If one good repetition is great then more must be even better, right? In the fitness industry, we see more and more crazy trends toward massive amounts of volume. The “GO HARD or GO HOME” mentality. It really isn’t the volume that is so terrible with these approaches, but rather the quality of the movements done at these high volumes. There’s no value in how heavy or how quickly you can do something, if you’re doing it all with poor technique.
Any trainer or instructor can beat you into the ground using crazy moves and loads of volume with minimal rest, but will that actually get you stronger while keeping you safe and injury free? No! While you might initially make strength gains, the risk of injury is greater than the potential rewards—especially since you might get injured before you even reap those rewards.
We, at StrongFirst, would rather see you do quality single reps than multiple reps done poorly. StrongFirst’s philosophy for training is to treat each session as a practice, not a workout. Listen to Pavel explain this distinction:
So if we’re going to start from the basics as far as volume goes, i.e. a volume of one rep, then let’s also start with a basic movement that most people could use some practice at perfecting. The push-up has been around since the beginning of time, but is still regularly butchered.
Done correctly, the push-up will give you great strength gains and can be done anywhere at any time. It also has endless progressions that will enable you to continue advancing over time. But first, we need to make sure you can do one repetition with solid form, and then we’ll go over how to use the grease the groove (GTG) approach to training before worrying about increasing volume or weight.
How to Do One Perfect Push-up
Watch the video for a demonstration of excellent push-up form.
- Start on all fours
- Place your hands slightly narrower than your shoulders (this is more shoulder friendly)
- Focus your eyes on your fingertips while gripping the ground
- Extend both legs out straight with feet approximately shoulder width apart
- Point your belly button toward your face (posterior pelvic tilt)
- Make a “Tssss” sound via tension breath to tighten your whole body
- Corkscrew your shoulders into their sockets and visualize making an “X” on your back
- Row your body toward the floor while moving as one unit, with zero sagging or hunching
- Keep your elbows in fairly close to your rib cage—no chicken winging allowed!
- Pause momentarily at the bottom
- Visualize sending compressed air from your belly out through your palms as you power back up
- Approach your setup and each single rep with intent
By focusing on single reps, you will find that you automatically increase your percentage of quality reps. And you might be amazed at how few quality reps are actually needed to make strength gains. You will also learn a lot about your body and master the required amount of tension for a great push-up. This will allow you to increase your baseline of strength and in return all skills will become easier.
Training the Perfect Push-up With Grease the Groove
Pavel coined the term grease the groove, and this unconventional approach to training has proven to be one of the best methods for quick strength gains. The key to GTG-style training is that you train often but never to failure.
GTG training allows the nervous system to develop and become more proficient. Basically, it teaches your nerves and muscles to work together better, which enables you to move more efficiently, and over time the movement itself becomes much easier. Watch this video for a brief explanation from Pavel:
While GTG works best with bodyweight movements, it is not only for bodyweight skills. It has been known to rapidly increase kettlebell pressing and squatting strength. GTG is also a highly recommended training approach for tactical communities (law enforcement, firefighters, military, etc.) as they never know when they will be called upon and need to be fresh for the job at hand.
GTG works best when you focus on no more than two skills at one time, and the skills should be performed at about 50% of your max. If you are used to the “go hard or go home” mentality, then GTG may take some getting used to. Pavel explains more about the rest time and intensity level of this approach in this video:
GTG does not have to be a standalone program, but it can be. And once you have mastered your selected skills, they can be added into a more traditional program and you can continue your GTG protocol with a new set of skills.
Perfect Push-up Training Protocol
First, test yourself using the perfect push-up instructions listed above to determine your current strength level. If you cannot meet the required steps for a single repetition on the ground, then select an elevation appropriate for your current strength level.
Once you have tested your perfect push-up at different elevations and determined your working elevation, you can proceed to greasing the groove at that level. For example, if you are comfortable and can execute perfect technique at a desk height, then throughout the day do “sets” of one good rep at that height, allowing at least fifteen minutes of rest between each rep. For best results, do your GTG push-ups at a minimum of three days per week.
If you meet all the requirements in the perfect push-up instructions, then proceed to test your max reps without losing form or test a harder progression, but only select a progression where you can maintain the proper form. One you have chosen a progression, then, just as stated above, GTG at this progression for a single perfect rep throughout the day at least three days per week.
Grease the Groove Over the Course of Your Week
Remember, in order to get the most out of each GTG session, it is best to select no more than two skills to groove at the same time. I would recommend pairing something like the pistol and the push-up. Each can be done for perfect reps and not take away from the other. You can select to GTG the two skills on the same day or alternate the days, which would give you a daily GTG practice.
If your schedule is more limited, then you can do the two skills on the same day and back to back, then rest at least fifteen minutes before the next set. For example: one push-up followed by one pistol per leg, then rest for at least fifteen minutes and return to your next push-up and pistol.
If you have questions on perfect push-up form or the grease the groove protocol, please post them to the comments below.