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A discussion and comparison between General Physical Preparation and Sport Specific Training can easily be a semester's worth of college study.
First off, let's try to explain what each of the above competing methods mean. Here are some talking points:
General Physical Preparation (GPP)
- is a broad and inclusive sort of fitness.
- Goal: is to have "breadth and depth across broad time and modal domains" (from CrossFit).
- Trained-for tasks: are relatively unknown and unpredictable - prepare for everything!
- Training contains variety on all levels - movement, load, time duration, intensity.
- Examples: CrossFit, Gym Jones, MovNat, kettlebelling, other "primal" or natural fitness programs
- Who benefits: Navy SEALS, grandmas, MMA fighters, firefighters -- pretty much anyone!
- Positives: Participants are "ready for life" with all the unknown obstacles that might arise. Creates a balanced and natural fitness, capitalizing on human design features. Participants become jacks-of-all-trades. Develops a coordinated and athletic body.
- Negatives: Participants become masters-of-no-trade. The programs sometime become too randomized, rather than goal-oriented.
Sport Specific Training (SST)
- is a narrow, goal-oriented approach.
- Goal: is to prepare for a specific sport, contest, or event.
- Trained-for tasks: are knowable, predictable, and repeatable.
- training is specific - replicates actual movments, loads, time durations, intensity OF THE EVENT OR TEST.
- Examples: football cone drills, jump training for volleyball, swimming for a triathlete.
- Who benefits: the athletes in that particular sport.
- Positives: uses known tasks and challenges to develop focused training and conditioning schedule. Participants see focused and specific gains in certain areas of fitness and ability - you have potential to get really good at something. Periodization can maximize training time and effort both in-season and out-of-season.
- Negatives: Some athletes lack balance, and become injured if asked to perform tasks outside those that are trained or practiced. Many participants are not all that well-rounded. Closed-minded approach with few athletes conditioning themselves in methods outside the conventional wisdom within their "sport."
I am not advocating one over the other. At least not yet. There are clearly times and places for each of the above two strategies. What I do suggest is that many people might be improperly choosing GPP or SST, for the wrong reasons....and ignoring some aspect of the other philosophy when appropriate! Here are some case studies:
- As an adventure racer, I competed against a team of strict CFters. All these athletes did was the mainpage workout of crossfit.com. No long distance running or cycling. Then they expected to outperform competitors who did copious amounts of biking, running, paddling, and trekking. I blame part of their error on promises made by CrossFit brainwashing that blabs it prepares you for everything. That claim is obviously false. While CF does do an excellent job (maybe better than any other program out there), it rarely substitutes SST training for events that are quite predictable in nature...at least in duration and modality. To get better at long distance bike riding, one must ride a bike!
- My wife was just recently preparing for a MURPH as part of MURPH for Miller 2010. She knew exactly what was required during this event. Exactly. So she incorporated MURPH-specific programming into her fitness schedule. She wanted to do well. Obviously. Some in the CF community argue against this SST approach....claiming (much like the above scenario) that doing their GPP scheduling is plenty. However, I argue this: if she wants to set measurable goals for the event, the most efficient method is to replicate the intensity, movements, loads, and durations!! She followed a specific strategy for MURPH and cut over 10 minutes off her time from last year.
- I am a police officer. Except for the occasional charity event, I don't seriously compete in much nowadays. I understand that my survival and safety depends on any one or more of a laundry list of physical traits and abilities. I must have as much "breadth and depth" in as many of these components as possible. I must train sprinting, jumping, changing direction, punching, blocking, climbing, getting down to the ground, getting back up on my feet, and who-knows-what-else. With the virtual endless list of potential tasks, I cannot spend too much time trying to perfect any one component. My fitness must be general.
- I have many friends and workout partners who are marathoners and triathletes. They possess TREMENDOUS abilities in endurance events. They whip my butt at locomotive challenges lasting longer than a few minutes in duration. However, a large percentage of them lack pure strength or power in natural human movement patterns such as deadlifting, jumping, or overhead pressing. Their focus on running or S/B/R modalities does not give them a balance in other aspects of physical fitness, and frequently rears its head in the form of injury!! No amount of pushups, lunges, or abdominal exercises help them with these skills. Pull a top-tier triathlete off the course and chances are high that s/he will have a serious deficiency in multiple areas of fitness. Just because you are in the top 1% of a particular sport does not mean I find you fit for life's challenges. It actually means you have a higher chance of being imbalanced!
Many of you readers are sport athletes. (Some of you might be painfully offended by my stance on well-rounded fitness.) Many of you are in public safety careers too. However, I also realize that a vast amount of you have never and will never either seriously compete in sporting contests nor face a life-or-death situation. However I ask you, what is the difference between the sort of fitness required by Navy SEALs and an elderly grandmother?
The answer is: the only difference in fitness between a Navy SEAL and a grandmother is in depth and intensity, not in type. Grandmas and SEALs both have to move their bodies in and out of the same positions. These positions and human movements have been designed by our Creator. Grandmas aren't necessarily fighting for their lives, but they do fight getting off the couch. They might not be lifting ammo cans or dragging downed comrades, but they are carrying grocery bags, luggage, and vacuum cleaners. The movements are the same...it's only the speed and load that changes. And of course the penalty in failing. When a SEAL fails, people die. When grandma fails, she needs some help.
I agrue that ALL people need to adhere to some sort of GPP program. All people. Some also need a bit of SST.
If you are one who has decided to workout to get healthier or more fit, I challenge you to examine your program. If you are ignoring a certain aspect of fitness, or spending way too much time on another aspect, why? Are you training for something specific? Or for something general? There is more to being "in shape" than lasting 45 minutes on a run.
If you find yourself among the GPPers, maybe there is something to be learned from those in the SST arena too.
In addition to preparing for sport....don't forget to train for life. Look to a GPP program to breathe new life into cross-training.