GPP for strength sports and how to make it work
It’s easy to get caught up in the short-term changes you experience during training.
You want that next PR, so you’re going to bang your head against that number again and again. One of the things that you can easily lose track of is the importance of general preparation and how it produces a better long-term progression.
General physical prep (or GPP) is one of the things that you might not have spent much time on if you’re just interested in getting big and strong. Today we’re going to break down the importance of this kind of work, why you should be doing it, and how you can think about starting!
- What is GPP?
This is the general, non-specific training you should be doing earlier on in your training career, but also periodically as you improve.
The idea is to acquire general strength and coordination skills at lower intensities with simple, but varied, exercises. This means experiencing a wide variety of exercises, types of loading, and other variables.
This is a common factor in the early programming of Russian weightlifters and powerlifters to improve joint-by-joint performance, body awareness, and improve muscular quality. This is an easy thing to overlook if you’re single-minded with your training for strength.
It’s easy to overlook the importance and value of athletic development during these early days. However, especially as a newer trainee, you’re basically an athletic child. You’re unfamiliar, inexperienced, and may need to develop a base of better movement quality and awareness to improve your long-term performance.
- Why does it matter?
Establishing proper movement quality and joint-conditioning is great. These are two of the key factors you’re going to need to develop to ensure that future loading will be sustainable, and you can progress consistently over time.
Another great benefit is the improvement of muscular strength at different lengths and joint angles. These are two of the largest factors in injury risk and proper variety establishes better long-term injury-resilience.
If you’ve never trained in sports and you’re starting with strength training it can be easy to overlook these problems. Establishing a proper GPP protocol and following it through with consistent, progressive training can be a great way to improve work capacity, muscular resilience, and even develop control/mobility.
This isn’t even to mention the skills you’ll learn from other movements. Struggling to hip hinge? Good mornings and dumbbell RDLs are a great choice. Poor core control? Try some carries, rotational exercises, and challenging stability exercises.
Transferable skills from GPP are almost limitless. Proper movement is good practice and your training doesn’t always have to be specific to progress. Improving your control over the smaller “aspects” of different movement can be a huge deal.
Better understanding your body and how to move it effectively is at least half the battle of strength training. The other half is strength and power – which GPP can be a significant contributor to, also!
The development of non-strength athletic capabilities is also one of the significant benefits you can gain from proper GPP.
While strength is obviously the most important adaptation for strength athletes and enthusiasts, it’s not the only one. Developments in speed, endurance, recovery capacity, co-ordination, and even “flexibility” are likely to result from more-varied training.
These might not be considered crucial, but they should be. For example, power – the ability to produce force rapidly – is one of the factors in a good barbell squat. We’ve discussed power before, and there’s huge overlap between GPP and power training if done properly.
Equally, adaptations in “odd” movements are going to be useful. For example, poor rotational control from the core-hips is a significant problem for long-term squatting and jumping exercises where the core mechanics influence knee-hips movement and thus injury risk.
Working through rotational work, asymmetrical core/back/shoulder/hip training is one of the most significant ways to support proper health in these areas. It also ensures symmetry and proper contributions from important muscles during heavy compound lifts like the squat, bench, and deadlift.
- How do you do it?
GPP blocks go at the start of a program when there is more time to prepare and less demand on higher-intensity movements. If you’re working through a powerlifting program, this would be during the time when squats, bench, and deadlift are at lower intensity and you can afford to spare the time and practice to non-specific movement.
This could be as simple as 2-4 weeks where 50% of your volume comes from accessory, assistance, and GPP exercise. These are small enough to support progression while practicing classic lifts for technique and even hypertrophy goals.
There are a few simple aspects of GPP for strength, power, and aesthetics you might want to consider. There’s a huge amount to say – and it’s all about your goals and fixing problems – but we can briefly outline some of these considerations.
- Responsible Progression
If you’re trying to build better general physical prep, you should start with simpler movements, and lightly-loaded ones, and move towards increased complexity, dynamism, and loading.
Start with unloaded movements and add range and stability before adding load. From there, you can introduce dynamic loading with lighter weights and then progress to heavier loading as co-ordination and familiarity improve!
For example, you could start with a reverse lunge and work towards an unloaded deficit Bulgarian split squat. From here, performing rotating tosses is a great choice, before loading the deficit Bulgarian split squat.
- Variety (of movement, of exercise, and of loading type)
The very point of GPP is to perform non-specific movements. Introducing variety Is great for weightlifters and powerlifters who both lean heavily on 2-3 key movements and their variations.
Introducing greater variety to these types of athletes is a great way of improving the overall skillset, reducing injury risk, and developing non-specific performance carryover.
There are a few areas where variety should be introduced: variety of movement (e.g. lunging, squatting, stepping, jumping), variety of exercise choice within a certain movement pattern (e.g. lunging variations, pressing variations), and finally variety of loading/challenge (dynamic loading, instability, different balance patterns).
- Ranges (for strength, for specificity, and for injury-prevention)
There should also be concern for the ranges you’re loading and training. This is another area where some variety is useful.
Getting strong in short, medium, and long muscle lengths are all crucial for balanced strength and injury-prevention. These depend on the exercises you’re choosing, but each exercise can be performed at any range, and often you can combine these (e.g. deficit deadlift + Romanian deadlift with dumbbells) to specify the muscle-length!
Strength in ever range is one of the only ways to significantly reduce your overall risk of injury and it’s worth integrating into your general physical prep.
- Cues and skills for transferable quality/efficiency
This should be obvious, but it usually isn’t. The carryover of movements such as hip hinges, core rotation, and proper knee-flexion mechanics are key to better strength. However, many powerlifters and weightlifters don’t train these in isolation.
The idea that you’d know how to do these perfectly without direct training – just from the compound lifts – is ridiculous. It’s like suggesting that compound lifts alone train the core enough (spoilers: they don’t).
Direct training for simple, foundational movements are great for GPP and can directly improve your classic lifts – whether they’re powerlifts or Olympic lifts!
- Weaknesses and risk-points
This should be obvious, too: GPP should focus on the movements, joints, and muscles that are most often at-risk during your training. This means common injuries need to be combatted in advance, as well as improving strength and comfort in high-volume joints/movements.
Preparing your body for training is the entire point of GPP and incorporating it properly can mean reduced injury risk and greater longevity.This is useful as an athlete, but also just to stay active for longer.
- Secondary goals
This one is totally up to you: do you have secondary goals you want to work on?
Perhaps you want to get pull ups, a handstand, big biceps, a speedy 5km, whatever. Secondary goals can inform good GPP practice and should be a significant consideration when it comes to constructing a good general prep phase.
You can find time for secondary goals: it doesn’t have to be competition movements all the time. GPP is a good way of practicing this mindset and preparing the body and mind for more specific, higher-intensity work down the line.
The best athletes aren’t just the ones who train the hardest. They’re the ones who understand the importance of preparation and the long-term game. You don’t need to unlock secret training techniques when we understand that good basics are the key.
“It’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”- Paul Bryant
Preparation is everything and taking a step back to improve your overall is one of the hardest, most humble, yet confident choices. Covering all your bases and leaving no weakness could well be the difference between success and failure in your long-term goals.