What is GPP?
General physical preparedness. Stop us now if you never heard that one before. A simple idea with a complex term attached to it. Strength coaches love to do that. Make really intricate, detailed terms that are pretty simple in execution.
We figured most of you reading this have already heard of general physical preparedness, GPP for short. Still, people are always asking us here at Garage Strength, “How important is GPP?”
Well our immediate response is let’s slow down. On the surface, the term has an absurdity to it. Superficially, it gives off the idea of being extremely complex. But in reality, GPP is just like, “Do you sport bro?”
All joking aside, GPP, simply put, is athletes being prepared to partake in fitness. Athletes being prepared to train. And not only being prepared to train, but having a general physical level so that as athletes start to work with more specific exercises, or start to do more specific training towards a chosen athletic venture, a higher level of GPP can help prevent loss of gains from time off, injury or competing. Hypothetically.
In essence, GPP is a way for strength coaches to prepare athletes for athletic ventures and fitness goals and to maintain a level of fitness or level of sports performance. We have to think about GPP in relation to what athletic ventures athletes will be partaking in. A lot of GPP became popular with sports scientists/authors like Mel Siff, Verkashansky and Michael Yeses who put literature out in the early 2000’s. It’s great stuff and a lot of truth to some of the aspects. However, over time, a lot of strength coaches bastardized the original principles.
Bastardized how you ask? Take for instance a strength coach who sends a shot putter or powerlifter out on a 2 mile jog, or having them running 400 m sprints to raise that GPP to get them in shape for the sport. What?!? That’s weird, counter-intuitive and flat out silly. Why not just get in shape for the sport right off the bat?
Let’s look at six key factors of how GPP can have a positive or negative effect on training.
1. Know The Sport Movement
Let’s begin by looking at a court athlete. Let’s say a basketball player. They may run anywhere from 5 to 10 to 20 yards at a time during competition. They need to run at a pretty high intensity and there isn’t much of a break between efforts while playing. They also have to execute explosive jumping movements, technical coordination with an implement and manage that against an opponent. A shot putter on the other hand is only moving inside a 7 foot circle for a movement that lasts a matter of seconds. Shot putters have to deal with an implement as well, but there is no opponent acting upon their person during their throw.
See how quite obvious differences are emerging?
Maybe those two sports’ differences are too drastic. We’ll concede that point. Let’s look at offensive and defensive linemen in American football. They tend to have a similar body type associated with shot put throwers. To start, American football linemen move quite a bit more relative to the shot putter. They may also have to move at a higher intensity during practice.
2. Resistance Of Object Or Opponent
If we are talking about freestyle wrestlers who after their competitive season take two to three weeks off doing nothing, to get them back into form it might take twelve weeks to build them back up to where they had been previously when they were in in-season shape. In theory, the first two to three weeks for that wrestler can be laying down the foundation of GPP.
But remember, know the sport movement. We know in wrestling there is interval based execution, 10-20 second goes with lulls that have a lack of action in the competitive sport. However, freestyle wrestlers have to deal with the resistance of their opponent. So a heavyweight wrestler may have to deal with an opponent who weighs 120 kilos. The resistance of the heavyweight wrestler’s opponent is tremendously greater than a shot putter dealing with an object that weighs sixteen pounds or a discus thrower who is dealing with an object that weighs 2 kilos.
Quite the differences there. With that information under consideration, we know that the GPP that is needed for the wrestler is different for the thrower. But what does that mean? Should the heavyweight wrestler be lifting 120 kilos repeatedly in any way shape or form during the first three weeks of developing GPP? Maybe, to a point, yes, but it also means that when in the three week developmental phase the wrestler needs to work on the mat with an opponent at a very low intensity, doing repetitive drills on the mat.
Doing work at a low intensity develops an understanding of the resistance of the object/opponent. The athlete can get in shape based off of that resistance, getting more reps in to develop faster. Just don’t execute at a very high intensity when trying to develop GPP. Unfortunately, some coaches make this more complex than what is needed. Just because a movement increases GPP doesn’t mean it carries over relatively and specifically to that exact sport.
3 & 4. Repetitions & Rest + Intensity
These two go hand in hand.
Let’s return to our hypothetical example of the freestyle wrestler. What are the repetitions that they are going to need in a six minute match with a minute rest period in between the two periods. We also need to consider that there are points in the match where the intensity drops, akin to interval based training. That leads into the idea of intensity. The intensity of a freestyle wrestling match is pretty high, putting it lightly.
If we compare this to a football player, an offensive lineman, for instance, only playing one way may have forty, fifty to sixty plays in a game, depending on the style of offense being run. That number is their number of repetitions. Now when they’re on the field, the rest is short, but when they are off the field, the rest is long. The intensity is pretty high.
