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General Physical Preparedness


There seems to be some confusion as to what General Physical Preparedness actually means. GPP is a concept that has been around for a long time but not many people seem to know exactly what it is and what it consists of.

Where Does GPP Come From and What is it?

General Physical Preparedness is a term that has been around since the 1950s and was first used by athletic coaches in Eastern Bloc countries such as Russia. The term is used to describe the generalised, base fitness qualities of an athlete. These are qualities either pertaining to or totally unrelated to the sport the athlete is engaged in. Some people describe GPP as “cross-training”, however it is not cross-training. Cross-training is simply training similar energy systems to the ones used in the athlete’s chosen sport using different mediums. So if an athlete is a cyclist he/she might incorporate swimming for similar timeframes as they would normally cycle. This is cross-training, GPP is different, it incorporates totally different movement patterns and energy systems.

General Physical Preparedness does not ignore specificity by cutting too much into the reserves of the athlete’s regular training schedule. The aim of GPP is to establish a broad foundational fitness level that can then be converted and applied throughout a wide range of tasks, including the specific tasks required in their chosen sport.

To best get an idea of what General Physical Preparedness actually is, lets use an example. The example we will use is a weight lifter. The weight lifter obviously needs high levels of specific strength to excel in their sport. Not only that, they need high levels of skill also. So training specific lifts like the snatch and complimentary lifts such as the squat is seen as specific training or Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP).

This approach to training does indeed produce a great weight lifter, however some coaches, myself included see a weak link. When there are gaps in the training the athlete can get injured. So GPP training can then be sparingly applied to help the athlete produce totally unrelated aspects of fitness that will in the long run help him/her progress. For the weight lifter General Physical Preparedness could mean sprint training, sled dragging, shot put practice, hill runs, intervals on the indoor rower, kick boxing, gymnastics, circuit training and the list goes on. It basically translates to preparation of the body for whatever may come. This is achieved by providing at least a base level of conditioning to the broadest scope of demands.

Why is General Physical Preparedness Necessary?

Some may argue, and they do, as to whether or not GPP is necessary or not. Some say that it is a waste of an athlete’s time and energy that could be better spent working on their specific sport. They have a point and I do see logic, however I also see a need for it. Lets look at a few factors…

Foundational Conditioning

Foundational conditioning is simply the training of a solid base-level of fitness in a broad range of tasks that can then be built upon in any direction. Foundational conditioning is important in every athlete and individual alike. By training an athlete in only the skills they will need in their sport you are ensuring weaknesses. Foundational conditioning applies to athletes that are not in direct competition at the time. Whenever an athlete is not in active competition, they should be focussing on building solid foundations.

The foundations built in this phase of training are ones that can easily be maintained through adequate and carefully structured GPP training. This ensures the athlete can cope with demands beyond that of their sport. But I know you’re asking one question; why the hell would the athlete need to cope with demands outside of his or her sport? I’m glad you asked…

Training to Train

Most athletes train a lot more than they compete, this is just how it works. The training demands are always much different from the demands of the competition itself. Take a 100 metre sprinter for example; why would he need general physical preparedness and foundational conditioning? Many coaches would say he doesn’t until you see his training schedule and monitor its performance.

You see, most coaches look at a champion they are training and believe they have produced the best athlete they could with what they had to work with (genetics, environment etc). The reason they see it this way is because this is all they have done and they don’t know any different.

Now lets take that champion athlete and mess with them a little. So we take this elite sprinter in the off-season and build some foundational conditioning and continue on with a small amount of focus on GPP. Then it comes to competition season and the sprinter’s training regime gets more demanding. In order to improve the athlete must either be doing more volume or more intensity, meaning more output overall.

This pattern is what happens and most often the training demands for the athlete are enormous. By developing general physical preparedness the athlete is not necessarily going to improve in competition as a direct result, however the training performance will be increased. This is what general physical preparedness does for athletes. It’s basically a way to cope with increased training demands and allows the athlete to get more done and recover faster and more efficiently. It’s simply a tool for increasing specific training capacity.

Preparation for Real-Life

Besides athletes, I believe the general population not only has the ability, but also has the need to become an athlete of sorts. Human beings are built to naturally be athletic creatures, we’re not built to sit around and work in offices then come home and flop on the couch. Human beings should develop and maintain a somewhat athletic skill-set that allows them to be more mobile, stronger etc.

The good news about this is that in the real world you need not be super-specific. Specific training is for athletes with specific physiological needs. General physical preparedness should be observed in the general population. Many tasks happen in real life situations, it is best you are ready for them when they arrive. GPP will accomplish this.

There are so many people engaging in single-sided activities that they believe is making them more physically efficient. This is seen in the millions of people who go jogging every day. This is very narrow and only prepares the person for more jogging. General Physical Preparedness is a broad scope of training. By focusing on all energy systems and patterns of movement the human body can do more tasks all the more efficiently.

Applying General Physical Preparedness

There is much confusion as to how to actually develop GPP. It all comes down to what the goals of the individual are. For a weight lifter or power lifter, any form of high intensity strength training is simply further specific training or SPP. For a marathon runner the same sort of training is developing an area entirely unfamiliar to them. The weight lifter might benefit from some long sprints, circuits and short high intensity rowing intervals.

Foundational Strength Development

Foundational strength development is something we have discussed a few times on this site. It may be argued by some, but I believe that strength and anaerobic capacity form the basis for all fitness aspects. ALL athletes and individuals need to develop a solid foundation of strength and anaerobic capacity. This development is where all other abilities and fitness aspects stem from.

To adequately develop general physical preparedness in the most efficient way possible, I always recommend starting with the development of strength and a level of anaerobic fitness. This high intensity approach supports all other modalities including endurance and even extreme endurance. By starting here you will already have a basis to develop any other fitness component necessary.

Randomness and Variance

Crossfit may possibly be the primary supporting source for this approach. By randomness I mean highly varied training in a structured and thought-out approach, not simply random workouts done willy-nilly all over the place for the sake of being different.

This may at first glance appear to be not applicable to athletes training for a specific purpose, as they tend to have their monthly and even yearly training schedules structured in advance. However it need not apply to every training session a person does. You might have a preference or a need for strength or muscular hypertrophy. In this instance you might want to structure an actual programme to follow for a set time in order to track results and gradually improve over time. However within the context of this programme it is recommended that you also have a level of variance applied. This can be accomplished a number of ways including a day or two per cycle where you perform a workout that works on weak links such as anaerobic threshold, speed or flexibility. You can also add variance to your actual programme where you change one aspect of it each session while keeping the original structure virtually the same. This might involve changing volume of a certain exercise, changing weight and reps, varying rest periods or workout frequency etc.

Tracking Weak Links

It’s one thing to vary your training, it’s another to put no thought into it. Programming needs to be structured to meet the needs of the individual, in fact this is the most appealing aspect and one of the primary reasons for variance. Keep track of all workouts and the results of each workout. If you find you have worked on a certain aspect of fitness quite a lot and neglected other areas then you need to structure your next session to train some aspect that has not been paid attention to instead of randomly concocting something.

Make it a Priority

General physical preparedness should be a priority for everyone to some extent. For some people it will be less of an issue than others. By being prepared for a broader scope of demands you become more efficient at learning new skills and adapting to new training demands. A sprinter with poor cardiovascular fitness will not recover between repeat efforts as quickly as someone with reasonable cardio fitness. This results in decreased training volume and efficiency.

Real world tasks is another area that is of major importance. The broader the scope of demands you are prepared for, the easier everything will be and the more effective you will be. Remember the reason behind all fitness and physical development, "to become as indestructible as possible".

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Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.

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