Are You Down With GPP?

Getting to Know General Physical Preparedness

Several years ago, I could say with confidence that I was a well-oiled athlete, conditioned in almost every aspect of my sport –soccer.

Then it happened. I caught the weightlifting bug. Sixty body-weight pounds later, a couple hundred more pounds added to my squat, bench press and squat, and I still I felt like I was in great shape.

The problem was, I couldn’t jog for more than 5 minutes without feeling like my heart was going to explode. I quickly realized where I’d gone wrong. The problem was, after getting so caught up with the idea of being bigger and stronger, I’d neglected everything else that was responsible for creating my base of fitness–agility, speed, aerobic endurance, flexibility and coordination.

Now, what if I told you that there was a way to solve this problem without having to run everyday or spend an extra 45 minutes on the Elliptical trainer reading the same copy of Men’s Health? Would you willingly send me $19.99? I doubt it. Well, what if I also told you that this method could decrease your recovery time between workouts, increase your work capacity, even strip away body fat and make the muscle-building process easier. Are you sold yet? Well, I hope so because I’m going to explain how you can integrate this method into your own training for absolutely nothing!

The Low Down on GPP Training

GPP stands for General Physical Preparedness. In easy-to-understand terms GPP can be defined as a preparedness phase, in which work capacity is increased to meet the demands of the upcoming program. All training is based on increased work capacity at some point. The type of GPP an individual will perform should be dictated by what they are trying to achieve. In other words, GPP should serve a purpose. Performing regular aerobics does not qualify. Now it should be mentioned that SPP (special physical preparedness), a close relative of GPP, is always present and involved. While GPP concentrates on bringing up the general qualities required in a program, SPP focuses on specific areas (these can be defined as the individuals weaknesses) related to their sport or program.

Dipping Into The GPP Goodie Bag

Not only does GPP sound cool, but also, as mentioned earlier, there are a number of useful qualities that accompany this component of training. Here are some of the benefits of GPP:

  • It allows for greater a workload to be tolerated. If muscle mass is a priority, an adaptation to increased work rates must occur. It also means that being a 250-pound beast that has the cardiovascular fitness of a 90 year old isn’t exactly a walking specimen.
  • It allows for a decrease in recovery time through the process of active recovery.
  • It helps with the loss of body fat. Move more and you’ll lose it. But don’t worry about losing muscle; because GPP relies on intervals, you don’t have to worry about the body turning into a catabolic state.
  • Bored? Well GPP will help spice up your workouts. According to Dr Vershonsky, GPP can prevent boredom and imbalances in the body. (1)
  • The greater the athlete’s GPP is the easier it is for them to adapt to the specific demands of the sport in which they excel. (2)
  • It increases motor skill through improved efficiency of movement patterns.

The benefits listed above should make it quite obvious the kind of benefits GPP can offer. But where exactly does it fit into a power lifter or a bodybuilder’s routine?

If you’re involved in power lifting, practicing the three basic lifts should be the meat and potatoes of your routine. However, at some point, accessory lifts must be added in to offset the weaknesses causing the progression to slow down. To increase strength levels (especially in a strength-based program) the volume of work (i.e. number of sets) must eventually be increased. And to successfully increase the volume one must be able to handle it! Performing GPP will establish such a base foundation.

Another area where many powerlifters falter, is in overall conditioning. Conditioning plays an important role on the day of competition. To endure throughout a competition is of vital importance. How many times have you read or heard of powerlifters who’ve complained about being fatigued by the end of the day? This is where GPP can also be quite useful. Using a variety of movements to complement the current program being employed will improve body awareness, and also improve strength qualities, if properly implemented (i.e.: proper care not to overload the body’s systems so that recovery time is increased).

If you’re a bodybuilder, GPP focuses on all general aspects of training. It can help improve your cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, strength, speed and endurance. For example, in the off-season, a bodybuilder program revolves around heavier training sessions and, to a lesser degree on cardiovascular work. Instead of spending extra time on the cardio equipment, a series of exercises can be performed that not only serve to increase the cardiovascular system of the bodybuilder, but also allows for some variety. What other type of training allows you to train up all these qualities simultaneously?

How to Do It

GPP exercises should revolve around incorporating as many muscles groups as possible. Integrated movements require multiple muscle groups to act together which in turn places a greater demand on the cardiovascular system.

In addition, it will serve to increase the efficiency of various movement patterns (an increase in coordination will lead to an increase in strength levels).

