Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Kool-Aid (Part II)

About "GPP"

It seems that a current trend in strength and conditioning for athletes is to ignore "sport-specific" training all together in the weight room and lump it under the umbrella category of "GPP". This is a poor excuse on the part of trainers and coaches to ignore the needs of specific clientele.

The term GPP (general physical preparation) is used to describe preparatory training for a specific need or goal. GPP is a phase of training that is a pre/co-requisite of "SPP", or Special[ized] Physical Preparation. It is NOT the same thing as general fitness, although it could be a phase of training towards the goal of general fitness. GPP is only relevant when considered in the context of SPP. The inclusion of GPP (as I have defined it here) in a training plan indicates an awareness of the need for sequencing in the training process.

As Greg Everett writes in a recent article, entitled Plandomization, "Being prepared for any random task is not the same thing as preparing randomly for any task". Many people take the idea of being "ready for anything at anytime" too far, suggesting that adaptation is somehow a bad thing and that being "ready for anything" requires a large corpus of exercises and training modes. The reality is that most of us need to focus harder on less.

We are all familiar with the famous Friedrich Nietzsche quote, "That which does not kill me makes me stronger", and it's nice and motivational, but in reality (training-wise at least) it's a bunch of crap. Misplaced effort can and probably WILL make you weaker.

Everyone who's given the idea much thought at all knows that not all GPP is created equal, especially when the ultimate goal is (as it should be) to further SPP. Developing athletes can afford to be sloppy in their programming and will often show improvement no matter how foolish the training plan. Advanced athletes, on the other hand, still need GPP, but, in the big picture, they need much, much less than developing athletes... and the absolutely last thing they need is a lot of superfluous GPP work. I don't mean to pick a strawman argument here, but 100 ring push-ups and air squats for highly skilled football players are just misplaced effort in my humble, humble opinion.

It may also be relevant to curtail or eliminate standard types of GPP from the training programme of anyone who is an advanced athlete or has trained regularly for a prolonged period at increasing levels of proficiency. Similarly, the use of GPP-type exercises may be appropriate for brief periods during the SPP to facilitate recovery or prevent stagnation. Moreover, the methods of GPP training are unsuitable for adequately or timeously stimulating improvements in performance among advanced athletes, whose trainability has already waned considerably over years of competition and whose continued growth depends on more specific or demanding methods.
- Siff (Supertraining, p. 315)

In my last post about "Drinking Kool-Aid", I asked two questions:

"Is it necessary to 'drink the Kool-Aid' if you want to see how far a specific program can take you?"
The answer to this is maybe.

"If you 'drink the Kool-Aid' does that render you completely incapable of seeing a program’s possible limitations?"
The answer to this is obviously.

When I was 11 years old, in the Post-Bruce Lee and Pre-Karate Kid/Ninja-Boom era, I started Tae Kwon Do lessons. I had class everyday during summer vacations and three or four times a week during the rest of the year. I loved it. My teachers were my heroes (and still are btw). Tae Kwon Do was the best martial art in the world. I had arguments with students of other arts about which was best. Eventually, I learned that such arguments were silly at best and did absolutely nothing to better anyone - it took me years to realize this however.

"If the only tool you have is a hammer,
you will see every problem as a nail."

- Abraham Maslow

It really is about the right tool for the right job. NO tool is the best for everything. Let me repeat that NO TOOL IS THE BEST FOR EVERYTHING.

Needs and goals, and how effective and efficient the tool, method, or coach is in delivering the goods is all that is really worth considering. Disparate goals may require different training plans, but a divide and conquer approach, considering developmental sequence will almost always be more effective than a mix-mash training potpourri.

When considering a training approach you may be tempted by stories of others who attribute their achievements to a coach or school of thought. Success stories are helpful. We make decisions based on trusting these endorsements - as we should. But, success stories are NOT proof that the training method or mode is the best for any or every individual or goal at any given time. We all know examples of athletes who succeeded despite their training regimens and poor coaching, not because of them. Statistics have a way of becoming skewed when we listen to the zealots. "Research" in the S&C field, especially research comparing the relative effectiveness of specific programs, still has A LONG way to go.

