3 Types of Strength Preparation

As you program a strength and conditioning plan to prepare an athlete for competition or sport, it’s imperative to know the three types of strength preparation. In this blog, I’ll give a brief overview of each, as well as some sample exercises.

If you’ve been around the strength and conditioning world for any amount of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard the term General Physical Preparation (GPP). This is also known as General Physical Preparedness, while others like to call it General Strength Preparation (GSP).

I mention these semantics up front, because there are numerous terms, used in different parts of the world, to describe the same thing. When it comes to sharing information about strength preparation, that’s part of the confusion. My goal of this brief overview is to make the topic of strength preparation as simple as possible by dividing it into three types. Let’s start with GPP.

What is General Physical Preparation (GPP)?
Imagine you’re working with a teenager that shows promise as a running back. The problem is, he’s pretty skinny and weak overall. He needs to build his full-body power and size, as well as strengthen his tendons and connective tissues using multi-joint exercises such as the deadlift, row and overhead press. Included in this category are basic cardiovascular exercises such as swimming, cycling and skipping rope.

What he doesn’t need to do is sprint with a parachute or practice running different routes while wearing a weighted vest.

The quest to build the basic components of fitness without regard for the specific movements required in a sport is GPP in a nutshell. When GPP is done correctly, such as the programs in my Huge in a Hurry book, it makes a guy or gal a better overall athlete, which carries over to virtually any sport.

So if the kid in question decided to forego his aspirations of being a running back, and switch to another position or sport, his body would be prepared to meet those physical demands.

In Siff and Verkhoshansky’s revered text, Supertraining, GPP is “…intended to provide balanced physical conditioning in endurance, strength, speed, flexibility and other basic factors of fitness…”

When to emphasize the GPP phase: The core components of GPP can be used year-round, whether it’s in- or off-season. However, two key times that often provide the most benefits are:

– When an athlete is far from his or her strength potential and physical fitness

– The early stages of the off-season

For example, you might determine that a hockey player needs to build his deadlift in the off-season to give him more power and explosiveness on the ice during the next season. So you start with that in the early stages of the off-season, and then work toward more specific physical preparation, which we’ll cover now.

What is Specialized Physical Preparation (SPP)?
The Specialized Physical Preparation phase (aka, Specific Physical Preparation or Preparedness) is intended to more closely mimic the movements and energy systems’ demands of a sport, when compared to GPP. A primary goal of SPP is to integrate the fitness qualities gained in the GPP phase so they’re more specific to what the athlete will need during a sport.

There are two basic phases of SPP, which get progressively more specialized to the sport: SPP phase 1 (SPP1) and SPP phase 2 (SPP2). Let’s stick with the example of the hockey player that needs to improve his explosive power.

In the GPP phase you had him build his deadlift, a basic move that doesn’t look much like anything a hockey player does while wearing skates. Now, in SPP1 you’ll have him perform a single-leg squat, which more closely mimics the movement pattern a hockey player must do while on the ice. A single-leg squat isn’t exactly the same, but it’s merging in that direction. This is SPP1.

From an energy systems standpoint, you could have the hockey player perform sprints on a track, or up a hill, with rest periods that are relatively short. An example would be: 10 rounds of 10-second sprints with 60 seconds rest between each. This will start to build the ATP-PC system power needed for ice hockey, progressing from the basic low-intensity cardio in the GPP phase (e.g., swimming, cycling, hiking, etc.).

When to emphasize the SPP1 phase: In the second half of the off-season.

Now we’re on to the last phase, SPP2, which is intended to mimic the movements and energy systems’ demands of the sport as closely as possible. So instead of focusing primarily on the single-leg squat, you’ll have the hockey player perform drills on the ice while wearing a weighted vest. Indeed, the movement patterns and energy systems are trained in sync with the specific demands of the sport.

When to emphasize the SPP1 phase: In the last quarter of the off-season.

