Lockdown. It’s been a long, tough time for a lot of people in a lot of ways. One of those ways for many has been disruption to their sport, training and exercise habits. You may be a recreational trainer or an international level athlete, but you will almost certainly have had to modify your training. Your routine may have altered according to equipment or space available, motivation levels or other personal circumstances. So you probably won’t be in the same physical shape as a year ago when everything changed.
What does this mean?
Chances are that you may have lost some cardio vascular fitness, muscle mass, strength, robustness, power, flexibility or muscular endurance. Even if you have managed regular, hard training it has likely been a period of damage limitation, rather than progression. Which means that as we move back in to gym based training you’ll probably benefit from a block of GPP.
What is GPP?
GPP stands for General Physical Preparedness, and is a part of a larger system of periodised training. Typically you begin with GPP, building up your general physical abilities such as those listed above. This is ultimately in preparation for a phase of SPP. This is Specific Physical Preparation, and is more focussed on the physical attributes you need for your sport, for example agility work for football, or power generation for throwers. After that you would move in to a pre competition phase, where the physical attributes are honed, or tapered, towards optimising performance in a competitive arena. Finally you would enter the competition phase, which centres on maintaining performance throughout a competitive season whilst avoiding injury. This is a simplified overview, but should give you an idea about the process of periodisation, and the importance of each phase in the progression of your training.
So what does this mean for my training?
I’m a big fan of relatively high frequency, moderate volume, full body sessions for a GPP block, and there are a number of reasons for this.
I recommend high frequency simply because it means you can get in the gym more often and get back up to speed quicker. This does need to be balanced with adequate rest and recovery, and for most people I would suggest between three and five sessions a week will be the sweet spot. If you have been doing infrequent sessions lately, begin with three, or if you’ve been doing loads, go in at four or five.
Full body sessions are a good idea, primarily because we are looking at improving your motor learning or movement patterns as a priority here, and an important part of that is to practise regularly. For example, if you are only squatting once a week it will take you a fair while to get back into the swing of things, whereas a squat pattern performed three times a week will get you back up to speed much more quickly. I also find that if your session doesn’t go how you want it to (and trust me, some won’t!) it gives you the opportunity to remedy this much sooner. If, for example, your pressing movement doesn’t go so well, you can press again over the next couple of days rather than having to wait a week. Again, this has the potential to really accelerate your progression.
It is important though to work with moderate volume. Five sets of five on all the key movements plus drop sets, supersets and death sets are going to prove too much if attempted every day. For a lot of people something more like 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps for each compound lift are going to produce much better results.
What should I include in my training?
I’m a big fan of Dan John’s school of thought when it comes to training methods, and look to include squat, hinge, push, pull and carry elements in my programming.
Movements I’d consider for each element include:
Squat: Goblet squat, back squat, lunge variants.
Hinge: Deadlift, Romanian deadlift, kettlebell swings.
Push: Press, bench press, dips.
Pull: Barbell row, pull ups, face pulls.
Carry: Any fitness element that includes moving your bodyweight.
While this list is far from exhaustive, it does include most movements that I consider extremely important, if not vital, for developing all round strength, with enough variety to keep your sessions interesting across the course of a week. A good starting point would be to choose one option from each element, each session.
It’s worth noting that for the ‘carry’ portion I have a slightly different take on it for GPP training. While a lot of people would immediately think of farmers walk or yoke carries, I think that for people breaking into a foundation block of training such as this you should consider simple human movement as carrying. This could be ‘carrying’ your body on a 5km run, or performing a circuit including burpees and squat thrusts. While looking to build, or rebuild, a baseline of fitness this sort of basic conditioning work will prove invaluable, and ultimately lead to greater progress.
Other things to consider.
Everyone is different, and you may be aware of some specific weaknesses or imbalances that you have. It therefore would be wise to consider what accessory movements you should include to build the best athlete you can. Things I see frequently are weak midline, lower body unilateral imbalance and unstable shoulders. Movements to consider here include sit up and bracing variations, lunges or step ups and rotational shoulder exercises respectively.
If you are looking to include power generation or plyometric training in your sessions ensure that you start from a low baseline, and perform them at the start of your sessions. This is simply because repeated impact (from jumping for example) or instability due to fatigue are two of the prime reasons behind picking up an injury doing this sort of training.
Session length is something to take into account alongside the volume, and around 60 to 90 minutes should be perfectly adequate to warm up, complete some power movements, fundamental strength training and some accessory work. Keeping the sessions a little shorter during this period of training is likely to allow you to train with the sort of weekly frequency we discussed earlier on in this article.
You would probably be well advised to follow this sort of training plan for at least four to six weeks, looking to progress the weights you are lifting or the amount of volume you are completing in a linear fashion over the course of the block.
If this all sounds too complicated to figure out, or you would simply like a bespoke programme to follow, get in touch with me, and I’ll get you on the right track!