It’s not common to think of powerlifting as a seasonal sport, but you’ll hear powerlifters talk about “off-season training” or “GPP training” during their off-season.
What is GPP Training? GPP training stands for General Physical Preparedness and refers to training that doesn’t require specialized skill or knowledge. It can be performed by anyone to improve overall athletic ability, recover from injury, and address weaknesses.
For powerlifters specifically, GPP training is often used during phases of training that are less intense and far away from competition. In this article, I’ll address the benefits of GPP training for powerlifting and how to incorporate it into your training.
What Is GPP Training For Powerlifters?
GPP vs SPP Training
GPP can be applied differently depending on your sport. Let’s cover some examples.
Among powerlifters, workouts designed to improve your squat, bench press, or deadlift would be referred to as SPP, or Specified Physical Preparedness, since you are training to do those specific movements. In this case, GPP will be any strength training or conditioning that’s not a squat, bench press, or deadlift with a focus on non-maximal training.
For basketball players, their SPP would be shooting drills, free throws, and running ladders. A basketball player’s GPP might be getting into the weight room and doing squats once the season is over and they can put more energy into building muscle.
You can see how one athlete’s GPP is another athlete’s SPP.
For powerlifters, where squats are 33% of all we do all the time, the opposite would be true, where GPP could be playing a few games of basketball each week to give your body a break from the heavyweights and improve your cardiovascular system.
But if the whole sport of Powerlifting revolves around those three lifts, why would you worry about training anything other than those three lifts? Wouldn’t SPP all the time be the best thing you could do to improve your Powerlifting total?
The answer is: no.
While those three lifts are the ultimate measure of your strength in the sport, other exercises and other forms of training will help powerlifters develop overall strength and ultimately improve the big three lifts, increase their overall athleticism, aid in recovery, and add variety to their program.
Let’s dive into more reasons why powerlifters should consider GPP workouts.
Why Do Powerlifters Do GPP Workouts? (6 Reasons)
There are 6 reasons why powerlifters do GPP workouts:
- Build new muscle
- Improve individual muscles/muscle groups
- Improve athletic ability and stamina
- Injury recovery
- Ramp up after a break in training
1. Build New Muscle
Powerlifters can use GPP training to build new muscle.
This is the most common variation of GPP that powerlifters will add to their training blocks. While outsiders may think that a powerlifter training in the gym all the time is always building new muscle, anyone familiar with strength sports understands that getting stronger doesn’t always mean building more muscle.
Once a powerlifter has hit new maxes on his or her big three lifts, it’s time to set goals for how to beat them next time. In most cases, adding more muscle is the best starting point. As Ed Coan has said:
“If you want a faster car, build a bigger engine.”
Building muscle is building a bigger engine for the powerlifter.
GPP workouts for hypertrophy can simply be bodybuilding movements – isolated muscles that you exercise with high reps, focused on feeling a pump, with the use of dumbbells, kettlebells, cables, bands, and machines.
These isolated movements (bicep curls, tricep pushdowns, leg extensions, hamstring curls, dumbbell rows, shrugs, lateral raises, etc) are far less taxing to the Central Nervous System (CNS) than compound movements like the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
Check out my article on the best tricep exercises to increase your bench press.
This means a lifter can do them much more frequently and at much higher reps than they’d ever be able to do with either a competition squat, bench press, or deadlift.
For the powerlifter looking to build muscle, they can spend several weeks or months primarily focused on these types of GPP workouts, then go back to their strength training with more muscle to train for strength.
2. Improve Individual Muscles/Muscle Groups
Powerlifters should consider using a GPP block to train an area that you recognize is weaker than the rest when performing powerlifts.
A common weak point in beginning and intermediate powerlifters is back strength. If you recognize this is an area that needs improvement, a GPP block can be the perfect time to address it.
You can do this with GPP workouts by adding bodybuilding workouts for your back, as described above. Instead of using the GPP block to address hypertrophy across your whole body, you can use your time and energy to focus on the area lagging most and then get back to strength training.
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3. Improve Athletic Ability And Stamina
GPP workouts can be used to build stamina, which in turn, will increase recoverability.
“Anything over 5 reps is cardio,” is the common joke among powerlifters.
We aren’t known for our great cardiovascular systems, but they absolutely make a difference. How many of us have attempted an AMRAP (as many reps as possible) set, only to reach our limit because we ran out of breath? I know I have.
Had I developed my cardiovascular system better, I could have pushed my muscles further to get more out of the set. Cardio makes you a better powerlifter – there, I said it.
