How We GPP (again)

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I’m currently staring at the sun rising over the Oakland hills across the beautiful San Francisco Bay. From this 20 story condo window, the eye sees clear skies with a gentle dab of fog to add a slight drama to the ever brightening day. In an hour or so, I’ll be face to face with the enemy… the Fitness Industrial Complex on display, the massive IHRSA convention. Rarely will you see such a parade of glitz, salesmen sleaze and unscience all masquerading as “wellness.”

But my thoughts are back at the Tribe, thinking of new friends and old. It seemed time to repost this little ditty about some of our program design concepts…




Strength. Physical strength is always described as the ability to generate force (look it up in any physiology text). Not maximum force, simply, ‘force.’ Sure, this is not new babble from my pie hole. Any of you who have been within earshot of the Bodytribe machine has encountered this nonsense before. But let’s drill it a bit more…

Force development. We use it to some degree for everything physical thing we do. If we’re good at it, if we have ‘ability,’ then according to the definition above we are ‘strong.’ Good at what, though? There are multiple channels of force generation. If we lift a car, we’ve created MAXIMUM force development, generating as much force as possible for a quick burst. BOOM!


But is that the only force development scenario? Take a second and think of how many ways we use the force, so to speak. If we are to get better at ANY movement, from yoga to jogging to team sports to martial arts, we need to increase our ability to generate force. In other words, we need to get stronger, according to the definition, by being able to generate force better in any scenario.

And most of those won’t require lifting a car. Force development has many faces. In fact, we like to refer to it as a spectrum… a Spectrum of Strength, if you will.


Every goal of movement – speed, hypertrophy, workload, metcon, VO2 max, energy systems, coordination – is an adaptation of force development. SOME type of force development, not always gut wrenching, eye bleeding, single burst car lifting-style.

What does this mean?

  • Endurance is a type of strength.
  • The term ‘strength and conditioning’ is redundant.
  • We can be specifically strong or generally strong.

This also means that the term ‘functional strength’ might need reinterpreting. All strength is functional, somewhere, somehow. Ya just gotta figure out if the strength you are embracing is best suited for your desired outcome. Will that max bench press help your hula career?


General Physical Preparedness. This is a great term that simply means ‘be ready… but generally speaking.’ This is often considered workload training, increasing your body’s ability to accept larger training intensities or durations while also aiding in your recovery. It’s ‘general’ because it avoids specificity. You’re not trying to drill a required movement pattern or skill set, rather you’re just letting your body handle more work, or, as Mel Siff wrote, “the general ability of the body as a machine to produce work of different intensity and duration using the appropriate energy system of the body.”


In other words, GPP is simply a dance with differing levels of force development, which leads to the ability of your body to get more done, which could be defined as being stronger. And that ‘more’ could then be training with a more specific goal, but that’s what your other training is for. To keep it simple, GPP is training to increase your training.


Funny enough, GPP has recently been adopted as THE methodology by a great chunk of the fitness underground, where randomness, strange combinations and even competitive GPP seem to dominate entire programs. Here’s some observations with these trends:

Randomness: Random attempts produce random results. Maybe there’s an excitement to not knowing what tomorrow’s workout will bring, and there can be a true dread in having a program that looked like it was developed by a computer which set up every workout, percentage and exercise down to the last set and rep for the next 6 months. Daily goals can be fun, let’s not deny that, so walking into a gym not knowing what is on the menu and then simply surviving the torture might be your brand of a good time, but randomness rarely lends itself successfully to long term goals.

Strange combinations: We’re the first to preach ‘no rules’ around this place, but there’s a caveat. Know enough to make educated choices. Here’s some examples of where a small dose of reasoning might make sense:

Is adding more reps a good idea? Why? Seriously… why? Is 100 repetitions the BEST way to increase the quality of that workout? High repetitions within combos seem to be really trendy right now. But I guarantee that 30 damn good pushups will ultimately make for a stronger, more capable human than 100 porn pushups (where they look like they’re humping the floor with their hips rather than using their arms while keeping a supported spine). William of Ockham had a famous shaving utensil that spoke to him one day and said “It is in vain to do with more what can be done with fewer.” Now 100 of something might have a place, and it could be something to train up to, but the trend currently seems derived from lazy, uncreative training, not from a place of productivity or empowerment.


We’ll chat a bit more about that further down (the pushups, not Ockham’s Razor).

Is speed always the best option? If you are falling into the trap of making GPP your only modality, then you are probably under the belief that fitness = ‘work,’ and therefore involves moving as much as possible in the shortest amount of time (ya know, Work = Force x displacement, or the other popular physics formula which is Power = Work/time). This is a limited view (and potentially dangerous one) of what fitness is. Not all exercises are best performed at maximum speed, and even those that are meant to be fast can fall apart when speed trumps technique. A quick speed demon reality check is to take a yoga class and quickly discover what your body is no longer able to do thanks to all that haste you’ve been developing.


