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Monday, October 18, 2010

A Method for Improving Explosive Physical Performance


Post-activation potentiation (PAP) is not a training method. Rather, it is a method for improving performance in an explosive activity (e.g. jumping, sprinting) by doing heavy exercise with relevant muscles (e.g. squats) shortly before the performance. Several studies using either weight-resisted or isometric exercise have shown a positive effect on performance. One such study, by Berning et al. is described in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (vol. 24, no. 9, 2010, pp. 2285-2289).


  • Group 1 - Thirteen trained young men who had been squatting at least twice a week for at least one year.
  • Group 2 - Eight untrained young men
The subjects in both groups were first tested for the maximum amount of weight they could parallel squat for a single repetition. That involved squatting down with a barbell on the shoulders from a standing position until the thighs were parallel to the ground, then standing up again. On other days, each group did the following:
  • On one day they did 5 minutes of low intensity cycling followed by maximal vertical jump testing.
  • On another day they did 5 minutes of low intensity cycling, then a functional isometric squat followed by maximal vertical jump testing. For the functional isometric squat, a barbell containing 1.5 times the subjects’ maximal weight for the parallel squat was placed on supporting rods in a squat rack. A second set of rods was positioned about 4” higher than the first set. The lifter got under the bar so that it rested on his shoulders then drove the bar vertically against the upper set of rods as hard as possible for 3 seconds before placing the bar back to the lower set of rods. The positioning of the rods was such that the subject lifted from a half-squat position. The subjects could lift much more weight than they could in a full squat because of the more advantageous leverage in the half-squat than the full-squat.
  • Among the untrained men, the functional isometric squat performed before the jump test did not provide any advantage.
  • Among the trained men, the functional isometric squat performed before the jump test led to significantly higher jump height, and the effect was retained when they were again tested 5 minutes after the lift. The magnitude of improvement in jumping was about 5% (2.4 cm ~ 1”).
Bottom Line

Post-activation potentiation (PAP) is a phenomenon with a fair degree of experimental support. It can be applied to any athletic activity in which a maximal explosive effort can be conveniently preceded by a heavy squat with a barbell, or even an isometric squat against an immovable object. Such athletic activities include but are not limited to high-jump, long-jump, track sprint, Olympic weightlifting, and Highland Games contests. It remains to be seen if the method can be applied to other athletic activities such as baseball hitting, football kicking, or wrestling. The method does not appear applicable to sports involving exertion over a relatively long period of time such as soccer, basketball, or hockey.

NOTE: This description of experimental results is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a recommendation. Heavy barbell squats should only be performed by experienced lifters. The supportive muscles, tendons, and ligaments involved must be developed using a consistent training program over an extended period of time. Anyone wishing to engage in strenuous physical activity must first determine if it is safe to do so. A physician’s clearance is always the best means of determining if you are healthy enough to exercise. Our exercise risk factor questionnaire can help you estimate your risk.

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