GPP blocks are a perfect time to get out the sled and start pushing it for 50-100ft at a time. Grab some heavy dumbbells or sandbags, if you have them, and start training as the Strongmen do. Bust out the battle ropes, get on the rower, or just go for a jog a few times a week.
As with hypertrophy, your CNS will thank you for the reduced stress, your body’s ability to move oxygen into your muscles will be improved, and you’ll be a much better athlete by the time you start loading up your squat, bench press, and deadlift again.
When an athlete is feeling burnt out and they are showing signs of fatigue, a deload is a great way to keep them moving while still recovering and resting from the fatigue.
While many deload programs will still include the squat, bench, and deadlift (albeit with lighter weights for each), a deload is a great time to throw in the cardio work, the bodybuilding movements, stretching, yoga, or a Crossfit WOD.
Check out my article on How Often Should Powerlifters Deload?
5. Injury Recovery
GPP workouts should be implemented if you are recovering from an injury caused by powerlifting.
Depending on your injury, you may still be able to exercise while recovering from an injury. The worst thing you can do for your progress is to cease exercise entirely, assuming you can safely exercise in some fashion. GPP is a great way to keep moving while you’re sidelined from your preferred version of exercise.
Let’s say your foot is in a boot for 6 weeks, but you can move around without crutches. This is a great time to build upper body strength – seated curls, seated overhead press, seated lateral raises, seated shrugs, seated tricep press, are all great variations to hit, for starters.
What about cardio? Battle ropes don’t require you to be on your feet – hit them while sitting or kneeling.
Ab strength? I can’t think of many ab exercises that require your feet to do much.
Use GPP exercises to make the most of your downtime and come out of that recovery period stronger in some other area of your development.
If you have a specific injury, check out our Rehab Category where our in-house physio writer details how to fix common powerlifting ailments.
6. Ramp Up After Taking A Break
If you’ve taken a break from powerlifting, you can use GPP training to help you re-introduce a stimulus that hasn’t been present for a while.
We’ve all hit periods of time where we fell off the wagon and stopped exercising for a while. Whatever the reason was, we can’t always jump right back into training the way we did before our hiatus, and GPP is the perfect way to ramp back up.
So instead of setting up a heavy deadlift right away, spend a couple of weeks pushing sleds, carrying dumbbells, doing dumbbell curls, and sitting on a stationary bike.
Getting Started With GPP Training
There’s a legend that Russian strength athletes used to have a Rule of 3, where they would spend 3 years doing GPP workouts before they were allowed to train the specifics of their sport.
While this approach may be extreme, there’s definitely validity in developing your strength and stamina with simple movements before attempting complex ones.
The great thing about GPP exercises is they can be done by anyone right off the street.
While a squat with good form takes practice and training to get right, anyone can push a sled without hurting themselves. Anyone can pick up a dumbbell in each hand and walk them for a certain distance. We can add weight to the sled or the dumbbells over time without teaching new skills or form techniques to that person, and they’ll get stronger as they stick with it.
For anyone wanting to get started, these types of GPP movements are a great way to build a foundation before attempting skilled, specific movements.
When Should You Do GPP Training For Powerlifting?
There are 5 times you should be doing GPP Training:
- Prep for a new block
- Potentially all the time?
- During/after an injury
- Whenever you want
As we’ve discussed, powerlifters commonly incorporate GPP for a few weeks/months during an “off season” or a time just after they have finished competing for the year.
If a powerlifter has 6+ months before their next competition, this can be a great time to take a step back from the big 3 lifts and build strength through GPP.
Check out my complete guide to off season powerlifting programming.
2. Prep For A New Block
I always incorporate a 4-week block of hypertrophy at the start of a 12-week strength cycle, rather than doing it once or twice a year.
For those who like to keep their GPP more constant throughout the year, you can easily tack on a few weeks before you start your strength training block.
3. Potentially All The Time?
Doing GPP work yearround is something that Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell preaches.
At Westside, they don’t do much volume (reps x weight) with the big lifts. They get their volume in with 4 other workouts a week focused on isolated muscle exercises and accessory movements. In this approach, GPP happens all the time, instead of during a set block or time of year.
Although I don’t train specifically with Westside’s conjugate method, my workouts always include accessory movements and isolated muscle movements at the end, once I’ve done my compound lifts. By doing this, I’m always training some area of GPP, and hypertrophy work is never seasonal or periodic.
4. During/After An Injury
GPP work is a great option to add in when you’ve been injured and can exercise during recovery, or if you’ve been completely sidelined by an injury and need a way to ramp back up to training again.
