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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

MGBG Form Tip #5: Grease the Groove

Some of you might be familiar with the practice where people install a pullup bar somewhere in their house (usually in a doorway), and then force themselves to do a few pullups every time they go by the pullup bar.  It's a great way to get strong enough to do a lot of pullups quickly.  It's also a great way to hit your head when you forget the bar is there. 

Have you ever wondered why the method is so effective?  It's because of a little concept called "greasing the groove".



In Russia, groove greases you!

This is another concept popularized by my favorite Russian, world-reknown strength coach Pavel Tsatsouline, in his book "The Naked Warrior" (the title of which is not as racy as it first appears...sorry ladies).  Pavel explains the concept in his usual "why didn't you think of this already you moron" way as follows:

"Your grandmother used to tell you: to get good at something, you must do it often, do it a lot, and do it to the exclusion of other things.  Specificity + frequent practice = success. It is so obvious, most people don’t get it.  I had a radical thought: if you want to get good at chin-ups, why not try to do… a lot of chin-ups?"

The reasons why this practice is so successful are twofold.  The first is simple.  If you work a muscle often, it will get stronger; thus making the movement that involves that muscle easier to do.  Second involves my favorite buzzword: proprioception.  That is, your body's awareness of its position in space.  The more you do a particular movement, the more your body will recognize that movement and how to complete it correctly.  Again, the easier the movement will be.

At the same time, more of a particular movement is not necessarily better.  The reason why you only do a few pullups at a time under this method has to do with recovery and reinforcing good movement patterns.  What's the difference between doing 100 pullups at one time or 100 pullups in a 24 hour period?  Well, likely you can't do 100 pullups in one shot.  So attempting them all at once is going to put a lot of stress on your body.  It's going to take a long time to recover from that much abuse, and because you overstress you're body you probably won't derive much benefit from the effort.  On the other hand, if you only did 5 pullups 20 times throughout the day, your body would likely have adequate time to recover between each set.  The strength gains you'll see from the latter will be greater for that reason.

Not to mention that if you do 100 pullups in one shot, I bet a great majority of them will involve sloppy garbage form.  The more you do an exercise with poor form, the more you reinforce bad movement patterns.  That means that even when you're feeling fresh, you're less likely to perform the movement correctly.

Greasing the groove is a method most commonly used to increase proficiency with bodyweight gymnastic exercises like pullups and pushups.  But there's no reason why it can't be applied to skills like say....barefoot running. 

Here's how it works.  At regular intervals throughout the day, go outside and run a very short distance barefoot.  The focus should be on maintaining good form, and keeping the distance run short.  For example, you might decide that every time you go past your front door, you need to go outside and run 100 meters barefoot.  Try to pick a system whereby you're going outside and completing your short runs at least 5-10 times a day, for somewhere between .25 to 1 mile total.  You can do this in addition to, or as a substitute for, your current barefoot running transition plan. 

Approaching your transition this way might help you learn proper form faster, and even decrease your transition time.  Since you are running barefoot in smaller intervals, you're not putting as much stress on your feet and giving them adequate time to heal between runs.  So you might be able to go further than you otherwise would if you did only one longer run.  You're also reinforcing good movement patterns before you get tired and your form deteriorates.  Thus, you'll likely learn proper form faster.

For those just starting out, or finding a sticking point in your transition to barefoot running, this might be a great way to have success.  After all, practice makes perfect!  Try it today!

Cheers citizens!

18 comments:

  1. Great stuff, as always. This actually might be a good case for continuing Chris McDougall's "100-Up" workout (running in place - which is inherently good barefoot form - for 100 steps) indefinitely, and repeating a few times during the day.

    I take it "proprioception" is the fancy-pants term for what I've always thought of as "muscle memory"

    ReplyDelete
  2. I would say "muscle memory" and "proprioception" are related, but not the same. Proprioception more deals with your mind's ability to determine where your limbs are in space. Muscle memory more deals with your body knowing what muscles to contract in what order in order to complete a movement.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Noted.

    One other thing - I did wonder on thing about the comparison between pull-ups and running. In my experience, where barefoot or minimalist running is concerned, my form IMPROVES over the course of a few miles. In those .25 mi. to 1 mi distances, I don't have the opportunity to find my sweet spot. In that sense (for me, anyway) the multiple short distances throughout the day might not work so well. I might be experiencing proprioception of a flawed movement. That said, the "100-up" thing might be just the ticket for me. Almost impossible to screw up running form when running in place.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It's an imperfect comparision between pullups and running for sure Dan. If you need longer to establish your form then you certainly should do it. My point is that shorter distances can be helpful for your transition because they allow your body time to heal, and also allow you to work on your form before fatigue sets in.

    Whatever works for you. This is just another way to look at your training.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hey, I just noticed something else that helps: walking barefoot. It didn't occur to me when you first posted this, but now that I'm walking around my neighborhood barefoot again, when on errands or picking up my daughter from preschool after a run, I've noticed that my feet don't feel sore at all from running. I was able to run barefoot most of this mild winter, but I did get sore, almost mild top-of-the-foot pain, after longer runs. I had thought it had something to do with the cold feet, but that's completely gone now that I'm out walking as well. Of course, it's warmer now, so maybe that helps loosen up the feet? But it also helped that I was already a barefoot walker when I got back into barefoot running in 2010--the transition was pretty smooth up to 3 miles or so--so it makes sense that it would help even now.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Erik, see form tip #1. I completely agree with you. Any opportunity your body gets to learn proprioception will transfer to your running.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The "grease the groove" concept came up on my radar again today. I too had first heard of it from Pavel, and was wondering if it could be applied to running as well. I googled "greasing the groove running" and you were the first hit =)

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