enoka, R. M. (2002). Neural adaptations with chronic activity patterns in able-bodied humans. American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation, 81(11 Suppl), S17–S27. https://doi.org/10.1097/00002060-200211001-00004
- Ochi, E., Maruo, M., Tsuchiya, Y., Ishii, N., Miura, K., & Sasaki, K. (2018). Higher Training Frequency Is Important for Gaining Muscular Strength Under Volume-Matched Training. Frontiers in physiology, 9, 744. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2018.00744
- Ralston, G. W., Kilgore, L., Wyatt, F. B., & Baker, J. S. (2017). The Effect of Weekly Set Volume on Strength Gain: A Meta-Analysis. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 47(12), 2585–2601. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0762-7
- Lasevicius, T., Schoenfeld, B. J., Silva-Batista, C., Barros, T. S., Aihara, A. Y., Brendon, H., Longo, A. R., Tricoli, V., Peres, B. A., & Teixeira, E. L. (2022). Muscle Failure Promotes Greater Muscle Hypertrophy in Low-Load but Not in High-Load Resistance Training. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 36(2), 346–351. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000003454
- Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of sports sciences, 35(11), 1073–1082. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2016.1210197
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