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General Physical Preparedness

An Explanation

We have previously done an article on general physical preparedness, but that was a while ago. So I felt it necessary to revisit this often misunderstood and underutilised concept.

General physical preparedness, or GPP, is, in simple terms, a broad increase in work capacity over varied modal demands. What does that mean? It simply means a general and overall physical preparation for the unexpected and the habitual. Being physically prepared for one domain is fine, but if you have a problem doing any task outside of what you have specifically trained for then you will be limited in scope as far as physical ability is concerned. This is an important consideration for those that have unexpected demands placed on them such as soldiers, fire fighters and police officers.

Lets say you’re a very specific athlete such as a shot putter. You train strength and power exclusively and a fine job you’re doing too. But then you begin to stagnate and struggle to get to the next level of performance. This will require a change in training habits. Most coaches will probably just ramp up the strength and power work. This is fine but still limited, even though this is almost exclusively what you need in the event itself. A certain level of cross-training and periodisation is needed.

When you train one domain only the body gets very accustomed to the movement patterns and the stimuli. Eventually your body just stops producing results at any measurable rate. This is where general physical preparedness can help. Eastern Europeans have been using GPP for highly specified athletes for decades. They dominate sports such as weightlifting, shot put, discus, javelin, hammer throw, gymnastics, power lifting etc. See a pattern? They dominate strength and power sports, yet they apply training methods that are outside of their specific and obvious needs to compliment their specific training.

A Scientific Reason for General Physical Preparedness

It’s all well and good for me to preach about GPP and why we need to do it. However without an actual scientific reason I would have about as much credibility as if I told you that you need to stand on your head while eating anchovies. So lets look a little science (basic science that is) that will help explain why GPP is applicable.

It may seem counterintuitive for a weightlifter to perform sprints or a long jumper to perform intervals, but there is a very good reason. The primary reason is developing an increased work capacity, which results in higher quality training. So in essence it is training to train, rather than training to perform. An example is a 100 metre sprinter that seems to drop off in performance towards the latter third of a training session. This is limiting in that it does not allow the sprinter to get enough volume. However if he keeps training beyond this point of fatigue in a mid-season training session he will essentially train his nervous system to be slower and will compromise his sprinting ability. So here we have a sprinter that needs a certain volume of training in order to perform on the track but the required volume will result in compromised technique and reinforcement of a lower level of sprinting ability.

So what do we do for this sprinter? In the off-season we incorporate general physical preparedness. Essentially we spend a large part of off-season and pre-season training on training the athlete to train as opposed to hammering away at too much specific training. As the season approaches and the athlete begins more specific training we then taper off the GPP to a maintenance level. By the time peak season rolls around the athlete can cope with more volume than he needs. This allows freedom for quality specific training. GPP will help him develop higher lactate buffering capacity, faster creatine phosphate replenishment and an increased neuroendocrine capacity to cope with the high demands of strength and power training in such volumes.

General physical preparedness will help an athlete develop their training capacity, however it also serves another purpose. Lets paint a picture (a mental one)…

You slug away at training for many years. Finally you are inches away from being elite. The only problem is that your progress has been so slow recently that you are not likely to reach the required level. So you keep slugging away in the weight room doing a program you have been doing for the past six months and performing intense plyometric sessions to try and push up your performance. Nothing seems to work as fast as you need it to. There is no way that you can prepare for the next season and be in top shape.

The reason for your slump is neurological efficiency. Essentially you have become too efficient at what you’re doing. This has resulted in your body halting any further progression. The nervous system just can’t comprehend pushing you any further. In fact you will probably end up sliding backwards eventually. But wait, maybe there is a solution…

If you apply general physical preparedness during your off-season and pre-season you will send your nervous system into a state of confusion, which will result in a rapid improvement across varied domains. Due to the completely unexpected and seemingly random stimulus your body will search for a way to rapidly adapt to the demands. By the time the season approaches your body will be primed to respond to any form of training you will undergo. However don’t be disheartened as you may experience a slight decline in specific performance related elements during the period of general physical preparedness. This is taking a step backwards in order to take another two steps forwards.

General Physical Preparedness for Non-Athletes

It is not as obvious why an athlete engaging in a specific sport might need GPP training, hence the explanation above. However for the general population it makes a little more sense right off the mark. As someone that doesn’t need specific conditioning for a specific sport, your training world is your oyster.

The demands of work and life itself tend to be unpredictable and varied. GPP is essentially preparation for work output as a whole. General physical preparedness can be translated into general fitness. GPP is the best option for someone looking at holistic and all-inclusive fitness. This will keep workouts fresh from a mental and physical perspective. Your body will never become too accustomed to it and you will be prepared for anything, from a game of football with mates to a day’s work hauling hay bales.

So What is General Physical Preparedness Specifically?

We have looked at GPP and defined it in the sense of what it provides, but most people will need an example. GPP can really be any form of training. For an athlete it is any training that is either outside of the specifics of his/her program or any auxiliary training. For a non-athlete it includes pretty much any form of training at all.

GPP is not defined by sessions in themselves, it is defined more by the combinations of sessions. General physical preparedness might include a sprint workout, however it would not be GPP if all you did were sprint workouts. GPP might include three days in a row of training with the first day being skill and technique training on things like Olympic lifts, day two could include strongman training like lifting atlas stones or sandbags along with medicine ball work and day three could include a mountain run. Then after two days rest you might do deadlifts day one, Olympic lifts day two and stacking heavy rocks on day three. The combinations are endless.

The only prerequisite for general physical preparedness training is that it must be varied and provide conditioning across as many of the ten components of fitness as possible. Engage in gymnastics strength training, weightlifting, sprinting, middle distance running, plyometrics, timed circuits, martial arts, team sports, real-world work scenarios such as fireman’s drills and as many varied tasks as your imagination will allow. Just be sure to evenly structure your general physical preparedness training to meet all needs and balance out each fitness domain.

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