5. Whenever You Want
Let’s face it, in a sport where there are only 3 lifts, it’s fun to get some variety every once in a while. We all have the urge to pump our biceps like the bodybuilders, carry a yoke like the strongmen, or do 1,000 box jumps like the Crossfitters.
Any time you are feeling bored or mentally burnt out, GPP is an easy way to get a change of scenery and challenge yourself with something new.
Best of all? You can do it for one workout, or you can do it for a year – you decide what’s best for you and your goals.
5 Principles To Follow When Doing GPP Training
If you want to incorporate GPP into your routine, consider these 4 principles when you do:
- Progress it like any program
- The harder it is, the more important it is that you do it
- Specialize your GPP
- Generalize your GPP
Progress It Like Any Program
Think about how you or your coach progresses your big three lifts – you either add weight, add reps, or add intensity in some other way. The same thing should apply to GPP.
Just because they are simple movements doesn’t mean they are exempt from the same principles that make your squat, bench, or deadlift better. Add weight to that sled, use heavier dumbbells next time, perform a few more reps, hold that plank for 30 seconds longer.
Keep a log as you do with your lifts so that you don’t spin your wheels or guess what you did last time.
The Harder It Is, The More Important It Is That You Do It
If ab work is the thing you suck at most, that probably means it’s the thing you need to focus on most during a GPP workout. If it’s cardio, do more cardio.
You aren’t doing yourself any favors by avoiding the things you aren’t good at. Allow yourself to be bad at that thing long enough to get good at it. But that does require that you keep doing the thing you hate or are bad at right now.
Specialize Your GPP
Plan your GPP to improve a specific part of your personal development as an athlete.
As you recognize weaknesses during a strength block or a competition, make a plan to incorporate GPP to address that weakness. It doesn’t have to be a complex, difficult movement to address a specific area of weakness.
Generalize Your GPP
The other side of the coin is to keep your GPP training general. There is no limit to the benefits you will get from doing basic movements and improving overall strength.
You may not be able to define exactly where a sled push is doing to improve your deadlift, or how pullups will fix your squat, but years and years of athletic training has shown that they absolutely cross over.
I had a coworker who used to compete in olympic lifting, but hadn’t done it actively for years. He lifted maybe twice a week at this point in time. One day, I bet him $20 he couldn’t bench 315, and he took the bet.
I was certain that because this guy had not actually bench pressed in 8-10 years and had spent his time training the snatch and clean and jerk, that the specificity of the bench press would defeat him.
I was wrong.
He smoked it. In work clothes. We literally left the office to go to a gym to settle the bet and he smoked it. All the time he spent training snatches and cleans made him strong all around, and that bench press challenge was no exception.
Strength in one area breeds strength everywhere.
GPP Workout: 3 Examples For Powerlifters
By now, you should know that a GPP workout can really be anything that’s off the beaten path of your normal powerlifting workouts, as long as it improves your overall strength or athleticism.
Here are a few examples of what a GPP workout could look like, but use your creativity and keep your goals in mind to design your own!
Basic GPP Workout
- Pull-Ups – 4 sets of AMRAP (as many reps as possible)
- Sled Pushes – 4 laps down and back (50-100ft laps)
- Push-Ups – 4 sets of 10-15
- Farmer’s Carry/Dumbbell Carry – 4 laps down and back (50-100ft laps)
- Bench Dips – 4 sets of 10-15
- Box Jumps – 4 sets of 10
Cardio Focus GPP Workout
- Battle Ropes – 30-60 seconds
- Sled Push – 6 laps, one every 2 minutes (50-100ft laps)
- Stationary Bike/Rower – 10 minutes – 1 min sprint, 2 mins slow.
- Sledge Hammer on Tire – 3 sets of 20 swings per arm
- Sled Pull – 6 laps, one every 2 minutes (50-100ft laps)
Upper Body Hypertrophy Focus GPP Workout
- Seated Cable Row – 4×12
- Seated V-grip Cable Row – 4×12
- Seated Underhand Cable Row – 4×12
- Cable Barbell Curl (low pulley) 4×10 SUPERSET with Skull Crushers 4×12
- Tricep Cable Pushdown 4×12 SUPERSET with Single-Arm Dumbbell Curl 4×12
- Dumbbell Lateral Raises 4×12 SUPERSET with Plate Front Raise 4×12
Whether you consistently incorporate GPP movements into your workouts or you hit them periodically for longer periods of time, they are a great way to improve overall strength and abilities in powerlifters.
The squat, bench, and deadlift are so technical and taxing, there’s an upper limit to how long you can exclusively apply them to get stronger. GPP workouts offer a great alternative to continue to build strength with lower risk of injury and CNS fatigue.