For those not in the “know”, GPP Stands for General Physical Preparedness. The operative word here is “general.” We’ve talked at length about the differences between general & specific programming as well as the differences between exercise & training. While training specifically for a specific outcome/ adaptation will yield specific results, there is something to be said for building a strong GPP foundation before imposing specific demands on the body.
Training generally for a chunk of your program will illicit two primary adaptations necessary for a quality specific program later in your training cycle:
- Improving the body’s ability recruit motor units.
- Reducing the risk of injury later on.
Improved motor unit recruitment leads to increased force production which leads to a stiffer muscle belly which leads to a greater stretch-reflex response. A greater stretch-reflex response improves the body’s ability to do work (sets, reps, strides, etc) by making the process more efficient due to the fact that less energy is expended with each properly-performed movement.
A balanced GPP phase will strengthen agonist-antagonist muscle relationships and provide balance to the joints. On the flip side, having a stronger anterior muscle relative to it’s posterior counterpart “strengthens” bad posture, leading to poorly performed movements, and further leading to inevitable time on the shelf. If you’ve only strengthened the muscles that step on the gas peddle, with no regard to muscles that hit the brakes you will be setting yourself up for all kinds of injuries.
Keep in mind when reading the list that rep count, time under tension, and rest time between sets are what make these exercises superior strength-builders. Performing any of these for 30+ reps is an endurance feat that will improve just that: endurance. We’re also talking about GPP strength rather than maximal strength or bodybuilding hypertrophy. Building strength requires heavy sub-maximal loads: the kind you can only do roughly 6-10 times.
Without further ado, here are the top GPP strength exercises to add into your program to make big strength gains and improve injury-resistance.
The squat all it’s top-loaded variations serve to place your entire body under stress to produce gains in several aspects of fitness. The most notable gains come from the muscles producing the movement. The quadriceps will increase in strength from extension at the knee. Gluteal and hamstring strength will increase due to hip extension. Further gains come from finding stability in the muscles holding the body in place; real functional stability, not the superficial kind found standing on a Bosu ball. Can you think of anything these days more funstional than the ability to get out of a chair more efficiently? Spinal extensors, the transverse abdominus, and others are forced to hold tension to maintain solid lumbar extension and pelvic stability. Without scapular stability, you won’t be able to maintain a neutral thoracic spine. The squat is arguably the king of all lower body exercises and recruits muscles from all parts of the body to build strength. Just make sure you get to femur-parallel. Studies have shown this to be the sweet spot for optimal glute and hamstring activation.
The deadlift is in most respects, the anti-squat. Pulling from the floor does a better job of loading the posterior chain to produce maximal hamstring, gluteal, and lat recruitment. Like the squat, the deadlift focuses on knee extension and hip extension. However, that’s where the similarities end. Most make the mistake of squatting the bar form the floor. The deadlift is more of a hip-hinge pattern, placing greater stress on concentric contraction of the hamstrings and isometric trunk stability. Rather than standing on a balance board doing endless bodyweight RDLs, focus on pulling a heavy bar from the platform. Nothing screams functional more than picking an object up off the floor, not to mention the insane grip strength you’ll build over time just trying to grip the bar. Another plus? You’ll also improve the first pull of your clean or snatch.
No other anterior upper body compound movement recruits more muscle from more muscle groups than the bench press. There’s been a lot of talk about the bench press and its negative influence on shoulder integrity. Don’t listen. All of the claims and hyperbole come from overuse and improper form. With the bench press, you can learn to stabilize your scapulae much easier than with a push-up. Through proper technique you will not only build exceptional pushing strength, but also keep your shoulders healthy. While much of the emphasis in this article has been on the posterior chain, anterior muscle needs to be hypertrophied right along with it to maintain the balance.
If you expected to see pull-ups listed, you’re mistaken. The two exercises can’t be compared because of the vastly different line of pulls. However, all things being equal, the bent-over row is superior in almost every way. Having your feet connected to the ground while having to maintain a bottom-loaded hip hinge makes this upper body pulling exercise difficult right off the bat. The best part? If you can maintain the hip hinge, everyone can do it. There’s no prerequisite level of strength like with pull-ups. Sure you can use bands but then the eccentrics get complicated. With the row, you can use dumbbells or kettlebells but nothing feels better than pulling a loaded bar. Plus, you’ll get better lat and shrug activation during the clean/ snatch, better scapular, pelvic, and spinal extensor stability, and a more injury-resistant shoulder girdle.
Adding these exercises to your periodized training program is sure to give you a boost and lay the groundwork for gains to come. There has to be progressive overload. If your goal is to get a great workout in, that’s fine. Exercise is fun and makes us feel better. if you want to move weight ensure that the sets, reps. and variations of each exercise change slightly every 4 weeks or so. Remember, this is a GPP phase. In other words, you’re here to get stronger and a little bigger in preparation for maximal intensity loads in the near future so don’t skimp on the effort now!
Author: Aaron Runner, MS, CSCS
Aaron Runner is the Owner of Full-Stride Performance in Roswell, GA and a former NCAA Strength & Conditioning Coach.