Another day, another misused term in the strength and conditioning industry. And thank goodness! Without these arguments of semantics, what on Earth would everyone do on Twitter? We could post content, but we all know that gets less than 10% of the engagement brought about by inflammatory statements. So put on your fingerless gloves, pop that mouthpiece in, and step into the octagon.
On the card for tonight’s fight is general physical preparedness (GPP): actual definition versus interpretation. For purposes of this discussion, I’ll be using the Biblical definition:
“The GPP is intended to provide balanced physical conditioning in endurance, strength, speed, flexibility, and other basic factors of fitness.”
Didn’t run across that in the Old or New Testament? I’m referring to Mel Siff’s Supertraining, the bible every self-respecting strength coach lists in their top 5 books but few have actually read.
So, let’s start unpacking some of the misinterpretations of GPP.
Misconception #1: GPP Means High-Volume/Low-Intensity Work
In writing this article, I did a little poking around through the most credible academic source there is: Google. I ran across an article that eloquently defined GPP using Siff’s work. The author continued with a beautiful interpretation of the concept, then made a hard pivot into low-intensity sled pushes/pulls as the only correct implementation of GPP.
There are two misconceptions in this line of thinking, but let’s start with the first: the complete overlooking of anything after the word “endurance” in Siff’s quote. As I tell the athletes that I train:
“All the words in the sentence are important.”
The proper interpretation is right there in the definition if you read all the words. It isn’t just endurance. Speed, strength, flexibility, and more are all components of GPP.
To be clear, one can sprint, jump, throw medicine balls, and lift, and it still falls under the heading of GPP. In fact, anything that isn’t sport skill practice could be classified as GPP.One can sprint, jump, throw med balls, and lift, and it still falls under the heading of GPP. In fact, anything that isn’t sport skill practice could be classified as GPP, says @missEmitche11. Click To Tweet
So, toss out the idea that GPP can only mean circuit training, sled pushes, and long, slow distance running. (While we’re at it, unless you train distance runners, go ahead and kick LSD running to the curb, please and thank you.) Instead, hold on to the fact that GPP means a comprehensive and well-designed strength and conditioning program.
I mentioned a second problem in the “low-intensity sled” statement above, so here we go next.
Misconception #2: GPP Means Using Certain Tools and Not Others
It’s early off-season, OMG DON’T TOUCH THAT BARBELL THIS IS GPP ONLY.
While there is certainly a time and a place to get athletes out from under a bar, to reduce their intensity, or to focus on different types of movements, that doesn’t make dumbbells/sleds/bands the only available tools for GPP.
As outlined above, any tool you would ordinarily use in the course of your strength and conditioning program can be used to develop GPP. Because, again, your strength and conditioning program is GPP.
GPP is about achieving physiological adaptations, not about showing preference to specific implements.
Misconception #3: Athletes Don’t Need GPP, They Need Sport-Specific Training
This nasty little lie is particularly prevalent in non-football sports, and it is absurd. Athletes need BOTH.
For clarity, there is a difference between sport-specific training and sport mimicry. Sport-specific training is playing and practicing your sport. Sport mimicry is attempting to devise specialized exercises that look like sport skills to promote greater transfer to the field of play. Sometimes this is done well! Zach Dechant and his use of various forms of resistance to load the lower body mechanics of pitchers comes to mind.
Video 1. An example of sport mimicry done well: Coach Zach Dechant using resistance bands to load the lower body mechanics of his throwing athletes.
Unfortunately, sport mimicry is typically done horribly.
I worked with a volleyball coach who designed contraptions that were belts with arm and leg tubing attached. The athletes would take spike approaches wearing them for “sport-specific training.” However, the tension on the bands was enough that mechanics weren’t even within range of what might be required to hit a volleyball. The attempt at loading the desired movement was a massive failure. In truth, most attempts at sport mimicry do exactly this: fail because they significantly alter the mechanics of the skill to the point there is very little transfer.
