Grease the Groove: How to Increase Pushups and Increase Pull Ups

Every once in a while, I like to physically challenge myself by trying to do as many pushups and pull ups as possible.  These are two functional exercises that incorporate the most basic of movements: pushing and pulling.  However, many people are challenged by how to increase pushups and increase pull ups.  I’d like to discuss the grease the groove technique that I learned from Pavel Tsatsouline’s The Naked Warrior.

Before I get into the background and specifics, I’ll get right to the bottom line.  Grease the groove is an amazing technique that can help you improve exercises like pushups, pull ups, or even bench press and squats.  And the secret ingredient is…


Let me say that again three times in case you missed it…practice, practice, practice.  Big secret, right?  Well, in reality, practice does make perfect.

Check out this video of Pavel; yea, it’s a bit of a cheesy infomercial but you can see some of the cool workouts he does.

Grease the Groove

Pavel Tsatsouline is a former trainer for the Soviet Special Forces.  Pavel came up with a simple equation for getting better at particular exercises:

Specificity + Frequent Practice = Success

What does this mean?  It means you have to perform a specific exercise over and over again to get better at it.  As Pavel says, “if you want to get good at pull ups, why not try to do…a lot of pull ups?”  The key is not training to failure.  I think this is best explained with an example.  If you can perform a maximum of 10 pull ups, then you’ll want to train by performing 5-8 reps, 3-4 times per day, 4-6 days per week.  Heck, you could even hang a pull up bar in your doorway and just do 5 pull ups every time you walk through that door.  Now that’s practice!

Why does this work?  When you perform strength training, your muscles gradually get more efficient at the movement.  During this neurological process of getting more efficient, it becomes easier for your muscles to repeat that movement.  Hence, by doing more pull ups or more pushups, you get better at doing them.  This technique does not only work with bodyweight exercises either.  You can easily increase your bench press or squats by incorporating the same methodology.

This video isn’t quite as cheesy; it showcases Pavel doing some cool bodyweight moves that he teaches in the Naked Warrior:

Workout Routine

You can grease the groove with 1-2 exercises at a time.  In the past, I’ve done it with pull ups and pushups at the same time, although I’d generally advise sticking to one exercise for simplicity.  Essentially, you’ll want to perform 50-80% of your maximum number of reps so that your muscles avoid failure.  You should do this 3-4 times per day: morning, noon, night, before bed, any time really.  The more often you do it, the better you’ll get at pushups or pull ups.  The next day, you’ll repeat the process.  Always stop at least 1 rep shy of failure.  You don’t want to teach your muscles to fail during this process.

Start Practicing

For whatever reason, if you’re looking to learn how to increase pushups or increase pullups or even increase bench press or squats, just remember the old adage: practice makes perfect.  By using the grease the groove technique, you’ll find your numbers continue to improve as you get more efficient at your target exercise.

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