GPP, SPP1 and SPP2 Constantly Overlap
I want to iterate that the above is a gross simplification of three seemingly separate phases of strength preparation. I did it that way for clarity. In reality, GPP and SPP “always form an interconnected unit” as stated in Supertraining. In other words, your athlete can train the deadlift, single-leg squat, and skating drills wearing a weighted vest in the same phase. The difference, however, is the time and energy you devote to any of those three.

During the “GPP” phase, a greater emphasis is put on increasing strength for the deadlift. In the “SPP1” phase, you decrease the volume and intensity of the deadlift to build the single-leg squat. And in the “SPP2” phase, the volume of deadlift and single-leg squat work decreases so you can increase the intensity of skating with a weighted vest. In other words, there’s generally not a GPP or SPP1 or SPP2 phase as much as there’s an emphasis on one of the three, as I’ve depicted below.

Also, very specific drills can be performed in the early stages of GPP to rehabilitate an injury or imbalance that occurred during the season. This is one of the best times to perform the corrective exercises in my Powerful Mobility ebook that’s on Amazon.

Speaking of corrective exercise, if you’re a trainer, coach or therapist that wants to enhance your skillset and income stream by becoming a Corrective Exercise Specialist, check out my 10-week course at this link.

Stay Focused,
Doc Waterbury

Ultimate Glute Development

Everyone wants better glutes, whether you’re a guy or gal, athlete or non-athlete. That’s because glutes that are awesomely developed not only make your body look better, but they can also drastically improve your performance. When the glutes are strengthened and built using the correct combinations of exercises, you’ll run faster, jump higher and improve the strength of all your lower-body lifts.

In order to build a muscle to it’s highest level of size and performance, all of its fibers should be recruited by the end of a workout. The glutes are a tri-planar muscle, which means it can function in all three planes of movement:

  • Sagittal plane = hip extension
  • Frontal plane = hip abduction
  • Transverse plane = hip external rotation

The problem is that most people only train the sagittal plane function of the glutes: hip extension. I’m talking here about the typical squat, deadlift and lunge variations.

Last fall I spent four months working with Christopher Powers, Ph.D., at his Movement Performance Institute (a glute-focused sports medicine facility if there ever was one). I worked with athletes and non-athletes that had a myriad of knee, low back or hip problems.

The early stages of Professor Powers’ system focuses heavily on strengthening the glutes in the frontal and transverse planes – hip abduction and hip external rotation, respectively. Pure hip extension isn’t usually trained until about 6 weeks into the system.

There were two key observations I made after training athletes primarily in hip abduction and external rotation for up to 6 weeks straight:

  • Their glutes got substantially larger
  • Their hip extension strength increased

Their glutes got bigger because they were recruiting muscle fibers that perform hip abduction and external rotation, which had been neglected in the gym from doing nothing but squats, lunges and deadlifts.

Prof. Powers has been a pioneer in research that demonstrates a link between frequent glute activation and a stronger mind-muscle connection, which is an essential component of strength and hypertrophy development. So even though pure hip extension wasn’t trained, that movement got stronger because the brain was better able to recruit the entire gluteal fibers in any future task.

My point here is that ultimate glute development requires a strong emphasis on hip abduction and hip external rotation. Those two movement planes must be frequently trained in order to build the glutes to the highest level of size and performance.

Test Yourself

Before you watch the video where I outline my favorite 7-minute glute-building sequence, test yourself (or one of your clients).

  • Stiff hamstrings? Do a standing toe touch assessment, then perform the glute sequence and immediately retest it.
  • Knee or low back pain? Do a movement which causes you to feel the discomfort, then perform the glute sequence and immediately retest it.
  • Need to improve your squat, lunge, deadlift, sprint or vertical jump? Do the following sequence twice each day for 2 weeks, then retest the exercise you’re trying to improve. Your performance will definitely go up!

The following Ultimate Glute Development sequence requires a mini-band. I use the bands made by Perform Better, which can be found at this Amazon link. Most females should start with a yellow mini-band; males can start with a green. The key is to progress the band tension as your strength improves.

