In training for sport performance, we are always looking for a way to enhance the effects of training to better optimize sports performance. One of those methods is post activation potentiation. This topic can get a little tricky, and the variables that go with PAP can be numerous. So, try to stay with me here as we dive into the effects of PAP.
Physical performance is affected by the muscle’s contractile history. Most people will think of the decreased performance associated with muscle fatigue, well PAP aims to increase performance. We are attempting to prime the working muscle group, typically in preparation for dynamic movement like a jump, or sprint. There is no concrete evidence that gives us a clear look into what works, and what does not work when referring to improved performance. With that being said, I will go over a few variables people have looked into, and discuss what potentially went right and/or wrong.
First and foremost, the only athletes that should attempting to potentiate should be experienced athletes with a training age of more than 5 years, and post pubescent biologically. Typically, PAP involves near maximal loading of an exercise, followed by a dynamic movement. If an athlete can not adequately perform a loaded pattern such a squat, I will not waste their time trying to prime their muscles for elevated performance. Research agrees with me. The novice athlete’s body simply isn’t ready to complete this type of training. Too much fatigue is often induced, and there's little to no benefit seen when attempting to potentiate the muscles. A solid foundation of strength needs to be formed first, then the athlete is physiologically ready to undergo this advanced style of training.
Secondly, the loaded movement you are completing needs to be similar to the movement you attempting to elevate in performance. If my goal is to jump higher, a heavy bench press wouldn’t help me much.. Or would it? Anyway, a study attempted to elevate athletes change of direction ability by pairing the 5-10-5 drill with a maximal isometric voluntary contraction of the lower limb musculature in a squat pattern. The results indicated no improved performance in the change of direction drills. They speculated variables such as training age, rest periods, and movement specificity could all be involved when deciding how to potentiate properly. (Marshall, Turner 2019)
Another variable that must be considered is rest time. There is a small window of opportunity we have when trying to utilize the effects of PAP. Immediately following a loaded movement, we experience fatigue, the greater the intensity of the movement, the more fatigue we experience. If the rest period is too short, we are just performing the dynamic movement fatigued and it will result in a decrease in performance. If we rest too long, the priming effect of PAP is lost, and it is like nothing happened in the first place. So far, it has been stipulated that a rest window of 3-7 minutes is optimal. But, a 4 minute difference in rest time is massive! For the purpose of weight room flow, and the limited time frame we have to work with our athletes at Total Performance, we typically allot for about 1-3 minutes of active recovery to take place before attempting the dynamic movement. At the end of the day, we have limited time to work with our athletes, and there is no research confirming a ratio of intensity to rest to optimize performance. So, we do what is best for our facility and our athletes.
I want to touch again on the subject of athlete experience. The less experienced athlete will not need as much stimulus to see the effects of PAP, but they will need a greater rest time to allow for proper priming of the muscle. This is compared to the experienced athlete who requires a higher degree of stimulus, and rest time doesn’t need to be as long comparatively. This could be due to the fact that the motor unit threshold attempting to be reached is way higher in the experienced athlete compared to the novice, and the experienced athlete's enhanced ability to recover from work.
I can discuss post activation potentiation for another 100 blog posts, and I might just do that. However, at the end of the day we don’t know the full risks/benefits of PAP. The variables are still too wide to come to a conclusion. I personally use PAP in my training, but I do not measure my results; but I can tell when I haven’t allotted enough rest or I have rested too long. TP’s athletes complete a variation of contrast training blocks with loaded pattern followed by the matching dynamic pattern. The degree of intensity, the rest time, and the volume is determined by the athletes training age, and the stage of their annual plan they are in. Hopefully we discover the full mystery of PAP in the near future to better harness its ability to improve performance!
-Thank you for your time! If you have any questions please let us know!
Coach Nate Garcia