| | | GPP: The Foundation of Athlete Development

Author / Ben Skutnik

If you’re a field or court sport athlete, you’re entering the greatest time of the year…summer training! As spring sports finish up their seasons, fall sports are months away from kick off, and winter sports still have a half of a year before they’re in the hopper. Summer is a time for organized grab ass and making gains in the weight room!

Recently, Power Athlete Radio guest Jim Kiristy discussed how important it is to send players back to school in shape. But, what does that mean?

Do you have to get your field hockey players to last 70 minutes of game play immediately when they get back to campus? Do you need to get your high school football team as powerful as possible by September? Will your wrestlers need to make weight by the time the summer is over?!

You can see how this can be a tricky situation if they’re all at your facility for the summer. The key to effectively meeting all their needs is understanding the difference between general physical preparation (GPP) and sports-specific physical preparation (SPP). Defining these two types of training will help you run a large scale program, while still addressing the needs of individual athletes. This article is going to give you everything you need to know about GPP and how to apply it to your budding all- stars.

Jack of All Trades

While current fitness trends have made it glamorous to be a jack off…I mean Jack of All Trades, what this really translates to is being slightly above mediocre in all areas. Remember, we destroy mediocrity, so we don’t want any part of that…right? Well, kind of.

There is a time and place in which you want even the most elite athletes to be Jacks and Jills<…the off season. In the seminal text “Periodization”, world-class sports scientist Tudor Bompa defines GPP as a time to build a solid physiological foundation in order to enable the athlete to tolerate training loads seen later in the season (1). Your aim is to increase work capacity, even in systems not utilized in the athlete’s specific sport.

This doesn’t mean run your lineman for miles a day, but this does mean the big hog mollies will be breathing heavy every now and then. Your cross country runners will be under a barbell. And your weightlifters will be training in positions that don’t necessarily replicate their sport. This phase of training should target the development of every component of physical fitness (2), also known as a multilateral approach. Old school Russian weightlifter, Aleksey Medvedev adds to the role GPP plays in an overall training regimen (10):

  1. Preparing to Train: “the formation, strengthening or restoration of the habits (skills), which play an auxiliary, facilitatory role in sport perfectioning.”
  2. Fill the Gaps: “as a means of educating abilities, developed insufficiently by the selected type of sport, raising the general work capacity or preserving it.”
  3. Recovery: “as active rest, assisting the restoration process after significant, specific loading and counteracting the monotony of the training.”

But do they stray away from their sport completely? Well…that depends.

Fill the Gaps

As a prudent strength and conditioning coach, you know that in-season, when your athletes are working towards the ultimate goal, your top priority is recovery. We don’t have to completely avoid the barbell, but you’re not going to put your athletes through an 8 week Russian-Stim cycle as they gear up for the playoffs. However, since there are no championships on the line during the off season, it’s okay for your athletes to get a little broken down. While there may be some sessions working sport-specific skills, your primary focus should be building savage freaks.

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For the higher level of athletes you’re dealing with, you’ll need to incorporate some aspects of sport into GPP to continue to drive adaptation. But, for the novice/youth/teen athlete, GPP phases for most sports should look similar. For this group, a multilateral approach to GPP is necessary to reach athletic potential (3). Even at the post-graduate level, GPP should make up about 20% of the athlete’s training plan. This was the basis for most European models of development for decades (4, 5). In order to see adaptation in this phase, you’ll need at least three weeks here. Depending on the level of athlete, it could make up to 40% of their training year; exactly how much will all depend on the their biological and training ages, and is independent of their chronological age.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Personally, as a strength and conditioning coach, I think GPP is the best part of the season because it’s very difficult to mess up. The exercises you choose for your athletes in this phase should be non-specific exercises focused on general physical development (6). Give me any athlete…swimmer, lineman, rower, lax-bro, or gymnast and I will show you five programs that look identical. The exercises should improve basic motor qualities (7); that is, improve the athlete’s abilities whereby the body can perform a range of activities, such as strength, speed, and endurance. Below, the table gives a simplistic view of things that should be accomplished for various athletes in the GPP phase of training.

Adapted from Bompa

Strength is Numero Uno

In all of my years as a coach or sports science consultant, I have never heard an athlete or coach tell me they were too strong. You can never be too strong, and strength can help out in all sports. Strength, as well as power, can positively affect both speed (8) and endurance (9). For most sports, strength is the clear front runner in the priorities of GPP. But it’s not just about moving tons of weight. And yes, we want them to be powerful, but it’s not about simply moving fast. It’s how we get from point A to point B.