  • Goal for males: perform the entire Ultimate Glute Development sequence with a black Perform Better mini-band.
  • Goal for females: perform the entire Ultimate Glute Development sequence with a blue Perform Better mini-band.

Here’s the Ultimate Glute Development sequence, a collection of my favorite glute-building exercises, all crammed into a 7-minute drill. Do this sequence at least once per day (preferably twice), at the beginning of your regular workouts or as a stand-alone drill.

I highly recommend you make this a foundational activation sequence for you and your clients, for years to come.

Stay Focused,

A Better Way to Calculate Your 1RM

blog PL max It’s never been easy to accurately determine the maximum amount of weight you can lift for one rep.

You either expend a ton of time and energy as you lift, rest, add weight, lift, rest, add/reduce the weight, etc. – judging, missing, and guessing your way throughout the haphazard journey. This cycle continues until you find a true one-repetition maximum (1RM). The process, at best, will take 15-20 minutes per exercise and it can be exhausting – literally and figuratively.

Or you perform a submaximal set to failure and plug your numbers into an equation that may, or may not, have been clinically tested. Furthermore, many indirect methods (i.e., submaximal lifts) that calculate a 1RM require you to fail at a specific rep, say, rep 10 or the calculation won’t work. Continue reading

Q & A: Whey Protein and the Deadlift

This week I decided to answer two questions I recently received from a reader. -CW

Chad, my dermatologist recommended that I stop using whey protein. However, I know you recommend it for pre- and post-workout nutrition. What should I do?

CW: First off, acne is primarily caused by excessive inflammation in the body. So anything that reduces inflammation can help clear up your skin. You can put every acne cream ever invented on your face and it still won’t work nearly as well as cleaning up your diet by adding anti-inflammatory foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and wild fish.

So the question is: does whey protein increase inflammation? I believe that 99% of them do because the natural immune-boosting nutrients in whey have been destroyed through heating and acidification processes used in most whey protein powders. However, what if whey protein is manufactured the right way, thereby keeping the immune-boosters in tact? From what I’ve experienced with clients, a clean whey protein such as this one will probably decrease inflammation in most people. Continue reading

Bare Bones Physiology

blog skeleton
Your body is comprised of around 206 bones. Unless you broke one of them at some point in your life, you probably don’t give much thought to any of them.

But bone physiology is important for any trainer or hard-training athlete to understand, so I’m going to cover the basics of what you need to know.

First off, bone isn’t a passive tissue that just maintains your uprightness and holds your soft tissues in place. Nope, bone is a living, adaptable tissue that’s classified as an organ. It can grow, repair and remodel, much like muscle tissue. Continue reading

Add Strength to Your Program

blog franco deadlift Most of us want to get bigger and stronger at the same time. But most guys or gals that follow a bodybuilding-style program aren’t building much strength.

So today I’m going to outline a workout you can put in your current bodybuilding program that will fill in the much-needed gaps.

That’s important because if you increase your full-body strength you’ll be able to lift heavier loads in your bodybuilding workouts. This, in turn, will make it easier to build muscle in your other workouts.

Maximal Strength

There are many types of strength, so when I talk about strength-training I always make it clear to my audience what type of strength I’m talking about. In most cases, I’m referring to maximal strength: your ability to lift the heaviest load possible for 1-3 reps.

The master of maximal strength, Pavel Tsatsouline, and I have had many discussions on the best way to build it. Russian weightlifters – known as Olympic lifters to us in the states – spend most of their training cycle in the 80-85% of one-rep max (1RM) training zone. That fact will be surprising to many since it’s typically best to train with heavier loads than 85% of 1RM if you’re far from your maximal strength potential.

For example, if you can’t deadlift twice your body weight without lifting gear you’re pretty far from what your body is capable of pulling. In other words, I would define a guy that can do a raw, double-body weight deadlift with an unmixed grip as a solid, intermediate lifter. For him, training in the Russian’s 80-85% of 1RM zone might be sufficient.

