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Writing Personal Training Programs: The GPP Phase- Kasey Esser

Writing Personal Training Programs: The GPP Phase

In the last post, I overviewed a system I’ve been using for setting up the training year for primarily general population clients.  There were 4 different phases I briefly touched on, so as promised, I am going to give each phase its own post and provide some practical framework to the theory.


What GPP Means (usually)


As an acronym, it stands for General Physical Preparedness.  Pretty vague, huh?

But that’s sort of the point.  Traditionally, with this phase of training, you don’t really chase any specific quality (e.g. maximal strength).  You simply do a wide variety of “stuff” to get moving and give yourself a “base” for the more intense training to come.  GPP is commonly seen in the strength and conditioning world with athletes coming off of a break.

Rather than jump right back into things, there are a couple weeks built-in to regain some conditioning and movement skill.


I agree with the fact that there needs to be some sort of introductory phase before diving into balls-out training, but from my experience, this phase should revolve around aggressively improving MOVEMENT competency.

If you’re a trainer, you know that 99% of people aren’t coming in with amazing movement patterns and a blank injury history.  It just doesn’t happen in our society anymore, where we are expected to sit all day, while being brainwashed with the message that we need to join CrossFit right now and get serious or else we will be forever fat.

 Writing Personal Training Programs: The GPP Phase- Kasey Esser

Therefore, there needs to be a period of time where you get the client to a point where their chance of injury is low and they learn to enjoy training that DOES NOT involve them being beaten to a pulp.


The Desired Result of the GPP Phase

When I looked it up in Webster’s*,

“Develop a solid foundation of proper movement that will allow the client to increase their work capacity and strength in later phases.  In addition to movement, this is also the phase where the client begins to understand and implement the nutritional and recovery strategies that will be needed to succeed throughout their training life”

Now, the above is pretty broad.  Let’s get a little more specific;



#1:  Symmetrical 14 on the FMS

#2:  Pain-free range-of-motion with ALL movement patterns

#3:  Must demonstrate bodyweight competence with hinge, squat, pull, push, and single-leg patterns

#4:  Program buy-in with nutrition and recover strategies


The client does not move on in the system until the above points are achieved. The last benchmark is more of an ongoing process, and more dependent on what you feel is adequate.

Writing Personal Training Programs: The GPP Phase- Kasey Esser

If someone hits the above movement requirements, I can very confidently say that, provided some freak accident, their chances of being hurt in the gym is drastically reduced.

A big reason why I like this system is there are clear guidelines that need to be met.  With basic periodization models, it was tough to determine when you needed to be adjusting certain variables.  I don’t like to go off of time, because everyone progresses at different rates and what month it is has no bearing on someone’s results.


The Assessment Marker

There are so many different assessments out there that look at everything from dorsiflexion of your big toe to the amount of times you blink in a given minute.  As you can imagine, many of them are just that…assessments.  They don’t really influence one’s programming in any significant way.  Sure, it can make you seem super-smart, but the goal of training is getting people results, not enhancing your own image for the sake of doing so.

As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, my main movement assessment tool is the Functional Movement Screen (FMS).  I have found it to be a very solid way of getting a lot of information in a short period of time, while laying out clear STANDARDS for what needs to be accomplished.  I very rarely need to go deeper than this.

Writing Personal Training Programs: The GPP Phase- Kasey Esser

The FMS determines the fate of this phase.  After all, a client doesn’t move on until they have reached a symmetrical 14.  If you train athletes, this won’t always be the case (in some cases, preserving a certain amount of stiffness or an excessive amount of mobility is what is making them excel in their sport…so you have to determine if improving it will make them better or worse).

While different aesthetic markers are taken in the assessment (e.g. bodyfat percentage), they aren’t completely relevant quite yet.  More than likely, the client will have an aesthetic goal, but I’ve found it’s better to focus on how they are looking and feeling, rather than getting crazy-deep into the numbers.  That can come later on, which I’ll talk more about in the next post.


How to Practically Structure a GPP Program

Ok, so all of that is well and good, but how in the world do you put a program together that achieves the benchmarks mentioned?  Obviously, there are many different routes you can go.  Remember, this is a system, not a prescription.  So if you disagree with anything to follow, that’s fine, because I’m not saying this is the only way to do things.


#1:  Outline the weekly training plan

In the last post, we talked on a broad scale in reference to a training year.  Then we went down to specific blocks of training.  Now, we need to determine how a weekly training plan is set-up in this phase.  Everything will be based on a client training 3x/week.


