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Results of my ‘Grease the Groove’ experiment with the Back Lever


Grease The Groove is the immensely popular training approach popularised by the Russian Kettle bell guru and army fitness instructor, Pavel Tsatsouline. Those in calisthenics circles will probably know, but if you don’t…….here’s a run through of what it’s all about:

  • You pick a movement (preferably a bodyweight one, but it’s not compulsory) that you want to get better at
  • Have an idea of your maximum reps/hold time
  • Take that hold time and figure out what figure equates to around 50% of it
  • Perform multiple sets of that number throughout the day – usually at least 5 times per day with a good hour between each set – and sometimes up to 10 times across a given day
  • Run the cycle for a solid week and then either retest your max or repeat another week but with an extra rep each set, this time.

The internet is littered with praise and accounts of people using grease the groove to get all kinds of progress in movements like pull ups, dips, push ups and pistol squats. There’s even testaments of people getting up to numbers above 30 pull ups, all thanks to GTG.

Many people wonder whether GTG can be applied to weights or even more advanced bodyweight exercises. It’s a question that was on my lips, and the short answer is: YES.

People have used it successfully with weightlifting in moves like overhead presses and even deadlifts. It’s also been used with more ‘funky’ bodyweight stuff like front levers, muscle ups and handstand push ups.

In my review of Calisthenic Movement’s Level 4 Program, I announced I was able to perform a full back lever (the feature picture to this article is me doing one), for 4 seconds. Wanting to improve this, I wondered whether GTG might be just the ticket. Looking at general forums online it seemed not many people had embarked on such a mission; I only saw one or two people say they’d tried such a thing.

My plan

As my back lever hold was a mere 4 seconds, I needed to choose an easier variation. So I went with the advanced tuck, as seen below.

Advanced tuck back lever – performed by yours truly

With this variation you’re fighting to overcome much less leverage as the legs aren’t fully extended. My maximum time for this hold was around 30 seconds (with good form of course!)

Using our established equations earlier, we can get the calculator out and see that 15 seconds is our magic holding time. I set out to hold an advanced tuck around 4-6 times per day for 7 days straight, stop, then retest after 2-3 days of rest.

I used gymnastic rings for every single hold and stuck to the plan pretty diligently. It’s also worth noting I was still sticking to my current program – Calisthenic Movement’s Level 5 – whilst running the experiment.

The nuts & bolts

This shit was hard. Hard on the elbows and on the whole body. Often times I had to switch from a supinated (biceps heavy) grip to a pronated grip, simply because the elbows were too sore. People who watched me perform the holds would tell me it didn’t look as comfortable as it should, and perhaps that was an error on my part; not auto-regulating a little. Maybe holding it slightly less than 15 seconds if I felt fatigued?

Let’s now show the results video………


As you can see I get around 6-7 seconds with relatively good form. One thing to note is my hands were pronated as my elbows just weren’t up to being supinated that day. It’s a disappointing result overall and all things considered, I really don’t think I made much progress at all.

What I could, would and should, have done different

I think a big one is auto-regulation; giving myself a range to fall in. As the day goes on, hold it for less time. Feeling good? Hold it a bit longer, but don’t go to failure. Also, doing this around a fairly intense workout schedule is tricky. Not to mention the added activity from teaching exercise classes and demonstrating movements in a gym on a daily basis. This is all stress for the body to handle.

Resting a few more days than I did would have helped too, I think.

So it begs the question: Will I be trying again?

Not for the near future. I’m going to focus solely on Calisthenic Movement’s Level 5 program which has front and back lever work in it anyway. You can never say never but it wasn’t GTG that got me a back lever in the first place, so who was to say it was the only way to improve it?

If you enjoyed this article or have any form feedback for me, please leave me a comment and let me know what you thought – even if you’ve just got an idea for a future experiment.

GTG for back lever? Doable but needs plenty of respect.


JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

6 thoughts on “Results of my ‘Grease the Groove’ experiment with the Back Lever Leave a comment

  1. I’d not heard of Grease The Groove before but I’m gonna be sure to try it when I find some sticking points in my training. Thanks for liking my post on Getting Into Health and Fitness too, I think you’re site will be visited a lot for pointers and progressions for quite a while.

    • Hey, thanks for getting in touch.

      Grease the groove is really great if you want to get used to/improve a movement. You’ve just got to be careful not to over-do the intensity. It works for so many things. What do you think you’ll use it on?

      • To be honest I have no idea yet. I’m only on the basics to build a foundation, not planching or doing any levers just yet, but seeing people planche is why I wanted to try Calisthenics so probably that.

      • The planche is up there with the best of them when it comes to calisthenic moves. You see plenty of straddle planches but not so many full planches. I also think iconic moves like the iron cross would be inspirational enough to ignite someone into calisthenics/gymnastics. But you’re so right to focus on the basics to build a foundation; nobody ever planched, front lever’d or iron crossed without being solid at pull ups, push ups, dips, handstand push ups and L sits.

      • Well I’m 27 now, and I want to achieve this by my 30th birthday. Is that a realistic goal, for training 3-4 times a week from Level 1?

      • I’d definitely say if you do everything right and stay dedicated, getting a full – or very close to – a full planche by your 30th is very possible indeed. It just comes down to how you react to the times when you feel you’re plateauing (which will happen) and you’ll feel like giving up. It’s whether you can stick in there and get past the roadblocks.

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