What is Post Activation Potentiation and how do we utilize it to improve muscular performance?
Post Activation Potentiation (PAP) is the theory that the body will perform at a higher level for certain activities after muscles have undergone prior contractions recently. There is not a lot of conclusive data to render the phenomenon anything more than a supported theory at this time.
The basis behind the PAP phenomenon is that it is the body’s physical muscular response to stress that actually improves performance for a short period of time. After undergoing previous contractions and heavy loading, the body is primed for action and thus induces a high level of central nervous system stimulation which results in greater motor unit recruitment. The performance enhancing effects of PAP last anywhere from five to thirty minutes.
The increased performance effects are primarily notable during explosive and low weight maneuvers after high load exercises. One reason for this is because once your muscles are contracted and stressed, the body recruits more type-2 muscle fibers which are utilized for explosive movements. As an example which is most commonly used, if you were performing squats with high weight and then rested for a brief period before sprinting, your sprinting performance should improve.
Ideally, to activate PAP you first perform a high load lift that is challenging, but not defeating, in the effort it requires. This balance is important because you don’t want to incur too much fatigue. Fatigue will occur after the high load set, but so will PAP. The key is to find the balance of rest periods to take advantage of PAP without allowing fatigue to affect performance.
The ideal amount of time to rest to take advantage of PAP has been measured at anywhere between 3-10 minutes. This is because after you perform a challenging set, fatigue will kick in, diminishing the power of your muscles, and will last for a couple minutes. Luckily, fatigue and PAP subside at different rates allowing you the chance to take advantage of some performance enhancing effects. Fatigue can weaken your performance but wears away faster than PAP so it is important to allow your body a little time for recovery so you are no longer fatigued but still in a PAP state. However, if you wait too long, the boosted muscle sensitivity, increased blood flow, and overall improved performance from PAP will wane away.
Who needs PAP and what are its best uses? The uses for PAP are generally geared to increased competitive performance in tasks that require bursts of energy like sprinting. Theoretically speaking, if you do heavy load lifts like squats and wait about 7 minutes before doing a 100m dash, you should have improved performance, giving you an edge on the competition.
The research for PAP is not 100% consistent. While the general theory of its function and occurrence are consistent, some findings show that the level of PAP effects are different for different individuals. However, some common themes are that PAP more strongly effects in individuals with more fast twitch fibers and also is more effective in highly trained individuals vs. lower trained individuals.