The PAP Effect: Does It Apply to Sprinting?

Plenty of studies have shown the PAP effect in regards to weight training. A new study asks whether it also improves sprinting performance.

In the past year there has been an increasing interest in the use of post-activation potentiation (PAP) to enhance weight lifting ability. PAP has been demonstrated to be effective at improving strength when hitting the gym, so the question invariably arises about its effect on other activities like sprinting speed. A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Researchwas the first of its kind to examine PAP’s effects on sprinting.

If you’re not yet familiar with PAP, it’s a simple principle. If you lift a heavy weight, rest for a few minutes, and then lift a lighter weight, you will be able to lift the lighter weight more times than if you had skipped the first heavy set. The basic idea is that as long as you do not exhaust yourself on the effort, doing heavy exertions first will make you stronger in any exercises to follow. An initial bout of heavy lifting primes the nervous system for activity, making it operate at its peak. PAP even works on more complex activities, like plyometrics.

However, we were in the dark about the effects of PAP on sprinting before this new study. Using partner-assisted cords, sleds, parachutes, and weight vests to improve performance is commonplace for sprinters. These methods are typically used for long-term performance enhancement and have been found useful, with some exceptions. It stands to reason that they could also be used to induce PAP, which would provide an immediate boost to sprinting speed.

In today’s study, the researchers focused on ten-meter sprints. They indicated that the acceleration phase of a sprint has applications to numerous sports. If PAP can be used to acutely improve ten-meter sprinting time, then it would have profound consequences on race preparation, and could improve training for speed and acceleration for all sports.

The researchers compared the ten-meter sprints of several athletes after a resisted sprint to the values they achieved in a prior test. To add resistance to the sprint, they used a sled weighted with between 25 and thirty percent of the athlete’s bodyweight. In this particular instance the researchers did not find a significant PAP effect.

However, let’s keep a few things in mind while we analyze these results:

  • First, there could be some kind of order effectoccurring. The unweighted sprint tests and the PAP tests were done all in the same order, so it’s possible the order itself had a significant impact on the results.
  • Second, there were only twelve participants in the study. On its own, this isn’t too much of a problem, but the athletes were also pulled from very different sports. For example, both triathletes and rowers were accepted. With such huge individual variation in such a small sample, wonky results are to be expected.

Ultimately, it’s hard to learn from a study like this. We can say that in a varied athletic population, the PAP effect using a quarter of the athlete’s weight loaded on a sled isn’t a huge one, if it even exists. However, this topic is one that demands further research. The impact of PAP on acceleration and speed is a topic of such importance it could dwarf the existing PAP research in the upcoming year. Keep your eyes open for more articles on this topic.


1. Niamh Whelan, et. al., “Resisted Sprints Do Not Acutely Enhance Sprinting Performance,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000357

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.