What is General Physical Preparation (GPP)? GPP is first used to raise your level of physical fitness, but it must be directed toward your particular sport. When many people think of being physically fit, CrossFit crosses our minds. While CrossFit’s training goal is to bring a person to a high level of physical fitness, their training also is aimed at the person competing in the CrossFit games where the winners are incredibly fit.
But, because CrossFit has so many different sports activities, the training is non directed fitness. This simply means there is no component of Specialized Physical Preparation (SPP) that would be needed to compete at the highest level of an Olympic sport such as the high jump, Judo, or weight lifting. Westside advocates the same theory held by Boudarchuk (1979) that GPP and SPP must be basically interchangeable.
The great Bulgarian weightlifters of the 1980s did only SPP and no GPP due to the amazing amount of daily maxes they performed—4,000 per year compared to 600 all-time maxes that Westside and the Russians calculate in a yearly plan. Now that we know CrossFit training is perfect for CrossFit, it is not to be used for any individual sport due to the fact it has no SPP for your sport.
GPP will bring a balanced plan to build your strength, speed, special endurance mobility, dexterity and flexibility. But it this sounds like CrossFit training, it is not. There are some elements that must be trained for your sport while other would be a waste of training time.
Let’s look at the training at Westside for powerlifting. The powerlifter must maintain a degree of mobility and flexibility. Too much mobility and flexibility, however, can have an adverse effect on lifting. Consider the training of a contortionist: they train for an incredible amount of flexibility, but this can lead to difficulty in building adequate strength to support a partner for their most strenuous routines. The powerlifter or weight lifter must concern themselves with lifting a high volume of barbell lifts and working down to smaller special exercises until bands or cables finish the workout. Sled work is common at Westside, but only short trips of 60 meters are performed. The same for wheelbarrow walking, much like sprinting, short trips with the weight sled or wheelbarrow. Powerlifters use heavy weights on one day like squats, deadlifts and heavy belt squatting. It would do no good to pull a weight sled for a long distance—like three minutes or longer. Longer pulls would work for 1500 meters or a mile runner.
Gaining muscle mass or losing body fat can be the role of your GPP training. There are athletes who need to gain muscle mass. For most people, Westside prefers to build muscle around a weak joint. It could be elbows, low back, neck, hips or knees. There is a saying at Westside, “Big ain’t strong; strong is strong.” You don’t have to gain weight to become strong. Some small men are stronger than their larger counterparts. It also does no good to carry extra body fat. Extra body fat just makes it more difficult to overcome the force of gravity while jumping or running.
GPP can start with cycling, jogging, swimming, or playing ball sports. Remember GPP and SPP should closely resemble each other. The powerlifting at Westside is practically indistinguishable between GPP and SPP. No regular squats, no regular deadlifts, a bench shirt is worn once a month, and a true max raw is done about once every six weeks. And, yet, within a 15-mile radius of Westside, 14 men have broken all-time world records. This shows that our GPP training has a high rate of trainability toward our specific powerlifting goal.
It does no good to be strong in the wrong exercises. The powerlifter must have a high degree of maximal strength, speed and add muscle mass where it is needed. GPP can raise the reliability of technique by not reducing small special exercises close to meet time. It is important that your GPP training be specific to your sport. It can range from raising maximal strength to elevating your VO2 max or even working on reaction time.
Let’s look at GPP for some individual sports.
Olympic-Style Weight Lifting
For the advanced lifter, a minimum of 50 percent of the training should include special exercises: high pulls, Goodmornings, shrugs, back raises, belt squats, reverse hypers, calves-ham-glutes, inverse curls, jumping, and power sled walking. This does not cover all GPP work, but just a sample.
Thrower’s Guide to GPP
A thrower should include weight training for all special strengths—explosive, speed and strength speed; jumps and bounding of all types; some simple gymnastics; Kettlebells work; throwing and catching medicine balls of different weights; rope climbing or hanging by one hand; short sprints; weight sled work; throwing shots of different weights; throwing hammers of different weights and sand bags for the javelin; club throwing; hammer throws with short and longer chains; rotating in both directions to eliminate muscle imbalances; throwing discus of different weights; training on special weight machines to correct single-joint weakness; increasing running speed for the javelin; and training on special machines for improving velocity. Once more, this is just a partial list for throwers.
GPP for the Track Athlete
Having worked with Olympic sprinters including two Gold Medal winners, a Silver Medalist in the long jump, and numerous collegiate sprinters, this advice comes with much experience.
Like most sports, a track athlete should go through one period of accumulation at the start of their track training. After that, they should have combined periods of intensification that lead to the period of transformation after which the training should join GPP and SPP as closely as possible.
No more blocks, but rather using three-week waves during the season that would use mostly SPP and GPP to maintain a solid foundation of training to avoid lose of physical strength and fitness. During the off season with no competitions they should use a set of tests to evaluate continued sports growth, testing sprints from 10 to 50 meters or special jumps.
If one does not constantly improve strength and power, sprint times will suffer. It is easy to raise strength and power while perfecting running technique. What I have found more alarming is the high amount of muscle imbalance or bilateral deficits in the lower body.
