Bottom Line Up Front: This is a review of a training cycle I programmed for myself that I executed for 8 weeks from June to August 2018. The goal is to maintain general physical preparedness (GPP).
I have been programming for myself since I started exercising in the 1990s. There have been times where I followed something someone else wrote, but it wasn’t for very long. I always took that knowledge and kept adjusting what I was doing to what I wanted to do and what I needed to do. It may be hard to program objectively, i.e. not to pick exercise you like and/or are good at, but I think I do not do this (so does everyone who does probably…).
The goal of this cycle specifically is to maintain an all-around level of physical preparedness, dubbed GPP, general physical preparedness. For more on the definition of physical fitness with components of fitness, read this. If you have not heard this term, it means to train at a base level for the major physical fitness components – well-rounded. Good at everything, not great at anything. For me, this covers these basic components: Strength, Stamina (Work Capacity), and Cardiovascular Endurance. To me, this is a baseline for anyone who isn’t a specialist in any physical pursuit (sport or competition). For a tactical military athlete, I would add in Speed. For me, I don’t have a real requirement for speed being above the tactical level these days (sadly). I want to be strong, maintain/gain muscle mass, be able to do unpleasant things over and over, and be able to travel long distances at a low intensity with an elevated heart rate.
For an example of a situation where GPP isn’t appropriate, if one were to go on a powerlifting routine with the aim of being maximally strong in the bench, squat and deadlift, endurance and work capacity would detract from that goal. If one were to train for a marathon with the goal of their best time possible, there would not be an even distribution of strength training to running, even if they were to continue to lift weights during their train-up (which they should). GPP is a perfect way to train so that you are ready to ramp up any one component as needed. Imagine if you never lifted weights but only did cycling or running. If you decided to get maximally strong, you’d be wrecked as your body would be totally unprepared to lift heavy weights. And in the reverse situation – you only lift heavy but want to do a half-marathon – you would also be grossly unprepared to start on a serious endurance routine. I don’t want to ever have any physical challenge be something that would wreck me the next day. Impromptu 10-mile run, obstacle course race, one rep maximum squat, hour of jiu-jitsu, or dodge ball game should all be things I can do well and feel fine the next day.
Now for the actual cycle itself. Here is the framework (read more about the framework concept here) with the objective of the day’s session in bold after the letter. I will offer an explanation and example workout for each right below. This was 99% executed in the garage gym by the way. Did one long cardio session in a “normal” gym to try some new pieces of equipment to alleviate the boredom!
A) Upper Body Hypertrophy
3-5 sets of 8-15 reps of:
Horizontal push variation
Horizontal pull variation
Lateral raise/front raise variation
I chose to add in a dedicated upper body hypertrophy day (muscle growth) into this cycle. I hadn’t trained for hypertrophy since I started functional training in 2008, but over the last year I have added it in. Training for strength may get bigger muscles but it isn’t the best way, so I do some old school bodybuilding these days. Doesn’t give me a physical fitness skill, which is why I didn’t list it as a goal of a GPP program above. I only train lower body for performance and am not interested in more muscle mass in my lower body. Sounds silly, I know, but my legs and ass are thick enough. I have to stay below a certain body weight for my job. Lower body is all about performance for me. Don’t worry, I don’t skip leg day, just leg hypertrophy day.
This cycle starts off with a pre-exhaustion (Joe Weider style!) set here of flyes before chest pressing, then pull-aparts (reverse flyes) before rows. Intent is to make the big muscle (pecs and lats) fatigued before the compound movement (presses and rows). After a month I ended up doing the flyes and then going immediately into flat presses, so it was supersetted. I would repeat this 3-5 times.
I used bands for a lot of this training in addition to kettlebells . I also have one set of 20lb dumbbells I used as well. So each session was a pump session basically, trying to make light weights hurt, which is ideal for muscle growth stimulation.
B) Short-term Stamina (Work Capacity)
1 to 15 increasing rep rounds of:
Kettlebell swing or clean
I would pick a swing or clean and then choose either rowing, jumping rope or burpees each time based on how I felt that day. Say, for example, it was kettlebell swings and burpees. The construct is 1 swing then 1 burpee, then 2 and 2, then 3 and 3 until 15 and 15. I really enjoy this structure. It’s simple and sucks. Sometimes I’d do heavy swings (70lbs or 88lbs), other times light one arm swings. For the jump rope or row, you have a lot of options for structure. You could do 100m row each round and just increase the swings. Or you could do 20 meters of rowing per swing and increase it each round (1 swing, 20m row or 10 swings, 200m row). Same with double unders. Either way, the pain is supposed to increase each round. I picked 15 reps to end at because it usually takes 20-30 minutes to get there based on exercise choice. There is no magic number here.