Enthusiasm for a given school, approach, method, way, template, routine, diet, or tool is natural, and trust in your training is essential if you want to succeed. If your Kool-Aid du jour is helping you achieve your goals, great! More power to you and your Kool-Aid! But, please, please, please don't become the annoying Kool-Aid evangelist...

Kool-Aid Evangelist (kool eyd i-van-juh-list)
1. A person who sings the gospel of their chosen training/diet regimen and denounces all other forms of training/diet as less worthy.
2. A person who believes the answer to every training question is to follow the guidelines and principles stated (or unstated) by their chosen training/diet regimen.

Related Posts & Articles:
Adaptation Paranoia


Adam said...


Very well said information, see EVERYONE should listen to Boris, Squat RX is best! If you listen to Boris you will be best too, Damn i think i have been drinking too much Kool Aid, but its only too much if the B man states

Keep up the rants! Things are calming down, I agree its time to give the bottle a shake

Boris said...

HAHAHA! Well Adam, that wasn't really my intention...

Steve Ruiz said...

Excellent post! A reasoned calm in a world of noise in the fitness community. I'm just a small, skinny, old man (5'6" [almost], 135 lbs, and 53 years old) that visits your site often for inspiration. Thank you! Steve

Boris said...

Thank YOU Steve.

dr. m.c. said...

hi Boris,
a) i did not know is was maslow who said this - he did the pyramid of wants too. cool

b) i surely appreciate what you say that success stories are not proof of applicability to all contexts.

c) stuff is just stuff. you know? we get so intrigued about *our* stuff. but it's just pick it up put it down, really. and no one cares if you do but you (most of the time)

d)not quite sure how the end kool aid observations plug back into the GPP or the over generalness of GPP??

keen to learn,


Boris said...

Thank you for the reply MC.
a) Maslow's needs is definitely great stuff.
b) Statistically, the success stories are almost always a very low % and the failures are explained away as failures on the part of the participant... Success = program success, failure = individual failure... Not fair, but that's how it usually goes.
c) Stuff is just stuff - I agree.
d) I didn't do a good job weaving everything together... CrossFit, RKC, AKC-fitness, even Westside-variants are often marketed to the general public as "the best approach to fitness/GPP"... at least that's how I see it. Marketing is fine - I have no problem with it. But, people within their camps get so bent out of shape about how their program for GPP or anything else is the best... - this makes no sense to me and is the source of irritation that inspired me to write the post.

Max Shank said...

Snatches are good.
Pushing a sled is good.
Running up a hill is good.
Burpees are good, too.
Picking up something heavy and carrying it is also good.

I think if everyone could take a step back and simply ask, "Why am I doing this?" And I mean really ask, we might all be surprised.

Jordan Vezina said...

American Ninja changed my life.

Aaron Friday said...

Chris Farley's face-plant against the bus was epic.

Boris ~ LOL.
Great thoughts.
GPP used to be referred to as "getting in shape," correct? Whatever that means.

Boris said...

Great question actually - I had a "discussion" after this blog post with a Kool-Aid drinker about what GPP is and is not. I'm not a stickler for terms necessarily, but if the term is useful, then it should be used correctly IMHO.

Here's the main point - GPP is foundational work to prepare you for the more specific stuff later on. You could call it "getting in shape", but then it becomes TOO broad to be applicable to athletics and that's where some approaches fall flat. For example, if you are a powerlifter, your GPP might be higher rep raw work with the main lifts; it could be sled work to build conditioning; it might be swings to activate the glutes and develop the posterior chain; it might be flexibility work if necessary; it might be power walking to help shed some weight. Non-examples of GPP for PLers would be kipping chins, running/jogging, burpees, etc. Could those exercises be part of a PLers GPP? Sure, if there was a need for them, but IMHO most wouldn't.