Calves, hamstrings, glutes and hips must possess equal strength in both limbs. Sports like weight lifting and powerlifting do not have a bilateral deficit due to using either legs or arms with barbell training. Dumbbells must be used for throwers due to using one arm at a time in their events.
On the other hand, runners have many bilateral deficits. The force produced with one limb is less than half the force produced using unilateral movements. A top sprinter produces 1000 pounds per step. For example, if you can bench press 400 pounds with a barbell, you can not come close to pressing two 200-pound dumbbells.
Having worked with many top sprinters and longer-distance runners, many are injured by having a bilateral deficit or muscle imbalance from one muscle group to another muscle group. The GPP here is partly fixing the muscle imbalances or bilateral deficits. Westside has a hamstring machine called the Inverse Curl. It measures hamstring strength, bilateral deficits or your unilateral strength.
By using less weight on the machine, it can show an increase in your hamstring strength until you eventually can do a Russian Leg Curl. This is where your training partner holds your ankles while you lower yourself face down to the floor at a slow steady rate, then return to the starting point kneeling on your knees. Westside has lifters and sprinters holding up to 45 pounds on their chests while doing a Russian Leg Curl.
If there is a three or four percent bilateral deficit in one leg, it can cause injury. This deficit also happens with the glutes or hips and can cause one to distort his or her running form. Strong hamstrings are a key to fast sprinting. Westside had a former world-class sprinter turned world-record holder in the squat. Her hamstring-quad ratio was 60 percent hamstring, 40 percent quad. This is the highest ever recorded at the Ohio State University. She performed all types of hamstring exercises from calf-ham-glute raises to standing one-leg curls to the smallest special hamstring exercises with a cable or rubbers bands and ankle weights.
A major special exercise is reverse hypers. Why are they so important? The key to faster running is hip extensions. The Reverse HyperTM is very effective for building the area of the hamstrings that tie into the glutes.
Charlie Francis said the ratio of power output of the hip extension to ankle flexion is 7 to 1, hip to knee. If you have a bilateral deficit in the glutes, simply start the concentric action on the Reverse Hyper with the lagging glute. This will solve the problem. Also you can use leg lifts, single-leg box jumping, and single-leg jumping on a plyo-swing.
The definition of a sprint is to run as fast as possible for a short distance. This means the sprinter needs to accelerate as long as possible. The sprinter’s GPP must resemble SPP. What makes up a 100-meter sprint? According to the book The Rocket Sprint Start by Bud Winter and Jim Son Lee, the breakdown for the top 100-meter sprinters is 64 percent acceleration and 18 percent top maximum velocity, which leaves 12 percent for some deceleration.
This is SPP. The sprinter’s GPP training should be broken down to the same percentage for each stage of the race. Work on strength and power roughly 64 percent of the training. Work on strength endurance 18 percent of the training with barbell, squats and deadlifts for 20 seconds or more per set. No need to work on deceleration—that is how to lose a race.
After building a base, only work on the first two and most important phases of sprinting. Coaches need to analyze the sport closely. Do not have the sprinter run a mile if his or her races are sprints. If you have the sprinter run longer distances you are working the wrong energy systems and will only be teaching them to conserve their muscular force production.
A friend of mine who worked with a top female 400 meter sprinter had her main focus be acceleration by doing 10 40-meter sprints. This is SPP. Her GPP training consisted of deadlifts for 30 seconds a set and having her try to add reps to the second and third sets. A fast eccentric phase will cause no additional body weight to be added.
Remember, it does no good to practice exercises that don’t apply to your sport or event, or as A.Bondarchuk explains in his book Transfer of Exercise, GPP and SPP must blend closely together for you to exceed at gaining sports excellence.
Coaching is indeed a tough occupation. It calls for a coach to read countless books and articles to specialize in single events for track and not generalize. The coach must also learn how to perform strength exercises correctly. To perform them incorrectly will lead to certain injury.
Bondarchuk, A. P. Transfer of Training in Sports II. Michigan: Ultimate Athletic Concepts, (2010).
Kurz, T. Science of Sports Training. Island Pont, VT: Stadion, (1990).
Amazon.Com: Charlie Francis Training System EBook: Charlie Francis: Kindle Store.” n.d. Accessed November 2, 2018. https://www.amazon.com/Charlie-Francis-Training-System-ebook/dp/B008ZK0WR8.
Schmolinsky, G. Track and Field. Berlin, Germany: Sportverlag, (1982).
Siff, M. Supertraining. Denver, Co.: Supertraining Institute, (2004).
Starzynski, T. and Sozanski, H. Explosive Power and Jumping Ability for All Sports: Atlas of Exercises. Stadion Pub. (1999)
Verkhoshansky, Yuri, and Natalia Verkhoshansky. Special Strength Training: Manual for Coaches. Verkhoshansky.com. (2011)
Winter, Bud and Lee, Jimson. The Rocket Sprint Start. USA: Bud Winter Enterprises, (2011).
Zatsiorsky, V.M. Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, (1995).