Have you ever wondered why your pull ups don’t seem to improve?
You religiously follow the routines. And you are doing the exercises almost daily.
You look at your rep count and scratch your head.
It’s okey, but you’d like to do better.
Should you do more pull ups or chin ups?
So you tinker around a bit more, change up your training plan.
And before you know it you reach the 100 rep mark.
It’s the dream, and everywhere you turn online, someone will tell you it happened.
It makes you wonder though, why are you struggling so much?
And if it’s that easy why isn’t everyone that strong?
It’s not easy, it never is.
But with this method you can use your biggest engine -the nervous system- to your advantage.
The method behind using the nervous system to your advantage is called Greasing The Groove (GTG).
The goal is to perform sets of exercises without going to muscular fatigue and done with plenty of rest.
Instead of in 1 concentrated session the sets can be scattered throughout the day.
It’s basically no-failure training.
What does this mean in your practice?
And how can this benefit you?
Pavel Tsatsouline is the ‘unique thinker’ who instead of looking at strength as just a function of muscle mass, spread the idea that strength is also a function of your ability to fire your muscles in a certain sequence and with a certain intensity.
So GTG is not so much about growing your muscles visibly, but it’s about developing neurological pathways by firing your muscles consistently.
Essentially developing the skill of a certain move.
A pull up in this case isn’t just something you do, because you have developed more mass.
It’s something you learn, because you have better control over your muscle contractions.
It’s a skill, the more skilled you are, the easier it gets.
Muscles are made up of many fibers.
These fibers follow the all-or-none law – which implies, they either contract or they don’t.
The system which is basically at the wheel of this contraction or relaxation is referred to as ‘the nervous system’.
This system sends signals to those exact same muscle fibers and the more you send these signals, the better the road over which these signals travel becomes.
The faster and better those signals can travel, the greater the contractive power of your muscles.
Compare it to grabbing a glass of water.
Let’s imagine you can only fire on finger at a time.
While you have the muscular potential to grab a cup, the issue is that if you can only fire one finger after another.
Now you cannot combine the strength of ALL your fingers and the rest of your hand, which you need to do if you want to grab that cup.
When we relate this to a pull up, your inability to fire the right muscles at the right time might mean that even though you have the muscular potential, your nervous system isn’t developed enough to actually use that potential.
This directly implies that training to failure isn’t a necessity for more strength.
If strength were only a function of size, Bruce Lee would look like Ronnie Coleman in his prime.
For more muscular endurance or hyperthrophy, different rules apply however.
While mass is one side of the coin, the skill is the other side.
Unfortunately this side of the coin rarely gets the attention.
Why? Because it’s not visible and doesn’t get you the girls on the beach.
But it will get you much stronger than you are right now, which is even more important.
How To Use Greasing The Groove
One of the major components of GTG is doing the same exercise over and over.
While it might seem counterintuitive, this does not mean training to failure, it means the exact opposite.
You want to make sure you can do the exact same exercise at another point in time too.
The quality of your execution determines how the nervous system fires those muscles.
Fatigue will lead to a lower quality of your moves, which in turn means a lower learning quality of the skill you are training.
Similar to chopping wood, just swinging your axe once will not let the tree fall over.
Swinging that same axe into different places won’t do a lot either.
You need to keep swinging multiple times in exactly the same way, until you create a groove that you can keep making deeper.
So how can you start?
First of all make sure you pick one move which you want to master and are able to do at least 1 repetition with perfect form.
You can do this move next to your regular training routine.
Secondly, pick a que which will help you remember to do that exercise.
This can for example be: every time you open your door = 1 pull up.
Every time you stand up = 1 pistol squat.
Every waking hour that passes = 1 one arm push up.
Make it a habit, like having a meal, going to the toilet, writing down your goals, standing up or even taking a breath.
It’s something you do throughout the day.
It can be anything.
Once you feel like you are reaching your max of that day, stop.
And make sure you have at least 5+ minutes of rest between your sets. Keep in mind that this can be even a few hours.
It’s to make sure you don’t train yourself into fatigue.
The goal is high quality repetitions instead of just more repetitions.
If you start feeling serious muscle soreness take a few days of rest to become stronger.
Over time, increase the frequency, by for example doing 2 pull ups every hour or 1 pull up every 30 seconds.
Follow this for 4-6 weeks before transitioning to another exercise and retest your strength after a good day of rest.
Which Exercises You Can Use To Increase Your Pull Ups
If you are reading this, chances are one of the major obstacles you are facing right now are pull ups and chin ups.
It’s what most beginners struggle with.
So if you can’t do a pull up yet, start with 1 of these chin up progressions.
You can use the exact same progression for pull ups, the only difference is that you need to change your grip.
Start with chin ups first.
The strength you gain from doing chin ups will translate to pull ups.
At the same time chin ups are ‘easier to learn’ so you will be able access that level of strength much faster.
So on one hand you can grease the groove throughout the day.
While at the same time doing your workout routine at a specific time.
That way you combine the best of both worlds.
Grease Your Groove To More Repetitions
When you add a small daily habit to your training, you will see significant increases in strength.
Few people understand that strength is a skill, not only a sum of the amount of muscle fibres you have, but also a result of how those fibres are wired and fired.
That’s why Skinny Jack can be much stronger relatively than Joe The Buffalow who is twice his size.
You can increase your repetitions, you are just suffering from the one-swing-woodcutter syndrome.
You take your axe and go to the forrest expecting to cut down a tree with 1 ‘gigantic swing’.
While you find yourself huffing and puffing, next to you a Bever is slowly ‘greasing his way’ through the bark of a tree until it falls down.
Not because it has bigger muscles.
Not because it’s teeth are sharper than your axe.
But because it understands the principle of ‘greasing the groove’.
Your nervous system is like a groove that needs to be deepened daily.
Preferably multiple times a day.
If applied correctly, you’ll be able to cross those skills of your list as fast as a Bever bites down a tree.
After that first seemingly worthless *Chop*. DON’T STOP.
Keep swinging your axe.
Until that tree falls down.
Beast mode ON!