AM:  Conditioning

PM:  Foam Roll



AM:  Strength-Train (Lower-Emphasis)

PM:  Rest



AM:  Foam Roll

PM:  Rest



AM:  Strength-Train (Lower-Emphasis)

PM:  Rest



AM:  Conditioning

PM:  Foam Roll



AM:  Strength-Train (Upper-Emphasis)

PM:  Rest



AM:  Foam Roll

PM:  Rest


The 2 conditioning days we will get into later, but depending on the client’s starting point, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to get them active 5x/week.  There are still 2 days of complete rest in there.  And if time is tight, then the conditioning can be tacked onto the end of a strength-training day.  The important thing to note here, though, is that what is expected is clearly laid out in an easy-to-read format.


#2:  The Warm-Up

As soon as the client walks in, their weakest link from the FMS should be screened.  This is to get a baseline for where they are at that day, with the goal being for them to come in cold and nail a 2,2.  At that point, you can move on to their next weakest link, or if that was the last one, take them back through the full screen and confirm that everything is good to go.

If that’s the case, and they can demonstrate solid form with all the big stuff, boom, your GPP is over.  You may have had another 2 weeks programmed out, but it’s time to move on.  Listen to the benchmarks.

If they don’t nail a 2,2, no worries, go ahead and go into any foam rolling and static stretching you have planned for them, followed by some specific drills designed to get a response on that weak link screen.

In some cases, the foam rolling itself is going to be corrective.


As far as the corrective work, this is where things can get a little out-of-hand…if you let it.  I say that because you could spend the entire session trying to fix everything.  That’s not the goal.  The goal is to pick 1-2 drills that you think will get a positive response for that person and, after re-screening, see if they had an effect.  If so, baller, if not move on into their warm-up and brainstorm other ways to attack it for the next session.

 Writing Personal Training Programs: The GPP Phase- Kasey Esser

The last thing you want is to do 5 drills with no change in their screen.  It will more than likely leave the client confused and unsure of your ability.  I think the key to effectively programming corrective work is to keep it within the flow of the session and not let it become the end-all, be-all of life.  More on that in a moment.

Here is an example;

Let’s say Suzie has a 1,1 on her rotary stability screen.  That’s her weak link.

We screen it right when she walks in.  Still a 1,1.  I give her a rolling pattern to do and then re-screen.  Now she is at a 1,2.  Ok, getting closer.  Rolling obviously helped, so I give her another variation.  Re-screen and she is still a 1,2.

No problem, we made progress, let’s keep going, and maybe the strength work will further clear things up.

Don’t think too hard, just use the scores as a guide.


For the warm-up itself, I’ll typically use the following sequence;


Ankle Mobility

Hip Flexion Mobility

Glute Activation

Hip Adduction Mobility

Core Activation

Thoracic Mobility

Scapular Upward Rotation

Linear Dynamic (Days 1 and 3)

Linear Dynamic (Days 1 and 3)

Lateral Dynamic (Day 2 and 1 of following week)

Lateral Dynamic (Day 2 and 1 of following week)


Not everyone will need all of those drills, but you can be sure you covered all the bases after doing something similar to the above.

As an example;

Wall Ankle Mobs x 8 each

Leg Lower 2 x 6 each

Glute Bridge Iso w/Alternating Knee-to-Chest x 10 seconds each

Split-Stance Adductor Mobs x 8 each

Hard Roll x 5 each

Child’s Pose Thoracic Rotation x 6 each

Scapular Wall Slide x 10

High Knees x 20 yards

Butt Kicks x 20 yards

Lateral Lunge x 8 each

Seal Jump x 15


That will take about 5-7 minutes without interruption.  After the warm-up, you can screen the weak link again, if you want, but usually, I’ll just continue on into their main strength work.


#3:  The Strength Work

This is where the GPP phase carries its main differences.  Obviously, it would be ideal if something you did back in the dedicated corrective drills did something good.  Whatever you did, remember it, because it will play a key role here.


Quick note;

I’ve been using the term “corrective” referring to specific exercises, but in all reality, the ENTIRE program is corrective if you set it up to be.  The strength work is actually the time to take advantage of whatever change you created earlier and “cement” that new software in your central nervous system.


One of the biggest hindrances to effective programming is figuring out what exercise to do when.  I know it used to take me forever.  And then I read Mike Boyle’s, “Advances in Functional Training” and found out that he uses pre-planned patterns that are directly on the spreadsheet and simply adjusts the level of difficulty to the client.  I think that’s genius, so I incorporated that into my programming immediately.

