Are you simply "going through the motions" or are you helping your brain actually connect with the muscle and the movement pattern you are trying to complete. Take a read through this StrongFirst article for an understanding of how low intensity lifts/movements can greatly improve your workout returns
By Craig Marker
Ph.D., Team Leader
The term “grease the groove” (or GTG) is used frequently at StrongFirst. The basic premise in greasing the groove is to repeat the same exercise frequently without going to muscular fatigue. In this article, we are going to take a deeper dive into the origins of the term, what happens in the brain and at the neuromuscular junction, and principles of this type of programming.
Specificity + frequent practice = success. It is so obvious, most people don’t get it. Once I came across a question posted on a popular powerlifting website by a young Marine: how should he train to be able to do more chin-ups? I was amused when I read the arcane and non-specific advice the trooper had received: straight-arm pull-downs, reverse curls, avoiding the negative part of the chin-up every third workout… I had a radical thought: if you want to get good at chin-ups, why not try to do… a lot of chin-ups? —Pavel Tsatsouline, 1999
Greasing the groove (GTG) is a type of programming that builds the neurological pathway of lifting heavy weight. It does not rely on breaking down down muscle tissue for more growth, rather it uses your existing muscle structure by building new neural pathways. That is, it builds better wiring. Pavel, in his book Power to the People, described GTG with the following:
Muscle failure is more than unnecessary—it is counterproductive! Neuroscientists have known for half a century that if you stimulate a neural pathway, say the bench press groove, and the outcome is positive, future benching will be easier, thanks to the so-called Hebbian rule. The groove has been ‘greased’. Next time the same amount of mental effort will result in a heavier bench. This is training to success! The opposite is also true. If your body fails to perform your brain’s command, the groove will get ‘rusty’. You are pushing as hard as usual, but the muscles contract weaker than before! To paraphrase powerlifting champ Dr. Terry Todd, if you are training to failure, you are training to fail.
The Mechanism Behind GTG
There are a few different mechanisms behind GTG. The first happens at the muscle and the second is neurological. At the neuromuscular junction, our neurons signal the muscle fibers to fire. Not all muscle fibers are used and we can squeeze out more strength if we learn how to recruit more fibers. To do this, we need more frequent firing from the neurons. We can train our neurons to fire more frequently by doing the movement more frequently.
The other component of this idea is that we use different muscles in our movements. In a press, our lat, tricep, stabilizers, and shoulder muscles all have to fire in a choreographed pattern to press the weight overhead. We need to coordinate these muscles to fire in a perfect symphony. Donald Hebb theorized that neurons wire together if they fire together. Thus, the more we do the movement the more we build the pattern of firing between muscles. If you perform the same movement perfectly and frequently, we build better wiring.
The other mechanism for greasing the groove is what happens in our brain. We have a primary motor cortex that initiates the signal down the spinal cord for the muscle to trigger. Other areas of our brain coordinate the movement before the signal is even sent down the spinal cord. If we can ‘practice’ the movement with our brain, we will get better at it. If we put people in an fMRI scanner and ask them to imagine doing an exercise, we see activation in the premotor cortex. The premotor cortex is where we visualize the movement before actually performing it. Years ago, Dr. Judd Biasiotto showed this relationship with basketball players. He had basketball players visualize a free throw multiple times before shooting. The mental practice improved their free throw shooting by 24 percent.
Dr. Biasiotto talks in the below excerpt about how he completed thousands of mental repetitions squats. Without lifting a single weight, he choreographed how each muscle moved prior to the squat.
Every one of the lifts I made during those initial training sessions was videotaped from three different angles. After each lift, the tapes were played back so Dr. Spieth and I could analyze my mistakes. Then, I would “mentally correct” each mistake. …Once he filmed me making the lifts with perfect form, we got Faye Reid, a Disney cartoonist, to replicate each frame of the film. … After they were completed, they were made into a loop so I could view them continuously with a loop-film projector. By viewing the film, I became aware of the muscles I was using during each segment of my lifts…I knew exactly which muscles to recruit and concentrate on to make the lift. The films also helped me to perfect my form. For example, it taught me the exact moment during my squat when I should kick my hips in and throw my shoulders back. In short, by using the films as a training aid, I learned to synchronize my mind with my body. … During the next two years of training, I must have reviewed those films at least 10,000 times.
The Principles of GTG
- Train frequently
- Train with moderate to light weights
- Train with medium to high volume
Greasing the groove has been used by many at StrongFirst. It fits with our principles of never going to failure and practicing in a perfect manner. By doing the movements once in a while in small bursts, we can devote the mental energy it takes to building perfect practice. It also teaches how tension builds strength. It is not the size of the muscle that matters as much as how well we utilize it. Greasing the groove develops the neural patterns needed for maximum strength.
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