Many folk often joke that they workout in preparation to run from zombies. Or rehash the old jokes of “I don’t need to outrun the bear, I just need to outrun you.” Its in the back of our minds that we want our work in the gym to carry over into the real world in some capacity, even though most of us live cushy lives and will never end up asking those feats of our body. But what about those that do require that ability? How do they prepare?
Willie Danzer, MS, CSCS, FMS, PN-1, USAW2 is a Tactical Strength Coach for the THOR3 (Tactical Human Optimization, Rapid Rehabilitation and Reconditioning) program at Fort Bragg, NC, where he helps to develop some of the world’s most elite warriors. If there is anyone with the relevant knowledge to prepare you for your future apocalyptic zombie battles (that will only happen in your mind), this is your coach.
On General Physical Preparedness:
“A pyramid is only as tall as its base.” This is one of the best analogies that I’ve ever heard with regards to increasing someone’s General Physical Preparedness (GPP). It doesn’t hurt that it came from one of the most influential strength coaches that has ever lived, Louie Simmons (1). General Physical Preparedness (GPP) or training to stimulate and develop the motor abilities (speed, strength, power, endurance, etc.) and muscular functions with little to no similarity to the final sporting event. General Physical Preparedness should comprise a large section of the yearly plan for young / low level athletes. Athletes will need time to work with a variety of exercises at submaximal intensity, which will allow them to create technical proficiency. Along with the increase in technical proficiency, athletes will create a robust exercise library to draw from when looking to transition from GPP to Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP).
When making the transition from GPP to SPP the athlete understand that there must be development of more specialized motor abilities the closer it gets to the competition date. Technical abilities need to follow the same positive increases for the athlete in order to get the most transfer during the competition season. For example, when thinking of sprinting as the end goal or sport form, working backwards would include low level jumps. This will engage the muscles of the upper legs, thus preparing to create the requisite energy to produce more force as the athlete moves closer to the competition calendar.
Once technical proficiency and force absorption ability has been increased to the requisite levels, the athlete would then work up to more explosive versions of jumps to actually work on creating force through the ground, lastly the athlete would start putting the main focus on the sprint events and utilizing the power that the jumps had created for them to increase the force though their legs into the ground. So while the low level jumps as an exercise don’t show up in the sprint events, you can see how it is a series of exercises chosen with specific intentions to allow for a positive end result. The more exercises that have been utilized by the athlete the better they will be at making appropriate input with regards to what is helping transfer to higher sporting results. It cannot be stated enough that all athletes will need an off-season training plan, and that the main goal of that plan should be re-establishing their GPP or increasing their GPP to help them prepare for the more rigorous workouts later on in the yearly program. It has been shown that the better overall fitness an athlete is in the better they can recover from training sessions (2). What is more important than getting the verbiage correct is how one goes about increasing their GPP. While GPP takes on many characteristics such as accessory training, structural training, and technical reinforcement. This articles main focus will be on some of the factors and/or skills needed in competition, exercise selection, risks vs. reward, training age and time until competition or season to consider when creating a program with this in mind. I’ll begin by taking a closer look at some of at some of the factors individually.
When creating any program, not just one for increasing GPP, working backwards should be common practice. Setting standards or goals for competition and season including preparation time will allow the athlete to start working on the general motor abilities needed to accomplish these goals. When working backwards on a long term program, the GPP block is usually one of the longest and most fatiguing blocks of training (2). The athlete and coach will need a vast exercise library on hand to break up the monotony of training. This will keep it fun and engaging over the early phases of training while setting up the foundation to move to more specialized training. This is important on many fronts, not only on the exercise level, but also looking at it from the energy system demands (see chart below) and where a bulk of the energy set aside for training will go.
If increased aerobic development is one of the energy systems that needs improvement, it will require multiple bouts of aerobic training throughout the week. This aerobic training should not be completed alone. There should be general exercises programmed in conjunction that will increase the efficiency of running by developing lower body strength. It is my professional belief that all running should take precedence over weight training. Simply put, running will always require more athleticism and have a much bigger positive transfer to most sporting endeavors.
It will be important to make sure that aerobic training is completed before fatigue sets in and general weight training would follow. This training modality would remain the same as athlete progresses from GPP to Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP). Early on many exercises and training methods can be used as long as the goal remains the same; to develop the athlete into their highest achievable athletic ability. Look at an obstacle race for example, the athlete would need to look at all the skills required to complete the race and then rate them with regards to weaknesses. The athlete’s largest weakness will be given the highest priority in training.If rope climbing is considered the largest weakness, then early on in the GPP program, importance is placed on upper back and grip training within the weights portion of the session. The athlete would still use the above chart, and decide what energy system needed to be trained for running and apply that to the training program as well. Having the freedom to choose between a plethora of exercises to reach the end goal is ideal. No exercise is greater than the others to meet the end goal, which should be determined by the coach. Be sure to factor in risk vs. reward of all exercise selection. I’ve found the risk vs. reward awareness to be the hardest pill for the average athlete to swallow.