Here is the result for the GPP phase;


Day 1 Template;

A1) Core Anti-Extension

A2) FMS Weak Link Drill

B1)  Deadlift Variation

B2) FMS Weak Link Drill

C1) Vertical Pull

C2) 1-Leg Knee-Dominant (Static Supported)

C3) Horizontal Press

C4) FMS Weak Link Drill

D1) Core Anti-Rotation

D2) Carry (for distance)


Day 2 Template;

A1) Squat Variation

A2) Squat Patterning

B1) Horizontal Pull

B2) 1-Leg Hip-Dominant

B3) Core Anti-Lateral Flexion

B4) FMS Weak Link Drill


Day 3 Template;

A1) Core Anti-Extension

A2) FMS Weak Link Drill

B1) Overhead Press Variation

B2) Core Anti-Rotation

B3) FMS Weak Link Drill

C1) Vertical Pull

C2) Horizontal Press

C3) 2-Leg Hip-Dominant

C4) FMS Weak Link Drill

D1) Horizontal Pull

D2) Carry (for time)


The sets and reps aren’t that important at this point, as more than likely, you won’t have that great of an idea of what loading they can handle with great technique and all that.  The thing that matters is does it look good and does it feel good (to them).

If one of these things is not there after a cue or 2, then the exercise needs to be regressed.

The thing that you probably noticed is the weak link drills that are built in throughout the program.  This is the drill that caused a positive response on their weak link screen.

Since it worked, why not keep doing that, instead of just resting?


One of the biggest resistances to a program like this is people fear that it won’t induce any aesthetic change.  I disagree, I know if you move through the above with purpose and the movements are right for you (meaning you can do them well, but they are challenging) then you will be ready to leave by the end of it.  The weak link drills themselves should cause some serious challenge because they are working on the WEAK LINK.

And while the patterns themselves seem rigid, you’ll notice the word “variation” comes up after a lot of them.

Take the overhead press, for example.  What if your client had a 1,1 shoulder mobility screen?  He can’t overhead press…right?

What about landmine presses?  I think anyone can do those.

Landmines are sort of a blend of a horizontal and vertical press.

Writing Personal Training Programs: The GPP Phase- Kasey Esser

Same goes for the vertical pull.  What if the client has a 1,2 on their shoulder mobility?  They shouldn’t be trying to pull themselves up with both arms because we know that something is dysfunctional and that one side is going to try and take over, further exacerbating the issue.  So chin-ups are out.


But what about a Half-Kneeling 1-Arm Lat Pulldown?

It’s still a vertical pull and allows the client to work one arm at a time, while improving their strength for when the time comes to do chin-up variations.

Writing Personal Training Programs: The GPP Phase- Kasey Esser

The moral of the story is;

There is always a regression!  Map out your movement pattern continuums and just work your way down.


Once the training is done, re-screen their weak link and see if anything you did during the strength work set them back at all or moved them forward.  You’ll probably see a positive response here, but not always.  I’ve seen things totally revert with certain mobility-based screens, telling me that something we did scared the crap out of that pattern and I need to be nicer next time.

Get the information, then digest it later.


#4:  Conditioning

Alright, I promised I would get to this part.  So the way I have it set-up on my computer, there is a tab after the last day of the program entitled, “Off-Day”.  This houses any cardio programming I want the client to do.

In this phase, we stay true to GPP and work on building an aerobic base.  I’ll typically ask for 2 30-minute bouts of activity per week, in addition to the 3x they are strength-training.

The 30 minutes doesn’t have to be an all-out sprint, I just want them moving.  I used to think that interval training was the way to go right off the bat, but I found that they were too difficult for previously sedentary people.  Plus, after reading Joel Jamieson’s “Ultimate MMA Conditioning”, I’m sold on building an aerobic base before getting into more anaerobic-intensive work.  Building one in this phase will make future work more efficient and promote better recovery.



This is the toughest phase of training for the coach, in my opinion.  It requires a lot of experience with the screen and with what exercises tend to work better than others.  Not to mention, this is the most coaching-intensive phase and the time when you create buy-in from the client.

I know I’m far from being great here, but I also know that having a system for how I go about getting better has helped immensely.  Like I mentioned in the last post, I don’t work with your clients, so only you know what is going to be best for them, but if you are struggling with getting clients moving better in quick-fashion, give the above system a shot!


I’ll be back soon covering the specifics of the Hypertrophy/Body Comp phase.


Dominate All Life,

Kasey, CSCS

*I wish there were a Webster’s for fitness…I would read it…anyone?

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