GPP can be broken down into two movements. Non-weighted and weighted movements. Below is a list of exercises (note: this list does not cover all the exercises that fall into the two groups)

Non-Weighted

  • Push Ups
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Body Weight Squats
  • Walking Lunges
  • Jumping (variations)
  • Burpees
  • Skipping
  • Mountain Climbers

Weighted

  • Sled dragging
  • Plate toss
  • Medicine ball throws
  • Tire flipping
  • Pushing cars
  • Sledge hammer work
  • Wheel barrow

The list can go on and on.

Conclusion

GPP can be very useful because it’s simple and effective. If you’re bored with your workouts, as Emirl Lagasse says, “it will take things up a notch.” If it’s a change in body composition you’re looking for, hanging with GPP several times a week can have a dramatic effect on body fat levels. If you need to increase your wind or your rate of work; GPP is your hook-up. All this for the low price of free.

So, if you aren’t acquainted with GPP, now’s your chance to introduce yourself.

Written by Maki Riddington

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Are you down with GPP discussion thread.

References

1. Bompa, T. (1999) Periodization: Theory and methodology of training. Kendall/Hunt.

2. Verkoshansky, V. (1988) Programming and Organization of Sports training. Sportiviny Press, Livonia, MI.

Simplifying How to Get Stronger

As a strength coach I am frequently asked if I have any certain strategies for gaining strength for sport that I find superior. To simplify the entire approach let me state that improving strength is really a matter of increasing 3 basic things.

These things are:

1. Increased movement efficiency

2. Increased motor unit recruitment

3. Increased muscle size

Increased movement efficiency

In strength training you do this by practicing the specific lifts. As you become more proficient at a lift your body learns how to accomplish the task easier. Simple enough. For an athlete, this part of improving strength is of little concern unless you are a competitive lifter and your sport involves lifting. If you’re an athlete your goal is to make the muscles stronger so that the increased “general” overall muscular strength transfers into your sporting performance. What does it matter if you increase a lift by 100 lbs if all that increase comes through an improvement in technique rather then an increase in the strength of the muscles? Only a stronger muscle will transfer into improved athletic performance.

However, in order to “make your muscles strong” so that you can transfer general strength into specific strength you have to be proficient enough at the lifts you’re performing that you “can” stress the muscle optimally, so technique is also necessary. To illustrate, a raw beginner thrown into the weight room won’t be proficient enough at performing an exercise like a squat to really stress his muscles. His form will break down long before the muscles are trained optimally.

Other activities or qualities that increase the efficiency of movement include stretching, practice, movement rehearsal, mental rehearsal, eliminating antagonistic inhibition, relative body strength, bodyfat %, soft tissue work etc.

Increasing muscular motor unit recruitment

This involves training your body to use all of the “potential” muscle strength it has in a given task. Muscle fibers are grouped under motor units with each motor unit controlling a number of muscle cells or fibers. When a motor unit receives the signal from your nervous system to fire then all the muscle fibers under control of that motor unit also fire.

So a muscle fiber or cell either fires all the way or not at all. Motor units are recruited on an “as needed” basis. When you lift a spoon to your mouth you signal your nervous system to “recruit” only a few motor units. When you curl a heavy weight you use a lot more. The more force required the more motor units you “turn on” and the more muscle cells you fire.

What’s interesting is that the average person is only capable of recruiting around 50% of their available motor units or using 50% of their “potential” strength in a given task. With training you can increase this to upwards of 90%. That means when you go in the gym and lift a 1rm load even though you’re straining as hard as you can you’re most likely not using anywhere near all your potential strength to lift that weight.

Think of motor unit recruitment as being very similar to “relative strength”, or strength per pound of bodyweight. Increasing relative strength means getting stronger without adding bulk. When you see someone who is “strong for their size” or a training technique that makes you “strong for your size” then know that that person has good motor unit recruitment abilities.

The Strength Deficit

The difference between one’s “potential” strength and “actual” strength is called the strength deficit. If we were to take any individual and ask the question “how strong could this person be with the amount of muscle size he currently has?” and then compare that potential level of strength to his current level of strength and figure the difference, the difference between the 2 is called the strength deficit. The bigger the deficit the more room for increased motor unit recruitment you have. The smaller the deficit the less room for additional motor unit recruitment you have. Obviously, you should strive to have as small of a strength deficit as possible.