Pro Tip: Going up then down is a fun variation. Start at 1/1 then go to 10/10 then back down to 1/1. It is MUCH more pleasant than continuing to 15/15.
C) Chassis Integrity (Core Strength & Stamina)
20-30 minute grind
5-10 reps each of:
Total: 60lb Sandbag Turkish Get-up
Top-down: Ab wheel roll-outs
Rotation: Band rotations
Anti-rotation: Kneeling plate half moon
Static: Plank (30-60 seconds)
Chassis integrity is a concept I adopted from Rob Shaul at Mountain Tactical Institute from posts such as this one. Basically the chassis is the frame of the body, the core that everything else is built upon. We are talking abs and lower back here. While you get a ton of core work from overhead pressing or squatting or deadlifting, these are complementing them. I took what Rob was doing and organized it differently but used it similarly.
I organized all true chassis movements into the following 6 categories. Note you can search YouTube for any movements you don’t know. Many are on Mtn Tactical’s channel.
- Total Core – Complex/engages too many areas all at once to be subcategorized.
- Ex. Turkish Get-up, Med ball/Sandbag toss and chase, Med ball slams, Sandbag keg lift
- Bottom Up – Lower torso static, upper torso moves.
- Ex. any sit-up variation, back extension
- Top Down – Upper torso static, lower torso moves.
- Ex. toes to bar, knees to elbows, leg raises, reverse hypers
- Static – Core maintains isometric position (no moving)
- Ex. L-sit, any plank variation (front, side, back, on elbows, on hands, weighted, etc.), kettlebell slasher to halo
- NOTE: You can make static holds anti-rotational or anti-lateral flexion. For anti-rotation, you rotate in horizontal plane with a band and hold as the band tries to pull in the opposite direction. For anti-lateral flexion, one arm deadlift or one-hand suitcase carry/hold.
- Rotational – Twisting left and right
- Ex. Russian twist, med ball pass, rotational med ball throws
- Anti-rotational – Prevents rotation actively
- Half moons
There is a lot of bleed over here, I know. There may be more categories but I don’t think there’s a need for them. The reason I have categories is to ensure my chassis work gets after each movement category over time and keeps me capable across the physical spectrum.
The “grind” just means moving purposefully from one movement to the other without excessively hurrying.
D) Strength & Arms Hypertrophy
5 sets of 2 reps @ 85% 1RM of:
3-5 sets of 8-15 reps of:
Pretty simple strength construct here. I did a 1 rep max (1RM) on my first day, then did 85% of that for 5 sets of 2 reps for each movement. I did all the squats together for 5 sets, not a rotation through one set of each. I didn’t retest my max (and won’t) after to see if I got stronger. Truth is I am happy with my strength now and have no issues maintaining it. I am trying to be as strong at 50 as I was at 40. Threw in some more direct arm work here because it’s summer and sun’s out, guns out, bro.
E) Cardiovascular Endurance
20-30 mins, low intensity steady state
Again, very easy concept here. Pick one movement, do it long and at a moderate pace for greater than 20 minutes. Very very boring for me, but has to be done. Sometimes I rotated movements inside the workout, like 10 minutes on a treadmill, then 10 minutes on a versa-climber, then 10 minutes of rowing.
- I do a near-daily (5 to 7x/week) ruck or weight vest walk in the morning, which I do not count as part of my routine. I walk my dog and usually wear something heavy to spice it up.
- My diet was consistent throughout and not specialized in any way. Eat enough to maintain performance while not gaining fat. Eat real food. Fast often. Moderate to low carbs based on interest at the time.
- Since adding in hypertrophy training I can tell I gained muscle, especially in my arms, which is both good and to be expected since I hadn’t done it in almost a decade.
- I do not program off days. I train as often as I can, which means I take days off when I am schedule-conflicted or when I am fatigued. I can tell after 20 years of exercising when I am pushing it too far. For reference though, I trained at least 5 days per week, usually 6 for these particular two months.
Post thoughts/questions to comments to facilitate discussion.