The shot putter on the other hand, takes a throw, walks out and picks up their shot, they walk back in with a two to three minute long rest period. The intensity in training is relatively low. The volume needed to achieve a nice level of GPP for a shot putter is significantly lower than what is needed for a wrestler or football player.
For a wrestler or football player, they have a lot of specific work they are going to be doing on the mat or on the field. So, in the weight room, we can get a decent amount of reps in, working in the rep ranges of 7 to 12 to 15 reps. But since we don’t want to kill them, we can give them a little longer rest. The intensity may not be that high, and it doesn’t have to be in the weightroom. During the GPP period we are just trying to strengthen the joints, create hypertrophy and trying to improve the overall feeling.
It doesn’t need to be super complicated. Really what it boils down to is have the athletes get in the weightroom for two to three weeks, have them move properly through a full range of motion through all joints, start to feel better and while on the field or mat the intensity can stay lower. It is important that the specific work in the earlier period stays lower. Then within five or six weeks the athletes will start to feel real good.
5. Establish Benchmarks
World class athletes can get in shape really quickly. It is not going to be a long time before athletes of that caliber are wheeling and dealing. One thing we like to do at Garage Strength is establish benchmarks in key lifts like the clean, power snatch, back squat, bench press and pull ups.
For instance, getting a heavyweight freestyle wrestler to power snatch 80 kilos, power clean 130 kilos, back squat 150/160 kilos for five reps, bench press 150 kilos for five to six reps and do six to ten dead hang pull ups we know that the athlete has established the GPP requisites that signal the green light that things can start to be pushed in the weightroom and even on the mat.
For olympic weightlifters, we like to do 12 to 15 snatch singles with only a :45 second rest to establish GPP. With some athletes, the intensity that is performed over the multiple singles begins at 80% and ramps up to 90% on only :45 seconds rep. This is a great indicator for olympic weightlifters that their GPP is established and good to go., pretty significant actually.
It is important to understand the benchmark in lifts because that helps coaches understand how quickly an athlete adapts to the stimuli. Again, diving deep into GPP, the exercise selection for the benchmarks needs to be specific to their sport. It can't just be random stuff thrown against the wall. It needs to be exercises that we know the athlete needs to be better at their sport.
Unfortunately we see strength coaches using generic benchmark movements. Next thing, athletes that are swimmers are being asked to do the same thing as lacrosse players. Doesn’t work. They’re not the same sport. Athletes need to be prepared for the actual tasks of the sport.
6. Understand The Sport
When we get down to it, we need to understand the sport and athlete to take a bigger picture dive into the programming. So what we do with athletes is when they take that break, we expose them to training. That’s why we call it the exposure phase.
Think about a sport. Any sport. Shot putter, swimmer, wrestler, football player or something else. Got a sport in mind and an athlete considered? Good.
Ask, how much technical coordination is needed in the sport? How much stamina is needed in the sport? More specifically, what type of stamina is needed in the sport? Are they doing aerobic based training or do they need a different type of stamina? How much passive flexibility is needed? What about stability necessary in different joint ranges? What kind of mobility is needed and necessary? Finally, how much hypertrophy does the individual athlete need? Do they need to have a little bit larger muscle size and mass to increase power output or help with recovery?
Finally, one area where we see a lot of strength coaches fail miserably is understanding what the big goal is during the exposure phase; the phase when we implement GPP training. For instance, we will have power based athletes work a little bit on aerobic capacity. How? We will have power based athletes burn 60-80 calories on a rower or assault bike over a twenty minute time frame. It’s really freakin easy. They can have a conversation. It isn’t going to beat them up. Instead, it is going to help them with recovery.
This will not be interval based. It needs to be longer duration periods that are simple. Very simple. We will see the recovery start to improve. That’s the main goal.
From there we want to see caloric assimilation. Basically how well can the athlete recover from all these different aspects based on their nutrition? Like, can we make sure athletes are getting microbiota accessible carbs and athletes are eating resistant starch so that their gut health improves? With improved gut health, athletes will be able to assimilate nutrients much more effectively as they try to recover. That’s a big key aspect that we’ve learned behind GPP.
Don’t waste the work being put in by eating poorly. Eating properly can have a tremendous impact on GPP.
A big takeaway here is that we have athletes dive into specific work for their sport and the task that they are training for, but at a lower intensity, immediately. The repetitions and volume will be a little bit lower as well. Maybe a bit of steady state cardio is thrown in for time. However, it is going to be specific work to the trained for sport.
And as the athlete is exposed to the movements, we monitor how long it takes to hit the benchmark lifts so that we can understand what the athlete's specific level of GPP is, indicating when the intensity and volume can increase in the weight room. From there we will see that the increase does not have much of a negative impact on their actual sport practice. Let’s face it, the sport is the absolute priority.
GPP isn’t overly complicated. Bring in the standard, traditional training with slightly more volume at a much lower intensity. And over time, understand how the athletes react and ultimately see their adaptations on a consistent basis.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.