Weekly News: Coach Caleb’s Corner – Using Realistic Reps to Achieve (Seemingly) Unrealis

September 5th 2015

Coach's Corner

Weekly News: Coach Caleb’s Corner – Using Realistic Reps to Achieve (Seemingly) Unrealistic Goals


  1. We will be closed on Monday 9/7 to observe Labor Day. We hope you all have an amazing holiday weekend and can’t wait to train with you soon!

  2. Thank you all for taking part in our Community Yoga & Meditation evening on Friday night to support our own Katherine Geeslin, as well as the Avon Walk to End Breast Cancer!


+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Coach Caleb’s Corner – Using Realistic Reps to Achieve (Seemingly) Unrealistic Goals


Many of our trainees at Breakthrough have now begun their preparations to participate in the upcoming Tactical Strength Challenge. As one of the TSC events is the Tactical Pull-Up, we’ve been hanging around on the rigs and bars in the gym and getting our feet up quite a bit lately. One question I’m often asked is how one might go about achieving that first, elusive, gravity defying pull-up. Simple, say I, but not easy. Step one is usually to just get used to hanging from the bar. Seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many avid, jumping, kipping, cheating, pull-up try-hards embark on high repetition “pull-up” programming when they can’t actually even hang from a bar for several seconds! Once that is less of a big deal, you can begin working on the finish position of the pull-up or the “flexed-arm” hang. Then comes the active negative to smooth out the sticking spots and then, sooner than you think, you’re turning these hangs and negatives around and into proper looking pull-ups! Sometimes we use the assistance of bands and such, but the best assistance is really a good coach. (The band doesn’t really offer much help in the finish position of the pull-up because it has lost it’s stretch at that point, where we often need the help the most!). All this discussion on the pull-up really just leads us into addressing a much more universally applicable principle though, which was first written about by our Chief Instructor, Pavel Tsatsouline, in his book, “Power to the People.” This, now famous, principle is called “Greasing the Groove.” Greasing the groove is an excellent way to approach not just pull-up practice, but other aspects of our training as well.

Pavel describes the phenomenon as such:

“Muscle failure is more than unnecessary – it is counterproductive! Neuroscientists have known for half a century that if you stimulate a neural pathway, say the bench press groove, and the outcome is positive, future benching will be easier, thanks to the so-called Hebbian rule. The groove has been ‘greased’. Next time the same amount of mental effort will result in a heavier bench. This is training to success! The opposite is also true. If your body fails to perform your brain’s command, the groove will get ‘rusty’. You are pushing as hard as usual, but the muscles contract weaker than before! To paraphrase powerlifting champ Dr. Terry Todd, if you are training to failure, you are training to fail.’

Using the GTG idea, we approach our pull-up / hang practice when we’re fairly fresh; as in lots of rest between trips to the bar, to set the best conditions for a successful rep. Working on successful straight-arm hangs will establish confidence and skill to begin working on flexed-arm hangs. Flexed arm hangs for longer and longer durations will establish the successful conditions for competent active negative reps, etc. We come down from the bar long before we would fall off, and take lots of time between reps so there is no negative programming going on. Failure just never enters into it. Those of you who have been working your hangs this week are already experiencing what this is all about. Success! I’ve had the pleasure of seeing trainees get stronger in a single, hour-long practice session with all the positive feedback they’re getting from their successful reps.

This principle of doing realistic reps to achieve seemingly unrealistic goals can also carry over into some of the more high-intensity work capacity programming we’ve been doing with ballistics as well. Our current smoker involves 15 minutes of kettlebell swing practice, with some high-intensity work intervals lasting a full minute at a time! I’ve advised trainees to be careful about their weight selection, as we still want to groove the “success” condition, and not feel as though such a practice is an onerous task. Instead, by starting off with a very manageable working weight and using creeping incrementalism to nudge the loads up on these sets over time, we condition our brains and bodies for a victorious practice, not a dreadful 15 minutes of torture and potential failure.

With all this successful practice going on, it’s hard not to love training! Most of the time our trainees are leaving their sessions feeling better than when they arrived. The neural grooves have been greased, and they’re getting used to success. It’s very exciting to look ahead to all the great feats of strength we’ll see a little further down the road in a couple months. Until then, everyone ENJOY your successful reps in training, because they are making you STRONG!

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