Lay the Foundation for Your Strength and Conditioning with Aerobic GPP Circuits

By William Wayland

When we kick off a training cycle in will generally start with General Physical Preparedness. I like to think of it as the program before the program! This is period that should serve as break from "hard" training but provide stimulus and lay foundation for harder work to come.

What is GPP?

Those of your familiar with training parlance may have heard the term before. Many often talk about it but what they often mean is 'cardio' or 'conditioning'.

"GPP is the initial stage of training. It starts every cycle of training from the macro-, meso- and microcycle after restoration and recovery.  It consists primarily of general preparatory and some specialized conditioning exercises to work all the major muscles and joints. This preparation prepares the athlete for the more intense training such as explosive plyometrics. This period is also used for rehabilitation of injured muscles and joints, strengthening or bringing up to par the lagging muscles and improvement of technique." - Dr Michael Yessis

A more simple definition would be improving your quality of movement, fixing weakness that have cropped up during previous training camps and enhancing your ability to handle greater workloads. Now often Aerobic GPP Circuits just means more undirected hard work. Often taking the form of old school circuit training, running and pushing a sled till you puke.

What GPP should be used for is the capacity to do work when the harder training gets going, fixing imbalances and mobility and reinforcing movement quality, its important to note however the training is not really sports specific.

Inspired by Cal Dietz, I've been toying with Aerobic GPP circuits for a little while. These always come before we start our heavier lifting blocks. Instead of doing things like running or circuits, I prefer to keep my athletes lifting. Especially if like many of the MMA fighters the time we have together is very limited. Building a lot of volume in with simple exercises means athletes get good at the basics.

We take simple compound exercise pairings and put them together and have the athlete alternate between them for 5 minutes at about 50-60% loading going rep for rep. Each session the athlete will try and do more reps within the same amount of time or try for more reps within 30s chunks of the whole 5 minutes. Some of your might recognize this as EDT style training. Between 5 minute work block we can schedule 5 minute mobility and balancing work. Got tight shoulders? Mobilize those and strength your upper back. Got tight hips? Look to add a yoga flow or some bodyweight lunge and leg stretches.

Here's a Sample Session


Bench and Squat - 5 Mins 1 rep each alternating (60% of 1RM)

  • 5 Mins mobility. Band Pull apart/spiderman with reach/Six Point Zenith

Pull-up and DB RDL 5 Mins 1 rep each alternating (60%)

  • 5 Mins mobility. Band dislocation/Alternating half pigeon/half kneeling press (light)

Close Grip Bench and Chin-ups 5 Mins 1 rep each alternating (60%)

  • Foam Rolling, band based stretching, iso holds.


In the video's below MMA fighter Matt Hughes is going at pretty moderate tempo seeing as this is his first session performing this type of work and will look to speed up over the next 2 weeks aiming for 2-3 sessions a week.

Aerobic GPP circuit - Bench and Squat

Pull-up RDL

Close Grip Bench and Chins

Pairings should try and hit as many muscle groups as possible and work well as upper body/lower splits and upper body, upper body split. Having lower body exercises paired would probably be too fatiguing and defeat the point of aerobic intent of this type of training. You could always try Sumo Deadlift/Weighted Pushups or Overhead Press/Barbell Rows. Hopefully now you have enough to build your own 2-3 week barbell based GPP program.

William Wayland is a strength coach and owner of Powering Through. William works with UFC fighters, jiu jitsu players and other high level athletes.