AT A GLANCE

In this article, we will explore the theory of Post-Activation Potentiation, including the mechanisms and physiological factors associated, its benefits and drawbacks, and research behind it so you can develop a coordinated fitness plan designed to improve your fitness performance.


As we all know, fitness improvement is central to an athlete’s performance. For many athletes, especially gym goers, performance largely depends on their ability to not only measure their results via their workout activities, but to also have a solid understanding of performance theories that affect their routine. By doing so, athletes can assess their workout state and make proper adjustments if needed. One such theory that has been brought to the attention of athletes is known as post- activation potentiation. 

  • Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) is a phenomenon stating that muscular improvement and subsequent performance is the result of conditioning exercises. 
  • Dietmar Schmidtbleicher, a strength physiologist, first identified post-activation potentiation when he studied changes in athletes’ muscle contractions after an 8 week training program. 
  • Conditioning exercises such as back squats and deadlifts have been known to improve subsequent fitness performances. 
  • Conditioning exercises must be similar to the performance activity in order to see an improvement in performance. 
  • Some arguments in favor of PAP are that they can increase workout capacity and lead to chronic improvement. 
  • Some arguments against PAP are that cases are highly individualized and that not enough research has been presented to test its validity.

What is Post Activation Potentiation?

For those who’ve been actively involved in some form of fitness especially muscle endurance, Post Activation Potentiation is something that may sound familiar. Post Activation Potentiation theory (PAP) refers to a phenomenon where after a muscle has been voluntarily activated, the force it can produce through a follow-up activity is higher than usual. 

Scientifically speaking, post-activation is a phenomenon by which the force exerted by a muscle is increased due to a previous contraction of the muscle. This means that follow- up activities can be performed at a higher velocity. An example might be a weight lifter who finds it easier to perform jumping exercises after completing heavy squat exercises. It is believed that PAP was first brought up German strength physiologist Dietmar Schmidtbleicher, who studied changes in athletes’ muscle contractions after going through eight weeks of strength training. Contractions of the muscles can occur in different ways, but most of them fall into the following categories:

Post-Activation is a phenomenon by which the force exerted by a muscle is increased due to a previous contraction.
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  • Eccentric: This is a lengthening movement of your muscles as your muscle fibers come under tension due to a force generated on them. 
  • Isometric: These are muscle contractions that do not cause your joints to move. 
  • Concentric: Your muscle tension rises then remain stable as your muscle shortens. Since PAP is dependent on some form of contraction as well as other factors, it’s vital that you educate yourself on the types of muscle movements. In addition to muscle movements, it’s important to note that a sufficient recovery time is necessary in order to see the effects of a conditioning exercise. In doing so, you can understand the physiological mechanisms associated with contraction exercises as well as understand how your body and muscles operate. 

What causes Post Activation Potentiation?

Exactly what causes post-activation potentiation and the mechanisms behind is the topic of various research studies and continuing observation. Many physical therapists and physiologists have focused on neurophysiological mechanisms following a conditioning exercise as a way to address the process of PAP in a workout routine. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the term neurophysiological, it basically refers to the functions of your nervous system. The process of the nervous system is critical when it comes to researching the process of PAP. According to a research study, there are two mechanisms that contribute to the effects of PAP:

  • Phosphorylation of regulatory light chains 
  • Strength training increases synaptic excitation in the spinal cord 

In regard to the first theory, after a conditioning exercise, your body’s sensitivity to myosin-actin interaction increases. This then leads to an increase in a cycling rate which then leads to an increase in subsequent muscle contractions. With regard to the second theory, strength training increases levels of synaptic excitation in the spinal cord. This then leads to an increase of force involving muscle groups. Finally, the type of muscle fiber also makes a difference. According to a performance enhancement study, enhancement in voluntary force production is more prominent in muscles with a high proportion of type 2 fibers. It’s important that you understand the neurophysiological components associated with PAP so that you can focus on a routine that will benefit you in the long run. 

Enhancement in voluntary force production is more prominent in muscles with a higher proportion of type 2 fibers.
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Workouts for Post Activation Potentiation Effect

So how exactly can you incorporate Post Activation Potentiation into a workout routine? As mentioned before, conditioning exercises must be similar to the performance activity in order to see an effect. Conditioning exercises such as squats and bench pressing can potentiate an athlete’s running performance. The following conditional exercises have been shown to demonstrate a short term improvement in subsequent performances:

  • Bench Pressing 
  • Heavy Squats 
  • Cable Pulls 
  • Heavy Deadlifts 
  • Power Snatch 

Finally, it’s important to note that the effects of PAP on endurance performance is an area that has generated a lot of interest from researchers and exercise physiologists. A collection of 22 studies found that endurance athletes with good fatigue/balance demonstrate greater PAP responses after a conditioning activity. 

Endurance athletes with good fatigue/balance demonstrate greater PAP responses after a conditioning activity.
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Arguments for and against Post Activation Potentiation

Whether you decide to incorporate post-activation potentiation training into your routine is up to you and your workout objectives. However, it’s important to understand PAP is not a definitive theory. Researchers and exercise physiologists are still coming up with new studies and measurements to try and assess the validity and effectiveness of PAP in subsequent performances. Below you will find a list of arguments supporting and opposing the use of PAP. 

Arguments for Post Activation Potentiation 

    • Short term acute improvement 
    • Chronic Improvement 
    • Increases workout density 
    • Increases work capacity 

Arguments against Post Activation Potentiation 

    • Insufficient Research 
    • Can be impractical 
    • Validity of positive results 
    • Window of opportunity for results 

 

Take Home Points
  • Post-Activation Potentiation refers to an improvement in subsequent workout performances and muscle contractions as a result of conditioning exercises. 
  • The types of muscle contractions are eccentric, isometric, and concentric. 
  • Post-Activation Potentiation is the result of neurophysiological mechanisms such as a synaptic excitation in the spinal cord. 
  • Conditioning exercises such as bench pressing have shown to improve subsequent performances. 
  • There are pro and con arguments when it comes to relying on Post-Activation Potentiation as a performance enhancement strategy.

Articles References

Babault, N., Blazevich, A. (2019). Post-Activation Potentiation v. Post-Activation Performance Enhancement in Humans. Frontiers in Physiology. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.01359

Behm, D., Boullosa, D., Foster, C., Rossa, S. (2018). Post-Activation Potentiation in endurance sports. European Journal of Sports Science, 595-610. doi:10.1080/17461391.2018.1438519

Chamari, K., Concu, A., Laffaye, G., Padulo, J. (2013). Concentric and Eccentric: Muscle Contraction or Exercise? Journal of Human Kinetics, 5-6. doi: 10.2478/hukin- 2013-0019

Lorenz, D. (2011). Post-Activation Potentiation: An Introduction. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 6(3), 234-240.

Robbins, D. (2005). Post-Activation Potentiation and its practical applicability. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(2), 453-458. doi: 10.1519/R-14653.1