  • A guy weighing 150 lbs who squats 400 lbs, runs a 4.3 40 yard dash and 40 inch vertical jump has a very small strength deficit.
  • A guy weighing 250 lbs who squats 200 lbs, runs a 5.5 40 yard dash and 20 inch vertical jump has a large strength deficit.
  • Other things that influence motor unit recruitment include increased arousal, focus, and ergogenic aids.

In a pure speed-strength activity in which the only load to overcome is one’s bodyweight, simply gaining strength is not enough. Studies have shown the key to running faster and jumping higher is relative strength and relative power, or force and power per pound of bodyweight. It isn’t merely the amount of force applied to the ground that increases speed, quickness or jumping ability; it’s the amount of force in relation to bodyweight.

If force alone was the major factor in speed, then a 400-pound man able to squat 700 pounds would win every race -but we know that’s not what happens. If we match our 400-pound behemoth against a 170-pound man who can squat 500 lbs, there’s no contest.

Big man loses. Why?

Relative force. The 400-pound man is generating a meager 1.75 times his bodyweight against the ground while our thin man is applying a whopping 2.94 times his bodyweight. Even though the big man can generate 40% more force, it pales compared to the thin man’s 68% greater relative force.

Increasing muscle size

Once you are able to recruit and use nearly all the muscle you have then the only way to improve is to increase the amount of horsepower that each contracting muscle cell generates. You do this by increasing the amount of protein contained in each muscle cell or, simply, get bigger muscles. When you do this a given motor unit will now put out more force when it fires since the muscle cells under it’s control are now bigger.

The 150 lb. guy in the example I used above can increase his performance by getting bigger muscles since he’s already most likely able to recruit nearly all his available motor units.

Some strength training techniques are better for increasing motor unit recruitment or relative strength, which again, is strength per lb of bodyweight. Whereas some strength training techniques are better at increasing the horsepower behind a firing motor unit, or giving you bigger muscles.

Strength training techniques that are good for increased motor unit recruitment and relative strength include:

  1. Low rep “relative” strength training protocols (<5 reps per set)
  2. Low volume protocols (<10 sets per session)
  3. Sets – might range from 3 to 8 for the primary exercise
  4. Frequency – at least twice per week

A lot of people like a heavy/light system with a heavy day on one day and a light day on another. Heavy might be 5-6X3 at a 4-5RM intensity, light might be 3-4X5 at a 6-8RM or even lighter (or speed work).

When performing low reps at low volume the muscle cells aren’t under enough prolonged tension to cause much muscular damage. The heavier loads involved with the lower reps train the nervous system to recruit more motor units.

For example, a max squat will make you stronger but tends not to do a whole lot for muscle size.

Training techniques that are good for improving the horsepower behind a firing motor unit include:

  1. Medium rep protocols (5-15 reps per set)
  2. Medium to high volume protocols (+ 10 sets per session)

When performing higher reps the muscle cells are under enough prolonged tension that you damage them. They respond by increasing their protein content, coming back a little bigger.

The extreme example of this type of training is bodybuilding training.

So, to sum it up we can say that:

Muscle strength = Ability to recruit motor units x size of the muscle fibers

Obviously, over the course of your training career, in order to get stronger you are going to need both more motor unit recruitment and bigger muscles. Most routines out there combine both as it’s about impossible to completely zero in on one or the other.

However, in general a set of a strength training exercise either focuses more on making you stronger or it focuses more on making you bigger. From now on before every workout and during the planning of a training cycle ask yourself, “How is this exercise going to improve my performance?”

General Guidelines

  • Performing sets of 3 reps in something like a squat exercise will be more effective at improving your relative strength and motor unit recruitment then performing sets of 5 reps will.
  • Performing sets of 5 reps will be more effective at making you bigger then performing sets of 3 reps will.
  • Performing sets of 10 reps will likely be more effective at making you bigger then sets of 3 or 5 reps will, if the number of sets are the same.
  • Performing sets of 5 reps will be more effective at making you bigger then performing sets of 10 reps, if the number of reps in a session are equal (6 sets of 5 vs 3 sets of 10)
  • Compound movements are superior to isolation movements for motor unit recruitment and muscle size
  • Trying to move a load as quickly as possible through the concentric (positive) portion of a lift works better for both increased motor unit recruitment and muscle size
  • Performing the eccentric (negative) phase of a movement slower works better for increasing muscle size
  • Performing the eccentric (negative) phase of a movement faster and firing out of the transition works better for increasing motor unit recruitment

If bodyweight is an issue, as it would be if you were a football player and need to get bigger, then your program should include both relative strength training methods and methods designed to increase your muscle size. Often a very thin individual will find the easiest path for them to gain relative strength is by increasing muscle size since the strength gains they make overwhelm their increased bodyweight. An individual in a sport like track and field can train strictly for relative strength most of the time.

