How to Increase Power through Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP)
Updated: Jan 29, 2022
To be an athlete at the highest level it is vital to be as powerful as possible. As you progress up the sporting pyramid, the main difference between each level, apart from skill, is the speed of play and athleticism.
An athlete needs to be able to produce the most force in the least amount of time whilst remaining at the lightest weight possible so they can gain a physical advantage over their opponents. It is not enough for an athlete to be strong; strength means very little in sports unless you can apply it quickly. This is where power training is vital in helping an athlete to succeed.
Post-Activation Potentiation is one of the most recent methods in the fitness industry to increase power and this article will explain how this method of training works and how it should be performed.
What is Power?
Power can be defined as explosive strength (strength x speed). “However, in Physics, power is precisely defined as the time rate of doing work, where work is the product of the force exerted on an object and the distance the object moves in the direction in which the force is exerted” (Haff, Greg,, and N. Travis Triplett, p.28).
Power is “used for most activities of daily living and increased levels of power have been associated with enhanced functionality, fall prevention, and quality of life particularly in the elderly” (Hough, Paul, and Simon Penn, p.11).
Power = Work / Time OR Power = Force x Velocity
Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) Training
PAP is a type of complex training where 2 similar exercises are performed in a row after a short rest in between. The first exercise performed is a heavy compound lift such as a Back Squat, whilst the second exercise performed is an explosive plyometric movement which mimics the first movement such as a Vertical Jump.
“PAP is a phenomenon by which the force exerted by a muscle is increased due to its previous contraction. Post-activation potentiation is a theory that purports that the contractile history of a muscle influences the mechanical performance of subsequent muscle contractions. Fatiguing muscle contractions impair muscle performance, but non-fatiguing muscle contractions at high loads with a brief duration may enhance muscle performance” (Lorenz, Daniel).
In other words, if you lift a heavy weight first such as an 85% 1RM Back Squat then go and do a similar exercise such as a Vertical Jump, this tricks your body into thinking that you are still lifting the heavy weight during the second exercise so you can therefore produce more power and jump higher in the plyometric movement. Therefore, for a limited time after the first heavy exercise you have a higher Rate of Force Development (RFD).
A study on University Volleyball players in Brazil showed that there was a “positive effect of the PAP Group compared to the Control Group on vertical jump performance in the 91%, 85%, and 70% intensities of 1RM, while no difference was found for the 60% intensity of 1RM. Thus, an initial hypothesis of the study was confirmed, since PAP with high/moderate intensity significantly impacted the height of vertical jump in university volleyball players” (de Oliveira, José Jonas, et al).
There is no set rest interval after the heavy exercise for maximal gains in the plyometric movement in PAP training but “perhaps durations between 3-12 minutes are most effective” (Walker, Owen). If you complete the second activity before this time window, the benefits will likely be reduced due to fatigue. However, the longer you wait the more the PAP will decrease so you don’t want to wait too long either. This is shown in the picture below:
A study at the University of Sarejevo, where participants threw a medicine ball “3, 5, 7, 10 minutes” after PAP training “3x3 90% of 1RM on the incline bench press” found a “statistically significant” increase after PAP training and that “optimal recovery time is 7 minutes” (Vrcić, Mensur, et al.). However, the participants in this study were students so for fitter people or athletes the recovery time may be less.
When performing PAP training, you want to make sure that the first exercise you perform is heavy. “The use of heavy-load exercises (>80%) appears to be more effective for causing a potentiated state” (Walker, Owen). Doing this type of training for around 3 sets will be most beneficial.
There are various PAP training combinations you can perform such as the Deadlift followed by Broad Jumps and Bench Press followed by Resistance Band Push-Ups. You can even insert this style of training into sprint training such as by performing a Power Sled Push then sprinting. As you become more accustomed to this type of training, you can further progress the combinations such as by performing Pin Back Squat followed by Depth Vertical Jump (shown in the video below), Hex Bar Deadlift followed by Depth Broad Jump and Bench Press followed by Plyometric Push-Ups.
When you become advanced at this style of training, these heavy compound exercises can be progressed even more by adding resistance bands or chains to the Barbell. This may result in within-repetition PAP due to an even greater increase in neural activation and a more rapid stretch-shortening cycle.
This method of training helps to improve power due to increased motor neuron activity, reflex electrical activity, enhanced blood flow to the muscles, psychomotor enhancement and increased myosin light chain (MLC) phosphorylation. This motor neuron enhancement causes greater recruitment of fast twitch muscles fibers so therefore builds explosive strength (power).
You should avoid training with this method year-round as it may lead to overtraining due to the high intensity and stress it puts on your Central Nervous System (CNS). Therefore, it may be beneficial to factor this type of training into your training regime near the end of a mesocycle, for example, if you are looking at peaking in your power phase.
More research needs to be carried out on this training method to further figure out certain factors such as the ideal rest time in between the heavy and plyometric exercise for PAP training. However, this article is based on the most up to date research on this subject at the current date.
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