Let's Talk About Post-Activation Potentiation

The ability for an athlete to rapidly produce force within the time constraints of their sport
is integral to performance. Most performance professionals recognize that improving rate of
force development should be prioritized within a training program. By utilizing post-activation
potentiation (PAP), coaches can train athletes to produce high levels of power to enhance their
potential performance.

Post activation Potentiation (PAP) is based on the theory that “acute muscle force output is
enhanced as a result of a muscle contractile history”, thus allowing for explosive movements to
be enhanced by heavy resistance exercise in a similar plane (Robbins, 453). There are numerous
studies that support the evidence of PAP that have utilized maximal voluntary isometric
contractions, half squats, back squats, and bench press as tools to potentiate vertical jumping
and bench throws respectively (Robbins, 454). Other studies have attempted to examine the
effect of a bench press on medicine ball power drop performance as well as explosive pushups,
however they found no enhancements in performance (Robbins, 455). Researchers attempting
to explain the discrepancy behind PAP have suggested that individual fiber type composition
and training age could contribute to variability.

I have been using PAP in my private training facility, Genesis Sports Performance, for the
past 9 years. I first learned about it watching Joe Defranco in an Elitefts presentation, where he
explained how he used heavy sled pushes to potentiate 10-yard split times. He had the data to
back up his findings, so I started implementing heavy sled pushes with 10-yard splits with my
athletic population. I found that almost immediately all my advanced athletes hit personal
records on their 10s when we introduced the sled and I was hooked. I began looking for new
ways to potentiate sprints, jumps, and lifts.

At Genesis we utilize a four-day training model with each session beginning with speed,
transitioning to power, and finishing with strength. Two of our training days are dedicated to
developing linear speed whereas the other 2 are more chaotic in nature. On our linear speed
days, I almost always utilize some form of PAP training. I run a concurrent training model, so I
generally will switch the modality every week to 3 weeks. Some of the pairings I have used for
sprints include heavy sled pushes and drags, band sprints, belt squat marches, overcoming
isometric squatting and deadlifting into pins, split stance isometrics, weighted lunges, step-ups,
and weight vests. In my experience, the heavy sled push and belt squat march has created the
best carryover to improve sprint times.

When it comes to potentiating our jumps and throws we also utilize PAP. Most of our
compound strength work is done in the form of complex training where we pair heavy
resistance exercises with upper and lower body plyometrics, jump training, and medicine ball
throws. Complex training utilizes PAP as the athlete performs a weighted exercise followed by
an unweighted exercise in the same plane of movement. The nervous system remains
heightened after performing an exercise with load, which leads to a more powerful and rapid
contraction when the exercise is performed with body weight. I typically will pair our vertical
jump movements with squat variations and horizontal jumps with hinge variations. When
performing complex training I use the RepOne sensor to measure the bar speed of the resisted exercise. One of the central goals of my athlete training program is to improve the Rate of Force
Development. The RepOne allows me to ensure that the athletes are training with maximum
intent. The intent is vital to improving power production and the RepOne ensures that my athletes
are moving the bar with the highest velocity possible for the given load. In addition to complex
training, I have found dumbbells, overcoming isometrics, and belt squat marches are great
tools for potentiating vertical jumps.

One of the questions that inevitably arise when discussing the efficacy of training programs
that utilize PAP includes whether or not PAP actually leads to a long-term adaptation or if it is
only beneficial for short-term power enhancement. Furthermore, others question if utilizing
PAP creates a crutch for athletes as they always have to be potentiated to display the enhanced
power produced in the gym setting. In my experience, PAP definitely leads to chronic
adaptations as over time the athlete’s nervous system adapts and what was once only possible
in a heightened state becomes the new baseline for the athlete. Furthermore, it can be a great
tool to help an athlete break through a mental block that could be preventing them from
achieving new jump heights or sprint times. Once an athlete sees that they have the capability
to hit a certain number they will do it more frequently. Training is just as much influenced by
mental limitations as physical ones.

While I have found that utilizing PAP is a viable way to improve RFD in athletes, its
application should be reserved for more advanced athletes. With youth athletes very basic
strength training works extremely well in improving speed and power outputs. Utilizing an
advanced training method at a low training age exposes the athlete to a stimulus they don’t
currently need and reduces the effectiveness for when the method could be productive in later
training stages. I have also found that when utilizing sleds and sprints with youth athletes
there doesn’t seem to be as drastic of a potentiation effect, this is supported by research from
Young et al, who found that subjects with greater absolute strength were better able to benefit
from PAP (30).

My suggestion is to utilize PAP with advanced athletes during a power block or microcycle in
conjunction with the RepOne sensor to ensure that your athletes are moving the bar with
maximum intent. Some of my favorite pairings include deadlift variations with bounds,
repeated broad jumps, multi-jumps, and squatting variations with depth jumps, vertical jumps,
hurdle hops, and box jumps. I keep the bar speed between 0.45-0.8 m/s depending on the type
of strength the athlete needs to develop.

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