Now let’s get to some specific examples.

The KISS relative strength training method – Keep it simple stupid!

Until you’ve developed a foundation there is no need to use advanced training techniques. A greater frequency of training works particularly well for beginners and novice athletes. They need to develop the “skill” of the particular movements they’re using and bridge the gap between their “actual” strength and “potential strength”.

For this type of trainee it can be beneficial to have 3 workouts per week using low reps. Unless you have at least 2 years of prior training experience I would use a split like the following:

Train 2-3 days per week and train the whole body at each session. Keep the total volume low.

Session A:

  • Dead lift
  • Bench press
  • Clean or Snatch
  • Ab movement

Session B:

  • Squat
  • Incline Press
  • Weighted Chin
  • Ab movement

*Alternate between session A & B.

Perform 2-3 sets of 2-3 reps, never to failure, using a step-type loading approach. Increase the weight for 3 consecutive workouts then decrease it for one and build back up.

Example:

  • session 1 – 100 x 2 x 3 (3 sets of 2 reps)
  • session 2 – 105 x 2 x 3
  • session 3 – 110 x 2 x 2
  • session 1 – 105 x 2 x 3
  • session 2 – 110 x 2 x 3
  • session 3 – 115 x 2 x 2
  • session 1 – 110 x 2 x 3
  • session 2 – 115 x 2 x 3
  • session 3 – 120 x 2 x 2

Good luck!

Written by Kelly Baggett

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If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Simplifying How to Get Stronger discussion thread.

A New Perspective on Endurance Training

One of the biggest problems with strength training for endurance athletes is the following: should I train like a strength athlete, like an aerobics instructor, or do I just skip the weights altogether? Most of the time, you’ll see runners training with weights one of two ways:

1. like a bodybuilder

2. like a wimp, meaning they will lift the 5 pound dumbbells ad nauseum thinking that this is creating endurance.

Let me state for the record that both methods are completely wrong. Big surprise there, right? Let me make another statement that I’m sure you’ll love. There is much research regarding strength training for endurance athletes out there, but you must be selective in where you look. Some of the top sports scientists in the former Soviet Union and East Germany looked into the proper methods of endurance. And while your local Road Runner club president might think that he knows the “right way to train for runners”, I’m willing to bet that he doesn’t.

So just what have these scientists and coaches found? We’ll get to that in short order. Let me first give some definitions of strength endurance. Yuri Verkhoshansky, a top athlete and strength researcher from the Soviet era, describes strength endurance as, “involving muscular tension without a decrease in working effectiveness over a long period of time” (Verkhoshansky, 1986). Thomas Kurz takes a similar approach when he talks about “the ability to continue work for a required time without lowering the quality of work” (Kurz, 2001). Notice here the common theme of resisting fatigue, which is the primary goal of endurance training. After all, if you are pooped out after 15 minutes, you’re not much of a runner, are you?

Endurance Performance Factors

The physiological factors most often affecting the endurance athlete are categorized into local endurance factors and general endurance factors (Kurz, 2001). Local factors affecting endurance include the strength of a particular muscle group, the energy stores in a particular muscle group (i.e. muscle glycogen, fatty acids, phosphate compounds), and the density of capillaries in a particular muscle.

General muscle endurance factors include the strength of all muscles involved with the activity, the energy stores in the muscles involved, cardiorespiratory factors (i.e. stroke volume, blood vessel integrity, Max Vo2, etc.), and homeostatic factors that play an essential role in any anaerobic activity (i.e. buffer capacity of blood, ability to tolerate high acidity in the blood).

With me so far? This stuff makes sense, right? You have to develop endurance in the proper muscles needed for your activity, and you need to make sure that all of these muscles can perform for the entire duration of your event, otherwise you will still be limited by your weakest link. Remember, our chain is only that strong.

So, for the average long-distance runner, just what should that person be doing in the gym? German scientists have utilized two basic strength training program with their athletes for years with great success.
These two basic methods of strength training are known as the intensive interval method and the extensive interval method (Hartmann and Tunnemann, 1995). 

