Greasing the Groove: Smart muscles are strong muscles

Today we will discuss a method of getting both strong and smart by doing a little, often, or “Greasing the Groove” (GtG).

The brain organizes information by both sending, and receiving signals to and from the muscles. One way the brain does this is by sequencing signals down to the muscles to recruit and fire in a certain order. The more often this chosen sequence is used, the stronger it becomes; a habit if you will. I like to imagine this as repaving a pathway, from a small gravel track, to a superhighway of information gradually over time.

How GtG works and what it requires

First and most importantly, it is essential we remember that strength is a skill. Just like something that requires dexterity, strength too takes time to build up and learn. Learning to tie your laces as a child is a simple example. When we first learn to do something, the brain has endless varying combinations of ways to attempt the task. The benefit of this example is that there is limited injury/health risks in to failing to tie your laces, we just stick to velcro shoes for a while longer. Not the case then, with pressing a heavy kettlebell over your head.

So how do we build this “information superhighway” in the right pattern? How do we make it so the next time the body is faced with the task of picking up something heavy, the brain automatically sends the correct signals via the nervous system, in the correct sequence, to the correct muscles, to overlap all at once to summate to a greater muscular contraction? By “Greasing the Groove”. Doing a little, often, and never to fatigue. This is how we learn a skill. We didn’t learn how to drive by simply jumping in the car and driving 100 mile journey on day one. Instead, 10 minutes of practice in our parents car, in a quiet parking lot each night after school was far more beneficial. Building on this, we now drive at greater speed, in bigger cars, with more dexterity and with greater position, all without really thinking about it, because our body greased the groove to begin with. The GtG method provides a great way to build the neurological skill to move heavy objects. It is not a hypertrophy program, but rather a way to build the muscle firing patterns for a maximum effort and effect. Furthermore, it constructs the inter-muscular coordination that is needed for heavy lifts (call this the muscle fibers “making friends” lets say).

A note on patience

Performing one rep at a time, once or twice a day for 12 weeks is by no means the most sexy and exciting program in the world. And it isn’t designed to be. We must trust the process, stay the course and be patient. After building GtG into some of our group classes at Ethos we spent the first portion of the session stating the importance of being patient with the journey. Resist the urge to test your strength after only 5 days of practice.

Where and when to add grease

This method is perfect for learning movements such as pistols, pull-ups, single rep presses, and other “grinds” vs. more “ballistic” movements like the swing, clean or snatch. I use the “E.M.O.T.M” or Every Minute On Tenth Minute during some of my strength programs personally and with clients to work on pull-ups and presses. I will set an alarm to go off every 10 minutes where we simply stop what we are doing for a moment, go to the bar and perform a pull-up or press to continually practice the movement without ever getting to a point of exhaustion. And it works. We have seen so many members hit first pull-ups and PR presses using this method.

Ongoing GtG action

During the months of December, January and February we are working on building a greater press with our members..  We are employing the GtG methodology and are seeing great progress so far. We look forward to sharing their results at the end of the program. Check out the videos below to understand the “press path” and how to get the best out of greasing the groove of a good press.

Avoid the following press path mistakes:

Note the first press is too narrow, the second id too wide, but the third is just right.

It is important to remember the “learning to drive” analogy from earlier when we think about GtG and pressing. It would be easy to chase the feeling of fatigue and hypertrophy (muscle pump) when looking to increase our press strength. But it is essential that we trust the process, and be patient in order to give the brain the chance to build the superconductive information highway in the best possible way without going to fatigue and losing the message along the way. As GtG works for good movement, it can also work for the bad too. Just like any habit, if we pile hours and load on top of dysfunction, then we are going to get really strong disfunction.


Making sure you are ready to press with regards to good mechanics and shoulder health is a top priority before just going at this. Most of us spend the majority of our time wedged into some form of seat, loading and shortening the front of our body all day, so it takes some forethought to make sure our joints and tissues are accepting of a movement before we dive into a program. Take a look at the videos below to help with your shoulder and overhead mobility to help in the GtG press program.

If you are looking to gain greater skill and strength in a grind style lift then GtG is a great way to do it. Build GtG into your daily/weekly training program or mention to your coach your goal movement and they can help structure your training and homework accordingly.