But I doubt it.

Why? Because those Russian weightlifters train with a very high frequency (they typically bench press six times per week – yikes)! Furthermore, lifting is their job. Indeed, they’ve spent decades building up to that training frequency, their nutrition and recovery modalities are spot on, and they have little else to worry about.

Most of us don’t have the time and energy to do what the Russian weightlifters do. Therefore, the other option that’s been battle-tested for eons is to cycle loads that around 90% of 1RM into your program.

The following protocol is for people that have been primarily training with sub maximal loads (85% of 1RM or less) and want to quickly boost their maximal strength while still maintaining their current training program.

How to Make it Work: do the following the workout one day per week in place of one of your bodybuilding-style workouts.

Duration: 12 weeks (you can go longer if you feel the need).

Workout Circuit: I favor full-body circuits for maximal strength training because they allow for more rest before repeating an exercise while still staying efficient with your time. There’s no need to sit around for 3-5 minutes between sets when you could be working another body part.

Here’s the structure of the workout you’ll do once per week (remove one full-body bodybuilding workout from your current program):

1A Upper body pull
Rest 1 minute
1B Upper body push
Rest 1 minute
1C Stir the pot for 6 alternating reps, or Swiss ball side plank for 20 seconds each side
Rest 30 seconds
1D Deadlift, squat or lunge variation
Rest 90 seconds, repeat 1A-1D for 3 rounds

Workout Explanation: there are hundreds of different exercises you can use to fill in the above circuit, and that’s a good thing because you must manage fatigue. Lifting 90% of 1RM for the same exercise – even if it’s only once per week – can beat you up pretty fast.

Therefore, every two weeks choose a new exercise for each category. For example, weeks 1-2 you might do a one-arm dumbbell row for your upper body pull; then weeks 3-4 you’ll do a pull-up. Or you might use the Romanian deadlift for your “lower” body exercise during weeks 1-2 and then switch to a reverse lunge for weeks 3-4. You get the idea.

Training Parameters: each workout will start the same way. First, you’ll go through the entire circuit 2-3 times with loads that rate as 5-6 on a scale of 1-10. This will turn on your nervous system and prepare your joints. Then you’ll perform three rounds (work sets) of either 3, 2 or 1 reps per set, based on the week, with the heaviest loads you can manage that day.

Don’t worry about getting the loads perfect for the work sets. It’ll probably take you one round of the work set after the warm-up sets to get a feel for your strength that day. Try to ramp up your training loads for the two rounds that follow.

Here are the set/rep guidelines for the 12-week phase:

Weeks 1-2: 3 sets of 3 reps (except side plank if you use it)
Weeks 3-4: 3 sets of 2 reps
Weeks 5-6: 3 sets of 1 rep
Weeks 7-8: 3 sets of 3 reps
Weeks 9-10: 3 sets of 2 reps
Weeks 11-12: 3 sets of 1 rep

Again, you’ll do this workout once per week in addition to your other sub maximal training workouts. The point is to develop full-body strength while still keeping your current bodybuilding-style program in place.

How to Boost Your Squat, Deadlift or Lunge

You’ll notice in the circuit listed earlier that before you do any squat, deadlift or lunge variation you’ll always do the stir the pot or side plank with a leg lift exercise. The reason is because those are two of the best core exercises to increase spinal stability: an important element for boosting your full-body strength while protecting your spine.

The following video shows the stir the pot exercise. You’ll do 6 slow reps, alternating the direction with each rep, making the biggest circles possible:

This video shows the Swiss Ball side plank. The instability from the ball makes this exercise more challenging and effective:

Now you have a simple way to add strength to any bodybuilding program!

And if you’re not building muscle as fast as you’d like, check out my latest muscle-building system HFT2 by clicking on the banner below:

hft2 promo ban sml

Stay Focused,