Connect The Dots

If you notice in the table, each athlete also had a priority on anatomical adaptations. In short, this is saying the athlete needs to learn to move better. Even if they can seamlessly and effortly move through space to accomplish the most elite levels’ novel tasks, their specialization in a single sport means they have likely developed some imbalances. GPP is when we can really start attacking these because we don’t have to worry about the work negatively affecting their shot, swing, or stride.

Of note, you will see this line become blurry in your strength-based sports. Powerlifters, for example, squat in competition however they need to in order to move the heaviest weight possible down and up. They reduce the distance the bar needs to travel by getting a wide stance. They reduce the number of class one levers between their hips and the bar by getting the lowest low-bar possible.

None of this is for function which, by definition, makes it dysfunctional. So their squat would look different during their GPP training, because their sport-specific skills are separate from their non-specific exercises.

Tell Me What To Do

Now you’re armed and ready to put together a safe and effective GPP program for your athletes in their off-season. Well…everything you need conceptually. If you’re looking for sets and reps, we’ve got you covered. If you’re coaching novice athletes, you need Bedrock. Is it a basic program? Yes. If you think that’s a problem, re-read this article.

If you’ve got intermediate or advanced athletes, you need Field Strong. This is where @John let’s his performance freak flag fly. Influenced by the most cutting edge science, Field Strong is where you truly become savage. You’ve got sets and reps figured out, but don’t know shit about movement…we’re here for you with our Dynamic Movement Prep and Warm Ups series. If you want to take it to the absolute max, 100% specific to your team or group, we’ll get personal with you. And lastly, for those of you like @Luke…decades past your physical peak but still wanting to live the dream, Johnnie WOD is your new calling.

Bottom Line

So here’s the deal, every athlete…even world-class level athletes, need a point in their season to develop general athleticism. The simplicity and length of that phase depends wholly on the athlete’s training and biological ages and their championship competition schedule. If you skip this phase with your athlete, you are robbing performances from them. You are doing the exact opposite of what you should be doing: Empowering their Performance.


  1. Bompa, Tudor O., and Carlo Buzzichelli. Periodization-: theory and methodology of training. Human kinetics, 2018.
  2. Nàdori, L., & Granek, I. (1989). Theoretical and methodological basis of training planning with special considerations within a microcycle. National Strength and Conditioning Association.
  3. Smith, David J. “A framework for understanding the training process leading to elite performance.” Sports medicine 33.15 (2003): 1103-1126.
  4. Colibaba, D. E., and I. Bota. “Jocuri sportive-Teorie si Metodica, Ed.” Aladin, Bue., Bota, I (1998).
  5. Harre, D. “Trainingslehre.” Berlin: Sportverlag (1982).
  6. Dick, Frank W. Sports training principles. A. & C. Black, 2007.
  7. SCHMOLINSKY, G. “Track and Field. The East German Texbook of Athletics.” (1993).
  8. Baker, Daniel, and Steven Nance. “The Relation Between Running Speed and Measures of Strength and Power in Professional Rugby League Players.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 13.3 (1999): 230-235.
  9. Jung, Alan P. “The impact of resistance training on distance running performance.” Sports Medicine 33.7 (2003): 539-552.
  10. Medvedyev, A.S. (1989). A System of Multi-Year Training in Weightlifting. (A. Charniga, Trans.) Livonia, MI: Sportivny Press. (p. 40). (Original Work published in 1986, Moscow, Russia: Fizkultura i Spovt).
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Ben Skutnik

Ben grew up a football player who found his way into a swimming pool. Swimming for four years, culminating in All-American status, at a Division III level, Ben grew to appreciate the effects that various training styles had on performance and decided to pursue the field of Exercise Physiology. After receiving his M.S. from Kansas State University in 2013, Ben moved on to Indiana University - Bloomington to pursue a PhD in Human Performance. While in Bloomington, he spent some time on deck coaching swimming at the club level, successfully coaching several swimmers to the National and Olympic Trials meets. He also served as the primary strength and condition coach for some of the post-graduate Olympians that swam at Indiana University.

Currently, Ben is finishing his PhD while serving a clinical faculty member at the University of Louisville, molding the minds that will be the future of strength and conditioning coaches. He also helps support the Olympic Sports side of the Strength and Conditioning Department there as a sports scientist.

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