How Strength Level Affects Post-Activation Potentiation

Post-activation potentiation (PAP) has been demonstrated to produce short term boosts to strength. A recent study shows strength level also affects the response from PAP.

When trying to gain advantage in strength performance, tried and tested methods are always the first place to start. One such method is post-activation potentiation, which has been demonstrated time and again to produce short term boosts to strength. Thus it should be the case that repeatedly using such a method results in greater long-term strength. And long-term strength is a good goal for every athlete.

Strength is a facet of athleticism that has a profound impact on any athlete’s overall performance. However, the effect of strength level on post-activation potentiation is not well understood. Like many aspects of fitness, when put to the test, post-activation potentiation results in nuanced and varied outcomes. A study published this month in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning looks deeper into this issue.

Post-activation potentiation works by performing intense exercise using similar muscles to another exercise you are about to perform. For example, you squat or leg press prior to jumping. While post-activation potentiation can improve strength for nearly twenty minutes after the initial activity, it seems to be most substantial within a seven to ten minute timeframe. Any earlier than that, and the potentiation is not as strong. Less than five minutes rest after the initial activity seems to meet with diminishing returns. If you rest for two minutes or less, the potentiation seems to be potentially non-existent.

In this study, researchers looked at rugby players who had also had a minimum of one year of lifting experience. The players were divided into two groups, one containing individuals who could back squat over two times their body weight, and another who could squat between 1.5 to two times their bodyweight. To some extent, the experience of the athletes might have meant that the stronger ones had a genetically greater proportion of fast twitch muscle fibers, and experience in lifting could also have played a role in the results.

For the study, the athletes performed one set of three squats at 90% of their one repetition max. The researchers chose this specific amount of work because it was intense enough to trigger post-activation potentiation, but it would not fatigue the athletes. Researchers then tested the jumping ability of the participants at 15 seconds, then at 3, 6, 9, and 12 minutes after the squats.

In the end, there was a major difference between the groups. The stronger athletes had a longer time frame within which their strength was boosted – three to twelve minutes versus six to twelve minutes. Their peak was sooner as well, gaining the most benefit at the six minute mark, compared to nine minutes for the weaker group. Finally, the strength boost from potentiation was more substantial for the stronger group, meaning it happened sooner and was relatively stronger.

Strength and perhaps also experience level affected the response from post-activation potentiation. From this, it would seem that coaches and athletes could use the information above to design programming based on present strength level to maximize the effects of post-activation potentiation.


1. Laurent Seitz, et. al., “The Temporal Profile of Postactivation Potentiation is related to Strength Level,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182a73ea3

Photo courtesy of CrossFit Impulse.

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