By Andrew Read Breaking Muscle
Language is a useful tool. Ask any monkey. They’ve got the same number of opposable thumbs as we do and 95% of the same DNA, but without the ability to speak they never really made it out of the trees.
The modern exercise world tends to use language more like a cudgel than the scalpel it can be. Words have exact meanings and if you make them up as you go along, then language loses all clarity and next thing you know we’re all back in the trees, so to speak, flinging poo at each other (which is pretty much what happens in the comments sections on the Internet).
Be prepared to defend yourself against flying Internet poo.
Case in Point
Take intensity, as an example. Originally, when intensity was spoken of in exercise terms it was taken to be in relation to your maximum lift. A lift you could perform once and once only. This guy Prilepin even made a table showing that the less intense the lift, the more reps you could perform, and the smaller the percentage of your best effort it was.
But these days, “intense” is usually used to describe a workout that goes for a long time and is extremely taxing. “Murph” would be a good example. A tough workout, for sure, but anything with hundreds of reps in it that takes an hour or more for people to complete is the exact opposite of intense according to the original definition.
What Does GPP Mean?
And so it is with GPP too. In traditional periodization terms, there are only two phases someone could be in – SPP or GPP. SPP stands for sports (or specific) preparation phase. GPP stands for general preparation phase.
In a typical athletic year, you have a period where the athlete will be training specifically for the sport – SPP – which includes all work needed to be successful in that sport. This can include anything from hypertrophy work, for a junior football player needing to put on muscle, to speed and power work to play rehearsals.
“The moment you choose to become solely focused on soccer is the moment you start becoming worse at swimming or rock climbing. That’s also the exact moment you open yourself up to becoming injured via a repetitive strain type injury.”
But over the last few years, GPP has become a catchall phrase for just about anything in the gym. Pushing a sled? GPP, bro. Farmer walks? That’s GPP, too. Doing some interval work? Mate, didn’t you know that’s GPP?
There are really only two types of trainees. On one side of the room you’ve got those training for an event. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it has an end goal. It could be climbing a mountain, running a race, or competing at a throwdown fitness event. On the other side is everyone else who is just trying to stay in shape. Those who are training for an event that occurs on a given day are involved in SPP. Their training is designed to peak them on a given day and produce the best performance it can. Everyone else is doing GPP.
People who are training for an event are involved in SPP. Everyone else is doing GPP.
How to Do It
If GPP was originally designed to build basic levels of strength and conditioning, then what are the best ways to do it? In Supertraining Mel Siff wrote:
The GPP is intended to provide balanced physical conditioning in endurance, strength, speed, flexibility, and other basic factors of fitness…Characteristically, the GPP may include participation in a variety of different physical activities which provide low intensity, all-round conditioning, with little emphasis on specific sporting skills. Participation in activities such as jogging, swimming, cycling, tennis, or volleyball may be appropriate for this phase for some sports. If the player needs to gain muscle or lose excess fat, this is regarded as the appropriate period to do so.
Note: Let’s make this easy. If you’re training for a specific event and made it this far into this article, then there’s no need to read any further. What follows isn’t for you. However, for the rest of the world interested in staying in shape and living a full and healthy life, please read on.
If you pull apart the above paragraph by Siff, what you should get out of it is this – play games, engage in light and varied aerobic activity, and optimize body composition through a combination of the aerobic work, resistance training, and diet. Apart from the diet, which in my experience benefits from structure (at least in terms of how a day of meals is designed), the rest can be kept in a loose framework.
“[P]lay games, engage in light and varied aerobic activity, and optimize body composition through a combination of the aerobic work, resistance training, and diet.”
If we look at a single movement variation like the hinge, we can see exactly how varied it can be from session to session:
- The basic hinge movement of the deadlift could be done on the first day of the week, but there’s no need to deadlift daily to get our dose of hinges.
- We could do kettlebell swings, choosing from two hand, one hand, or dead swings, as well as use variations like the high pull or snatch.
- We could jump on another day.
- On another day, we could do only flexibility movements that help our hinge such as the active straight leg raise-toe touch series from FMS.
Because we don’t have a specific goal in mind, just overall health and fitness, we can pick and choose any hinge variation we want and keep satisfying our overall GPP goal. The same can be done for squatting. Today, pick front squats with a bar. Tomorrow, it’s goblet squats with a kettlebell and Ido Portal’s Squat Routine 2.0. The following day it’s overhead squats. The reality is that it doesn’t matter one bit which you choose so long as you avoid using only a single variety.
That’s the one concrete rule in developing good all-around abilities – you have to avoid specialization. You can’t allow yourself to pick favorites or reduce your training to working on a single exercise. The moment you do, you start heading down that SPP path. The moment you head down that SPP path, you start losing some of your all-around abilities.
Outside the Gym
The same can be said for outside the gym activities. Today you could play soccer. Tomorrow it might be rock climbing. The day after it might be an adult gymnastics class. The only thing you need to focus on is doing many things and moving many ways.
“That’s the one concrete rule in developing good all-around abilities – you have to avoid specialization.”
The moment you choose to become solely focused on soccer is the moment you start becoming worse at swimming or rock climbing. That’s also the exact moment you open yourself up to becoming injured via a repetitive strain type injury. You can choose to play a variety of team sports and you can choose to use a variety of aerobic methods such as swimming, riding, rowing, or running. It doesn’t matter which ones.
The most common mistakes I see the vast majority of people making are simple:
- Not enough variety.
- Not enough “other work.” Other work, in this case, is all the exercises that involve rotation and single-leg stance.
- Gym exercises are largely bilateral and done facing in one direction. Train single arm and single leg, and train not just to prevent rotation but to develop it, too.
- Eat to control your body composition.
- Engage in at least some team sports, which are important for a variety of reasons – multi-planar activities are fantastic, but equally fantastic is spending time with people.