Grease the groove
I first encountered the concept of Grease the groove (GTG) a few years ago, when I read The naked warrior. In this book, Pavel Tsatsouline suggests a way to develop maximum strength with two bodyweight exercises: one-arm push-up, and one-leg squat (also known as pistol). There is a lot of information in this book on the two exercises, how to generate tension, and what program to follow.
What stroked me most at the time what the GTG concept. Most bodyweight programs I had followed until then were focused on high reps and training a few times a week. At the end of a bodyweight session, I would feel exhausted. Recovery time was mandatory. The stress and recovery cycle was easy to identify! But despite being able to do many push-ups in a row, I did not really increase my absolute strength.
GTG approach was different. The goal was also to do a lot of volume, but with sets never higher than 5 reps. It was even more extreme in that we would have to do sets with only half of the repetitions we were able to do. The main variable was not so much the number of reps, but the leverage to make the exercise easier or harder. We would have to do as many reps as possible during the day, but while staying as fresh as possible.
It was a major change of paradigm for me. How come than always being fresh would send a signal to my body to adapt? How doing easy sets of 3 reps when I could do 6 would help me to overload and progress?
As I was always in hotels at that time, with little access to iron, I gave it a go. I started with elevated and easier one-arm push-ups, and pistols to a box. I was amazed to achieve a one-arm push-up and a full pistol after a few weeks.
The scientific explanation given by Pavel Tsatsouline was “synaptic facilitation”. He wrote that strength is a skill, and that by practicing often, with good form, and far from failure, the nerves would become better conductors, and the muscles become more efficient. Strength increase with no mass gain.
I did not buy the explanation at the time. It did not matter, it worked, even if I did not know why.
Then recently, I saw this:
This is actually what Pavel wrote 15 years ago.
Strength is indeed a skill.