GPP Considerations for Strength Sports
By Mike Tuchscherer
General Physical Preparedness (or “GPP”) has become somewhat of a catch phrase for Powerlifters in the last decade or so. It is a term tossed around to describe a wide range of activity from mowing the lawn to dragging a sled. The truth is that we often misuse this term or apply it loosely. I’m not here to be the word-police, but today we’re going to learn some more about GPP – what it is and how it can benefit you.
GPP describes the body’s general ability to do work that it is not specifically trained to do. Simply break the word down – How prepared is your physical body in general terms? Do you tire easily or can you work all day and still have energy left at the end? For powerlifters, bodybuilders, and other gym-rats – can you go outside and play a pickup game of basketball or football and at least look coordinated? GPP is more than just work capacity – it is a general measure of the other physical fitness traits that are not assessed evenly by your given sport of choice. For example, Powerlifting focuses on the development of absolute strength. So things like flexibility, aerobic fitness, etc would fall under the category of GPP.
But why should you care about GPP at all? As a strength athlete under normal conditions, improving aerobic fitness won’t improve your squat and flexibility won’t make you snatch more. Or will it?
Fundamentally, the human body does not want to be out of balance. This is why some people have improved their bench press by focusing on their external rotation work. It’s not because external rotation directly relates to benching more weight – it doesn’t at all. But they had focused on Bench Press (which is an internally rotating movement) for so long, their internal rotators had gotten too strong for their external rotators. So, pending improvement in external rotation strength, the body inhibited further strengthening of the internal rotators. So when people with this condition do their GPP work (external rotation), they magically get better at bench pressing because their body no longer inhibits that movement.
Oddly enough, this example carries over to a large number of applications – and not just opposing muscle groups! Improved flexibility/mobility will reduce your chances for injury and reduce daily structural stress on the body. Improving the strength of your heart will result in better recovery and an improved hormone profile. And the list goes on.
As an aside, there is a myth in strength sports (powerlifting in particular) that says any sort of “cardio” is muscle-wasting and catabolic in nature. So people don’t do it for fear that they are losing muscle mass. This not only is a myth, but it may even be the opposite of reality. First the part that is true: “cardio” work is catabolic in nature. In fact, all exercise is catabolic in nature. If you’ve ever heard of “overtraining” then this should not be a new concept to you. There is nothing special about cardiovascular-focused exercise that makes it catabolic. The irony is that in avoiding cardiovascular fitness and strengthening the heart, many people may be preventing gains in muscle mass. Why? Under normal conditions, muscles consume oxygen. In hypoxic conditions (conditions where oxygen is limited), muscle mass is catabolized by the body. Here’s the kicker — by neglecting cardio-respiratory fitness, your body has a reduced ability to process oxygen. Recall the mechanism discussed earlier – if the body continues to produce muscle mass, it may not have the ability to keep it well supplied with oxygen, so it will inhibit that process. This can be seen in people living at high altitudes. By improving your long-neglected cardiovascular fitness levels, you may even see a sudden gain in muscle mass.
But that’s far from the only benefit. It also results in improved nervous system tone, better sleep patterns, improved stress management, improved adaptation to training, etc, etc.
So why not address it in your training? For many, they just don’t see it as “Hard Core” to be on a bike or a treadmill. This kind of thinking isn’t qualified to be intelligent thought. “Hard Core”, first of all, is way overrated. Who really cares if you’re “Hard Core” or not? And even if you do care, the notion of being “Hard Core” in strength sports is often severely misguided. Training through severe injury is not “being Hard”. It’s stupid. Doing counterproductive training just because it’s difficult is not “being Hard”. It’s dumb. You know what is “being Hard” – or in better terms, worthy of respect – doing what you should do to succeed. Won’t step on a treadmill because other people won’t think you’re a tough guy? That’s weakness.
Back to the topic of GPP… what should a GPP workout look like? In my opinion, there are several aspects that a GPP workout should address. These sections may not be all-encompassing depending on your needs as an athlete, but I’ve found them to work pretty well. They are Prehab, Neglected muscle goups, Energy Systems, Flexibility/Mobility, and Passive Recovery, though not always in that order.
As for what a GPP session might look like… it will be more than just dragging a sled for a few minutes…
Begin with a general warmup
External Rotation work: 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps
TKE’s: 2-3 sets of 10-20 reps
Sprint: 6 sets of 100m (45s rests)
Neglected Muscle Groups:
Upper Back work: 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Abs: 3 sets
Keep in mind, these should be taken as serious training sessions because they are crucial to your long term development.
Most seem to understand Prehab and Rehab, Neglected muscle groups, and stretching. Many of us quickly run out of ideas when it comes to energy system work, so here are a few to help you get started:
Walking / Running / Treadmill
And yes, even a sled when properly used
Implementation of GPP work is very important to continued development for all athletes, including strength athletes. Doing what you need to do to get better is truly “HardCore” work, and GPP is certainly part of that. Make sure you’re finding space in your program for GPP work.
|About the Author
Mike Tuchscherer is the owner and head coach at RTS. He has been powerlifting since 2001 and since has traveled all over the world for competitions. In 2009, he was the first man from USA powerlifting to win a gold medal at the World Games – the highest possible achievement in powerlifting. He has coached over a dozen competitors at the world championships, a score of national champions, and multiple world record holders.