Competitive GPP: Competition gives a certain chunk of the population something to shoot for, and goals are a darn good thing. Thanks to ideas like the CrossFit Games and Tactical Strength Challenges, GPP has actually lost the ‘G’ and has become sport specific, but it is a sport with direct challenges to multiple aspects of force development. Like other strength sport challenges (powerlifting or weightlifting for example), you can compete against yourself first, or focus on whoever else is next to you, so your motivation might come from considerably different place than, say, team sports.

Although there is an irony that GPP has evolved into sport-specific contests, it does make folks who previously relied on complete randomness understand that adding at least a modicum of structure to their GPP creates beneficial, and measurable, results.

How We GPP

There are 6 movement groups that we work with:


There are a bunch of malleable factors that we can apply:

exercise selection
(and that probably ain’t all)

So how can we combine these effectively? Again, no rules, but some time-tested guidelines might help…

Be cautious of the more-is-better volume route. Any monkey can make someone work so hard they feel like lunch needs to make a reappearance, and the current trend of having that as a trainer badge of honor needs to stop. Giving someone a million reps of something to make it seem like a challenge is a skill any idiot can quickly discover. Are you any idiot?

(an example of a lower rep combo, instead using distance and intensity as major factors. Nothing was done for more than 10 reps at a time, and several things only for 5 reps)

Instead, check your malleable factors and see what challenges might be the most beneficial, or even interesting. High reps over and over is NOT interesting, but playing with varying levels of force development by manipulating the factors above might be, and the challenge would be ultimately more rewarding.

For instance: Back to the pushup thing again. Is 30 pushups getting easy for your client or group? Would adding 20 or more truly be a benefit or simply sort of a trainer cop out. We could still stick with the pushup theme but make it far more challenging and beneficial, and some folks might even end up doing a smaller total sum of pushups (gasp!! What about WORKLOAD!! Calm down, please).


We’ve got room here at the Tribe to cover some distance. So how about 30 feet of inchworm pushups, which, at the end of the 30 feet would culminate into 6 hip stretch or mobility pushups (3 per side). Repeat for 3, 4 or 5 minutes and see what happens. Did we do less work because we might not have gotten as many pushups in (not that you were counting during those inchworms anyway)? Not really, but WHO GIVES A SHIT!! The challenge will not only be considerably harder, but the body will have gone through more ranges of motion, more movement patterns and more possibilities for force development than simply a bunch of pushups. And you still no need for equipment, just the ability as a trainer to teach slightly advanced exercises (ya game?)

Oh, and since we might have been working on maximum force development earlier in the workout, and probably some repetition work as well (which is often how we roll), we’ve now covered a big chunk of that Spectrum of Strength within one workout.

(here’s a combo, after the mobility work, with no reps higher than 7 at a time. Why not make them HEAVY?)

Our GPP combos tend to fall into two categories. Multiple tools, or single tool. For groups, single tool combos are the easiest to set up, and the very quick lesson is that ya don’t need much to turn up the intensity knob. Here’s an example, and the goal is heavier and better, rather than more:



Sure, we’ve given guidelines to sets, reps and rounds, but ain’t nowhere is that written in stone (that I know of). For instance, I don’t need one of my powerlifters doing a 5-10 minute combo a few weeks before their meet, although a heavy version with planned rest periods would work perfectly into a heavy cycle leading up to a meet.


Multiple Tool Combos

Here’s one example of three tools  a couple of which are purposely made heavy…

Sometimes one rep is enough of a certain movement, as seen in the combo above, which has rotation, distance and some seriously near-max force development all in one little strength party.

Some more guidelines to consider: The Brutal Recess Concept.

So simple, yet so effective. Within the workout (and the GPP combo is a great time for this), there should be two key components on top of the varying levels of force development:

  • rotation
  • mobility

Take a crowbar to that closed mind and see beyond the concept of ‘work.’ GPP, General Physical Preparedness, is not limited to WP, or work preparedness, as the current trends seems to want it to be. GPP has many levels; levels of force development, intensity and fun. It does take a bit o’ lurnin’ to apply the ‘no rules’ GPP concept to the program design canvas, so get busy trying some things out.

Check out the variety of movements in the last combo here. Odessa starts here GPP combo with heavy deads from pins, then follows it up with the rotational challenge of Buelers, followed then by some funky kick-through burpees. Multiple levels of force development, multiple planes on movement and all sorts of fun:

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Showing 4 comments
  • Aaron

    Sweet…I was just asking Russell about some of this stuff yesterday 🙂

  • Harley Johnston

    How much does that really big tire weigh?

  • chip

    Biggest tire: about 450. We used to have a 525#er, but someone, believe it or not, stole it.

  • Harley Johnston

    Next time get a 680 kg tire so no one can steal it.

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