When you have many exercises at your disposal, it is paramount to go through an internal checklist (i.e. If you train alone) or your coach would do this for you. All exercises that would have a negative transfer to sport form should be removed from programming. Any exercise that is chosen in the GPP block should not take large amount of time or focus for technical proficiency (i.e. learning to snatch). Using the above mentioned sprint example; with all things being equal for lower body strength, most athletes will either choose or be told that the back squat is the best lower body strength developing exercise to increase sprint speed. But, this doesn’t mean everyone has to include this or even utilize the back squat. With all the variations that can be found, there is always a perfect exercise for every scenario. If an athlete has a bad back and needs to develop lower body strength in the quadriceps, the back squat might be the worst thing that they can do. The athlete may choose to rather incorporate the split squat or lunge instead to alleviate spinal loading. Remember, it’s just an exercise; it is a small piece that fits into a much bigger puzzle.
Athletes as well as coaches need to understand that eventually all the general lower body exercises will become supportive in nature to all of the various SPP drills. Eventually squatting will no longer transfer to the sport of sprinting due to it recruiting significantly less motor units. This will not have positive transfer to high level sprinting.
Without proper planning and understanding of taking the path of least resistance many athletes will find themselves injured due to trying exercises that are outside their comfort zone. This possibly even being they are doing exercises with limited and inaccurate knowledge from a series of people (themselves, training partners, coaches, etc.). Remember a good GPP training plan will allow the athlete to make the most amounts of transferable gains with respect to the end goal or sport form, with the lowest cost on their body and energy supplies.
Most GPP training plans should take into account the duration the athlete has been training for or their “training age”. Training age, while seems minor to most, it is a huge factor when creating a training plan. Today one can jump on the internet and find random programs and information about exercises that may be detrimental to the athlete’s progress and give a false sense of advancement. Training age is a double edge sword when it comes to GPP. One the one hand, if the athlete’s training age is low, the athlete may be like a sponge when it comes to the GPP exercises. Every exercise will be soaked up with most providing carry over to sport form. The downside being, time can be wasted to trying out a little bit of everything. New athletes, without a coach may need to sift through tons of training information to find out what works, what doesn’t work and be able to make those adjustments to their GPP program. Using the sprint example again; with regards to developing lower body strength from weight training to help with the eventual goal of increasing speed. An athlete may walk into a gym and see a lot of “toys” at their disposal. Seeing all this equipment will cause a sensory overload and more time will be wasted on trying out exercises or machines, and not enough time doing an actual training plan that meets the identified goals. On the other hand the athlete with a much higher training age will need to stream line their selection and overall timeframe in the GPP phase of training. Charlie Francis, a great sprint coach is quoted as saying “the higher the sport form the less overall training time that needs to be spent on GPP.”(3) So when an athlete reaches a certain level of talent; they will not need to spend as much time developing lesser motor abilities. With less time being needed it becomes much more important to make sure that every exercise is selected with a well thought out training goal by the athlete and/or coach. Looking at training age allows the athlete or coach to take out or include what they would like to train to increase sport form.
GPP training is not as simple as it seems. An athlete or coach cannot just pick exercises randomly or just make up a workout of the day (WOD) and call it a GPP. Saying that they are just working on their general outputs for the next competition without having a plan or direction isn’t going to cut it either. Every exercise or training modality selected should have a purpose and fit into a long term and well thought out plan. By being able to address some of the common pit falls that exist when creating a GPP program for the off-season, hopefully readers will now in have the information to create solid GPP training plans. Any and every program ever created can make someone tired and sweaty, which takes little to no effort. But a program that can help the athlete reach their goals with the lowest energy cost is the mark of a really solid training program. A solid training program has as one of its cornerstones a great GPP program to build upon.⦁ Simmons, Louie.
- Westside Barbell Book of Methods. Columbus, OH: Westside Barbell, 2007.
- Issurin, Vladimir, and Matt Thome. Building the modern athlete: scientific advancements & training innovations. Michigan: Ultimate Athlete Concepts, 2015. Print.
- Francis, Charlie. Key Concepts 2008 Elite Edition. N.p.: Charliefrancis.com, 2008. Electronic