With sport specificity clearly defined, let’s discuss training volumes. Athletes in today’s sport model take an absurdly high volume of sport-specific reps. I’m not here to argue that the skill demands of sports don’t dictate that. However, if an athlete is playing year-round and already taking a large number of these reps, do they really need more of the same movement patterns in the weight room? Absolutely not—particularly when they have no mastery of basic movements like squat patterns, hinge patterns, pushing, pulling, and bracing. The goal of GPP is to fill buckets that may not be addressed in the sport but are relevant to the sport. The goal is not to add to already overflowing buckets.The goal of GPP is to fill buckets that may not be addressed in the sport but are relevant to the sport. The goal IS NOT to add to already overflowing buckets, says @missEmitche11. Click To Tweet
But allow me to clarify: any inclusion in the strength and conditioning sessions should transfer to sport performance. If it doesn’t, it’s a waste of time. Circling back to LSD running or high-volume circuits—they will improve some physical capacity in your athletes…but is it one that will help them in their sport? Nope. So don’t waste valuable training time and/or your athlete’s limited energy.
Misconception #4: GPP Is Only for the Off-Season
If we use the operational definition above (that a comprehensive strength and conditioning program is GPP), it should be clear that this needs to be present in some amount year-round in an athlete’s training program. I will concede that in-season, GPP should take a definite back seat to the sport itself. But this doesn’t mean the complete elimination of it from the training program. In fact, the season is the longest, uninterrupted training phase for many athletes. Shouldn’t we use this to continue developing the total athlete, particularly at lower levels of sport?
Yes. Yes, we should.
But we need to be intelligent with our dosage. Practice and competitive volumes are already quite high, so our GPP volume should be reduced overall. Intensity can (and should) remain relatively high to maintain and even improve metrics like speed, strength, and power. Speed could be dosed into an athlete’s weekly plan via Feed the Cats style workouts where fatigue is the enemy, not the training goal. One might even see *gasp* improvements in KPIs by continuing to train during season.
Revolutionary concept: being at our absolute best in-season when our best is required.
Misconception #5: GPP Is Best Used with Non-Football Athletes Because They Won’t End Up Getting Bulky
I laugh so hard at this I almost fall off my dinosaur. Somehow, despite all of the science and common sense in the world, this narrative still persists.
Before continuing to propagate this misconception, ask yourself a few questions:
- Will athletes benefit from gains in strength in my sport?
- Will athletes benefit from being more powerful in my sport?
- Will athletes benefit from being fast in my sport?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then your athletes will likely benefit from working in the repetition ranges and percentage zones that best address these qualities. An exact description of each is outside of the scope of this article, but you can find more info on the topic here.
Another consideration to combat this narrative is as follows: most individuals who are making a focused effort to gain lean body mass struggle to achieve what the layperson would define as “bulk.” So, unless your athletes are genetic anomalies, it simply won’t happen. (I’m looking at you, coaches of female athletes.) What might happen instead is your athletes will become better prepared for the demands of their sport.
I’m also going to take a little side rant here: stop focusing on aesthetics in girl’s/women’s sports. You do nothing to make them better athletes by telling them they want “long and lean muscles.” Instead, you may be doing psychological damage by promoting the societal construct of what a woman is supposed to look like. Let them be strong, powerful, and aggressive. If you aren’t able to overcome this fallacy, you aren’t part of the problem, you very much are the problem.
Instead of following the standard writing guidelines of using a snappy summary to wrap up a piece, I’ll leave you with a bonus misconception, one near and dear to my heart:
Bonus Misconception: GPP Builds Mental Toughness
Oh look, my favorite topic: poorly designed workouts with the express purpose of inducing fatigue. Somewhere along the lines, coaches believed this was the move to develop mentally tough athletes.Somewhere along the lines, coaches started to believe that poorly designed workouts with the express purpose of inducing fatigue was the right move to develop mentally tough athletes. Click To Tweet
Mental toughness has a number of components, but at the end of the day, it can be simply defined as the ability to give your best when the circumstances aren’t optimal.
More often than not, the types of workouts I’m referring to teach quite the opposite: they teach athletes to conserve and give just enough effort to not get screamed at. Not only are we missing out on the physical traits needed for the sports, we are creating the wrong mental ones.
I also find it comical when mental toughness “phases” are built into training programs. Basically, what you’re saying is hey, y’all have to stay behind the line for starts during this bootcamp, but the rest of the year as a coaching staff we are far too busy to enforce the little things.
Instead of doing ridiculous workouts during certain times of the year, how about we just train smart and hold athletes accountable to relevant details all the time? What if…full-time consistency beats part-time intensity?
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