The goal of GPP training is to build a broad base of physical capabilities and create a resilient body that can perform a wide range of tasks. It is where most beginners should start training as there is a low barrier to entry, it doesn’t require technically difficult movements, little or no equipment is needed and difficulty is scalable to all abilities.
GPP is an Eastern Bloc training concept and is used to build a foundation for young athletes. In these training systems athletes tend to begin with GPP training then as they develop they may specialise in a narrower discipline for which they are suited. However they usually continue to include annual periods of GPP training amongst their skill specific training.
If your goal is to generally improve health and fitness then GPP is for you.
So what does GPP training look like? To illustrate the difference between ‘Generalist Training’ and it’s opposite; ‘Specialist Training’, consider the following two examples:
Take a look at the opening ceremony of the Olympic games to see the array of different human body types suited to different activities. These people are the freaks of nature, the extremes of what human bodies are capable of. Most of them can be classed as a ‘specialist’ at one particular activity.
A generalist on the other hand is someone who is good at everything but not world class at anything. For example a soldier needs to be prepared for whatever situation might arise but doesn’t need to set any world records. Getting the job done, without getting an injury is what counts. Similarly, our ancestors living as hunter gatherers would perform a wide variety of physical tasks in the business of staying alive. For them life itself provided enough physical challenge to keep them strong and healthy. In the world of a generalist, if you can’t hike a few miles today because you are sore from weightlifting yesterday your training is not helping, it is getting in the way.
Generalists are jacks of all trades, masters of none. Their advantage is adaptability and resilience.
The specialist must make a sacrifice in one area to excel in another. The body has a limited amount of energy and recovery resources, so excelling at everything is an unrealistic pursuit.
Humans are capable of a huge range of physical possibilities. The fastest humans will never be as fast as a cheetah and the strongest humans would lose in an arm wrestle to the average chimpanzee. However, a human can have the ability to run, jump, climb, throw, swim, dance, juggle or operate a computer. No other animal is capable of this variety of physical tasks. Generalism is our evolutionary advantage.
Training inspired by the routines of specialist athletes is not always the best choice for civilians. Although it may be exciting to read in a magazine the training regimen of a world class performer you are probably only seeing a glimpse of a bigger picture – do you have on your side age, genetics, training background, sufficient time for recovery, a team of physios, trainers, nutritionists or pharmaceutical grade supplements?
Making Progress – The contradiction
Choosing some benchmarks is the only way to make sure your training is heading in the right direction. Weights lifted, running times, learning to perform a new technique how you look and perhaps most importantly how you feel are all useful benchmarks.
A beginner can make quick improvements in all aspects of fitness, just about any type of training will yield improvements in the short term. However even a well constructed program will soon plateau. At this point we need a narrower focus in order to improve any single ability. How then can we continue to improve as a generalist whilst focussing on less?
Training cycles allow you to train more like a specialist for blocks of time. More time needs to be committed to developing an ability than to maintaining it, so a well constructed program can allow one goal to be developed while others are maintained as best as possible. When the first goal has moved forwards it is then maintained and if training is programmed correctly it should provide a platform for improvements in other areas.
- Phase 1 – Develop mobility
- Phase 2 – Develop GPP, maintain mobility
- Phase 3 – Develop skill based movements, maintain GPP and mobility
The same but different (cycles within cycles).
It is possible to have mini-cycles within a single phase e.g. different lengths of sprint, different handstand progressions, varying deadlift techniques from session to session within a cycle. Some variety helps keep interest, can reduce risk of overuse injury and improve results by challenging the body in slightly different ways. Variety is often used as a way of keeping un-motivated trainees entertained and overuse will stall progress toward a specific goal.
Movements that have a good carryover to other activities.
This is a contentious subject in physical training with many trainers claiming that their system will make you better at every other physical activity you can imagine. In my opinion you always have to take into consideration starting point vs goals and then plan general and specific training accordingly. That said there are some basic fundamentals which yield carryover to other activities.
Appropriate Mobility / Base Level Mobility
Having sufficient mobility to perform some basic movements well is a prerequisite to effective training. e.g. Being able to perform a deep squat with good form so that load can be added progressively. Having sufficient shoulder and thoracic mobility to be able to lift a weight overhead without compensating somewhere else in the body. Mobility needs to be appropriate in that a range of motion needs to be matched by sufficient strength to control the position under load or dynamic forces.
This type of training is characterised as short amounts of time at a very high intensity interspersed with rest or low intensity activity. Interval training has been shown to be more beneficial to cardiovascular improvement than long periods of medium-high intensity training. It is efficient use of time and can mean less wear and tear on the body, quicker recovery and thus more time to spend doing something else. e.g. Using short sprints for 10 to 20 minutes once per week will improve VO2 max more than spending several hours doing medium paced runs.
This type of training is currently growing in popularity and could be described as a step away from looking at training in a blunt mechanical ‘faster, stronger’ mentality and considering more subtlety and variety of movement possibilities to become a generally better ‘mover’. (If you are a movement guru it helps if you can talk about it in a forceful yet impenetrable manner so that you can then form a cult around it.) If you want to know more listen to London Real’s podcast with Ido Portal, who I think has some great concepts.
No Perfect Plan
Training is very individualised and there is no way to be certain what the best method is for you until you have some experience under your belt. We can start with a tried and tested methodology but be sure to track results, listen to your body and make adjustments as you go.
I will be posting some example training programs in the near future so check back if you are interested.