Each method has a slightly different focus, and endurance athletes looking for an edge to their performance should utilize both.

Hitting the Weights!

The extensive interval method is used primarily for athletes needing to acquire high endurance capacities within a given unit of time. This method increases the athlete’s ability to resist fatigue during lengthy activities (e.g. marathons). To train with this method, there are a few guidelines that you need to be aware of.

First, all weight training sessions should be performed in a “circuit” format, whereby you train on one exercise, rest, the move to exercise #2, rest, exercise #3, etc. until you have completed all of the exercises for that day. You then repeat the circuit 3-6 more times. This is critical to perform since “station” training will not be as effective. Station training refers to training one exercise completely before moving to the next exercise, similar to how most bodybuilders train. Remember your goals…you are not training for a bodybuilding contest, therefore your training should not resemble theirs.

You will also be training the entire body each session. This promotes a greater release of growth hormone, and increased levels of lactic acid production, which will enhance the body’s ability to remove this waste product when competition arrives.

Extensive Interval Method Guidelines

The intensive interval method is most effective with helping improve resistance to fatigue during short-term muscular endurance training of medium to high intensity (Hartmann & Tunnemann, 1995). This format will help endurance athletes to generate high-endurance performance by exploiting both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems (Hartmann & Tunnemann, 1995). Theory points to the fact that the arteries are blocked during the contraction phase of the exercise and the relatively short breaks involved. The volume for this format is slightly lower than with the extensive interval method, owing to the increased intensity levels.

Another important aspect of the intensive interval method is the regulation of repetitions. For this method we will not be concerned with numbers, but time. You will perform reps for 20-45 seconds, with 30-second sets being the average. You need to time yourself somehow, and a digital timer on your watch with a countdown function works best in this regard. Don’t worry about the number or reps you complete, just keep repping until the time limit is up.

Intensive Interval Method Guidelines

So What’s The Plan?

To periodise these methods, you should focus on the extensive interval method during most of your pre-competitive phase, adding in the intensive interval phase just before your competitive season. Even long-distance runners need to do this, as the intensive interval method will help the athlete with the “burst” needed at the end of a race. Be careful with your planning with each method, since overtraining is a distinct possibility when dealing with strength training and long-endurance training.

The main method of structuring your training program using these methods will depend on your chosen sport, but I can present a few guidelines to help you get started. Remember to adjust the parameters presented above based on your athlete’s current abilities and future goals.

The Extensive Interval method is used most often in the preparatory phase of the training cycle. It will prepare the athlete for the necessary utilization of glucose for exercise. Some research also suggests that this method of training increases the number of mitochondria as well as the density of capillaries in the worked muscles (Hartmann & Tunnemann, 1995). This method is favored by athletes in cyclic-types of sports (e. g. cross-country skiing). In this case, repetitions may be increased to 100, or even close to 200 per set (Bompa, 1999).

The Intensive Interval method would primarily be used in the pre-competitive phase of training for athletes involved in acyclic types of sports (e.g. wrestlers). You may begin their preparatory phase with extensive interval work, and then shift to the intensive method as you close in to the season. To preserve strength during the season, you would drop the intensive method, and rely on wrestling matches to preserve anaerobic endurance.

Sprinters Take Note!

These methods are also useful for track work, and the same general principles apply as with the weights. I’ve presented a chart below for an advanced sprinter that may run the 100, 200, or 400 meters. Notice the similarity in intensities and repetition as we discussed with the weights.

Breaking Away From Tradition…Thankfully!

These routines may seem “different” when compared to what’s out there currently, but in many cases, different is what is needed! Ask yourself if your current weight routine has been making any difference in your runs, and then take the chance to try out these methods.

Written by Nathan Mosher

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – A New Perspective on Endurance Training discussion thread.

References

Bompa, T. (1999). Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training. Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL.

Hartmann, J & Tunnemann, H. (1995). Fitness and Strength Training for All Sports: Theory, Methods, Programs. Sport Books Publisher: Toronto.

Kurz, T. (2001). Science of Sports Training. Island Pond, VT: Stadion.

Schmolinsky, G. (2000). Track and Field: The East German Textbook of Athletics. Sport Books Publisher: Toronto.

Verkhoshansky, Y. (1986). Fundamentals of Special Strength Training in Sport. Livonia, MI: Sportivny Press.