Post-Activation Potentiation

Sam Stephens

December 2019

How can plyometric exercises in the warm up help us lift more weight and make more gains?

When included in the warm up, plyometric exercises (low force, high velocity movements that result in a very quick stretch-shorten cycle of the muscle) can help boost neuromuscular activity and coordination, leading to greater strength output and more muscle growth. 

Without diving too far into the science, the inclusion of plyometrics before lifting is a way to hopefully capitalize on the concept of post-activation potentiation (PAP). PAP is a theory that basically states our muscles remember how much fiber activation was recently required and will be more prone to recruit at least the same amount of motor units during subsequent activities. Post activation potentiation can result in increased fiber recruitment towards the beginning of a set, greater strength output, and more volume completed under heavy loads.

For example, a max effort squat jump doesn’t load our muscles with a ton of weight, but it does require 100% motor unit recruitment. When performed before a heavy barbell squat, the jumps prime our neuromuscular pathways, create a short term contractile history, and make the motor neurons involved more easily excitable due to their recent activation. Performing one exercise that mimics the motor unit recruitment requirements of another essentially lowers motor unit thresholds by decreasing the stimulation needed to create action potentials. 

Studies have shown that this muscular response works with both high speed/low resistance (plyo push-up to improve bench press) and low speed/high resistance (heavy squat to improve sprint time) efforts. Post activation potentiation is what makes moderate weight feel extra light when performed after a much heavier set. 

Try this routine for your next warm up:

  • Moderate Intensity Cardio – 5 minutes
  • Dynamic Stretching – 3×8
  • Plyometrics – 3×6

Focus on bodyweight exercises like squat jumps, plyo push-ups, kettlebell swings, kipping pull ups, explosive wall balls, etc and all chosen movements should start with the targeted muscles in a contracted, or shortened state. 

To read more about PAP, check out Fitness & Nutrition Programming for Beginners or message me. I’d love to chat.