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Post-Activation Potentiation: Definition and Examples

What is Post-Activation Potentiation?

Post-activation potentiation (PAP) is a concept that shows promise in helping improve strength and power output in athletes. The idea behind PAP is that previous muscle contractions can temporarily improve force output. However, these contractions must not generate fatigue and must involve the use of heavy loads for brief periods. A potential explanation could be that short but intense contractions stimulate the nervous system, improving contractile function.

How Does Post-Activation Potentiation Look Like?

One way to take advantage of PAP is to use complex training, which means alternating between biomechanically similar weight training and plyometric activities. “Essentially, complex training involves pairing a high force activity with a high power activity,” writes Daniel Lorenz, a researcher and strength and conditioning coach.

A simple example would be to perform a heavy back squat followed by a box or jump squat.

The idea is for the high-force activity to prime the nervous system without generating fatigue, allowing the athlete to produce more force during the second movement.

Daniel Lorenz adds:

“..strength training prior to plyometric exercises causes increased synaptic excitation within the spinal cord, which in turn results in increased post-synaptic potentials and subsequent increased force-generating capacity of the involved muscle groups.”

Also, PAP may not apply to all types of activities. Here’s what Lorenz writes in his paper:

The most important muscle characteristic affecting the magnitude of PAP is fiber type, with the greatest potential for enhanced PAP in muscles with the highest proportion of Type II fibers.”


“Based on muscle fiber type, athletes who perform in maximal intensity activities that depend on Type II muscle fibers (i.e., sprinting, weightlifting, throwing, jumping) would also show the greatest PAP in muscles involved in their sports performance.”

The Applications of PAP in Sports and Fitness

While PAP sounds like a promising concept and a viable strategy to temporarily boost athletic performance, particularly for more intense activities such as sprinting, we don’t have much data on how to use it. 

PAP could simply be a muscle phenomenon we can observe but not train or alter, and we may not find a way to reliably use it for athletes.

One way to take advantage of PAP is to perform an intense muscle contraction biomechanically similar to the primary activity (or, at least, that targets the same muscles). However, that could be easier said than done practically, particularly in competition.


1. Can PAP improve fitness and athleticism in the long run?

Post-activation potentiation is a concept that leverages unique nervous system and muscle characteristics to boost force output temporarily. It’s not a tactic coaches can add to a workout plan.

2. What types of exercises induce PAP?

High-force activities, such as heavy weightlifting and plyometrics, can positively impact force output so long as they don’t generate fatigue.

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