Isometric Exercises Just Prior to Rowing Improve Sprint Times

Post-activiation potentation, or PAP. Lifting heavy and sprinting hard. Turns out the lifting heavy part helps you go faster. Now science examines isometric PAP and rowing sprints with good results.

Have you heard of post-activation potentiation (PAP)? It’s a cool phenomenon where you can improve sprinting performance by lifting something heavy first. Previously we’ve looked at the effect of heavy squats on stationary bike sprint performance. Today’s study examines whether PAP can be useful for rowing.

The study used ten elite Australian rowers, all but one of them male. Each rower performed his own warmup and then either launched into a 1,000 meter time trial on the Concept 2 ergometer, or performed a PAP activity first. The PAP activity involved strapping into a Concept 2 and then pulling against an immovable handle for 5 seconds. These sorts of exercises are referred to as isometric training. The isometric PAP activity was performed for 5 total sets of 5 seconds each, with 15 seconds rest in-between. Then the rowers were given 1 minute to rest before starting their 1,000 meter time trials.

The results: pulling on that immovable handle made a difference. It wasn’t statistically significant, but the PAP activity resulted in better 1,000 meter times by about 1.4 seconds. At the 500 meter mark, the PAP activity was even more useful, providing a 1.7 second advantage. Of the ten rowers, eight recorded a faster time with the PAP activity. Five of them would have won a race with their non-PAP self by ten meters or more – that’s more than the length of a single scull boat. Since we are talking about elite rowers, every second and every meter is precious. By the way, the average 1,000 meter time was 2:52. That is absolutely sick.

My conclusion: PAP is helpful – sometimes very helpful. Perhaps it prepares the nervous system for exerting maximal force? While not technically PAP, I have seen this phenomenon first hand. I have personally set a squat PR by “walking out” of the rack with more than the PR attempt, then resting, then setting the PR. I have seen athletes perform heavy dumbbell snatches repeatedly by first performing snatch pulls with an even heavier dumbbell.

I think PAP works, and I hope the fitness community will seek to fully understand it. Have you ever used PAP or something similar to improve performance?


1. Feros, Simon, et. al. The Effect of Including a Series of Isometric Conditioning Contractions to the Rowing Warm-Up on 1,000-M Rowing Ergometer Time Trial Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 26:12, 3326-3334, Dec 2012.

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