If you follow any of our online training programs, or perhaps you're a strength coach or personal trainer who writes training programs yourself, you've probably heard or know the term Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP). If you've not heard about PAP, it's the use of movements and loading strategies that "excite" the brain and nervous system and gives it more potential to send more signals for force production. Think of it like a warmup for your nerves, which can be done in two different ways.
Before we dive into the actual Potentiation of the nervous system, it's important to note the two things that really contribute to exciting the nervous system. The first is speed or Rate of Force Development (RFD). By creating a higher RFD we end up giving the nervous system more potential to send signals and send them quickly. The other way is to load the movement immensely and then move a lighter load quickly.
The first way we can implement this is by understanding how each works. Movements with high RFD often use rapid increases in muscle or tendon lengths and fast contractions in response to moving a light weight quickly. This may be something like bodyweight jumps or light medicine ball throws or tosses. These create a more rapid neural signal from the brain to the muscle.
When we look at loading strategies, we are placing pressure on the muscles and skeleton and using the nerves that sense pressure to send faster signals to the brain. We often do this by loading up higher percentages of a 1RM and holding it isometrically for a few seconds, then decreasing the weight and doing our working reps or sets.
Here's how we use this practically.
One of my favorite ways to use RFD for potentiation is to include those movements at the beginning of sessions where we have to move fast. This includes days with Olympic Lifts, Sprints, or Sub-Maximal power work. The goal is to use movements during this PAP segment of training that are similar in nature to or use the prime movers of the main movement of the day. For example, if there are snatches in the program for the day, then I might potentiate those with a movement that has rapid hip extension such as a box jump or broad jump. If there are lighter and faster bench press reps as the main movement, I may include some form of Medicine Ball Chest Passes or throws prior to starting my Bench Press. What's nice is that it doesn't take much to get the PAP benefits, which can be achieved with 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps of most RFD Exercises.
The other way of loading a movement can be done between sets of the main exercise, by loading more weight on the bar than the main movement itself or overloading a specific pattern. There are multiple ways to utilize this in training. For example, you may use a squat wave, where you work up to a set of 1 rep at a high percentage, and immediately drop the load to a load that is 5-10% lower and perform a set of 5 reps. This same method can be done with a static or isometric hold, where you may even load up beyond your 1RM on a movement, hold it, then immediately drop the weight and do your set at a lighter percentage. The last method of doing using loading for PAP, is to do a contrast set. In a contrast set, you would do a loaded movement followed by an unloaded movement that is similar in movement patter. For example, a heavy set of Kettlebell Swings followed by a set of Broad Jumps.
Obviously, there are many ways to accomplish this in training, but understanding the different ways that it can be applied can be highly beneficial for training. When we Potientate the nervous system, we can get more out of our nervous system, and more out of our training.