How to Utilize Post-Activation Potentiation to Increase Power

By Miguel Olfato, S&C Intern and UBC Kinesiology Undergraduate

This is a guest article written by Miguel Olfato.  Miguel is a strength and conditioning intern at Saltus, as well as a Kinesiology undergraduate student and athletic trainer at UBC. An avid basketball fanatic, Miguel is pursuing a career in strength and conditioning. The intent of this article is to facilitate the education of our interns by having them understand the theory and science behind strength & conditioning, while balancing it with practical application. 

Enjoy the read!

Introduction

Most sports require an athlete to be strong, fast, powerful, and explosive. Athletes that excel in these attributes often have a competitive advantage. Examples of these qualities translating in competition are the quick first step in basketball, the speed and leaping ability required by a wide receiver to make a difficult catch in football, and the ability to explode off the block by a sprinter in a 100-m track and field event. Strength, speed, power, and explosiveness can be achieved through utilizing a phenomenon called Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP), which can be developed through the use of complex training. Post-Activation Potentiation refers to an increase in muscular force production as a result of its contractile history (Tillin and Bishop, 2009). This means that the muscles produce more force as a subsequent effect of a previously loaded movement. Complex training involves the combination of a heavily loaded exercise and a biomechanically similar plyometric exercise. (Weber, Kurt, et. al, 2008).

The Science Behind PAP

Post-Activation Potentiation causes an increase in the calcium sensitivity in the myofilaments of the muscles, causing a greater ability of the muscle to contract, therefore increasing its force production (Sweeney, Bowman, and Stull, 1993). PAP also stimulates the central nervous system, which also produces an increase in contractile function in the muscles to produce more force (Gullich and Schmidtbleicher, 1996). These all help in the ability to run faster, jump higher, and increase strength. Studies have shown that PAP has led to increases in both lower body and upper body performance, which contribute to improved athletic performance. Bench press, jumping, sprint, and swimming performance all increased as a result of utilizing PAP through complex training in a study conducted by Evetovich, Conley, and McCawley (2015).

How to elicit a PAP effect

One of the best ways to utilize Post-Activation Potentiation is through the use of complex training, which is a combination of a heavily loaded exercise followed by a subsequent biomechanically similar plyometric exercise (Weber, Kurt et al., 2008).  An example of complex training would be back squats or power cleans followed by a set of box jumps. For the plyometric exercise, the athlete should aim to maintain proper mechanics and perform them with as much velocity as they can with each repetition. The athlete should conclude the set when there begins to be a drop off in the intensity of the exercise. One should try not to go to fatigue or failure with these repetitions.

Another example of complex training that can be performed prior to the weight lifting portion of the training session can be through resisted band sprints followed by a free sprint. Although the main purpose of resisted band sprints is to make the athlete aware of proper sprint mechanics, the resistance from the band can also produce a PAP effect when doing the free sprint.

Guidelines for Utilizing PAP

When utilizing the effect of post-activation potentiation, rest intervals are very important. If the athlete is too fatigued from the previous loaded exercise, then they will be performing the subsequent ballistic exercise at a submaximal performance level, such as a lowered height and/or distance achieved on a jump after a heavy squat.  This may cause an interference effect that will impede the development of true top-end speed and power. As a result, the athlete should execute the exercises under a 1:5 or 1:6 work to rest ratio. This means if the athlete is doing 10 seconds of work, they should be taking a rest period of 50 to 60 seconds.

Training age is another important factor when considering the utilization of PAP.  As stated earlier, for PAP to occur the initial loaded exercise must be high in intensity (i.e. heavy).  This inherently requires the athlete to possess a high level of strength, as well as safe and efficient technique, in order to move a load that is heavy enough to elicit a PAP effect.  Similarly, a foundation of strength and movement competency is required in order to absorb the high impact forces of plyometric exercises, and athletes can injure themselves if they are not implemented in a progressive manner. As a result, PAP may be most appropriate for athletes with a higher training age.  If an athlete is new to strength and conditioning, he or she must build an appropriate strength base first.

Conclusion

Utilizing Post-Activation through complex training is an effective tool when developing qualities such as speed, strength, power, and explosiveness. One must be aware of the proper technique and safety guidelines when performing these exercises.  At no point should an athlete sacrifice safe technique for an increased load just for the sake of attempting to gain a PAP effect. On the loaded exercise, the athlete must always practice safe technique on the mechanics of the exercise; a neutral spine should always be maintained, and the knees should not collapse inward (i.e. valgus) when doing the exercises, particularly in jumping and landing tasks. When properly utilized these developed qualities can give the athlete a competitive advantage on the field, pitch, or playing court.