What Is Post-Activation Potentiation, and How Does It Relate to Strength Training?

Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) has been used by multiple strength coaches over the last few decades. Its origins are often rooted back to the 1980s, when Dietmar Schmidtbleicher, a German strength physiologist, had his work translated to English. While this root is arguable, many modern day coaches give Charles Poliquin credit for bringing the topic to light, as he was one of the first to discuss this theory on T Nation.

PAP is the theory that states, “The contractile history of a muscle influences the mechanical performance of subsequent muscle contractions. Fatiguing muscle contractions impair muscle performance, but non-fatiguing muscle contractions at high loads with a brief duration may enhance muscle performance.”  

What the above means is that, by contracting muscles with a heavy load for a short amount of time, our body has the ability to produce a greater rate of force development (RFD) post-movement. When we’re lifting heavier loads, we’re recruiting the muscle fibers and motor units required to match the imposed stimulus. Once we’re done with the heavy load, there is a short period of time when our neural drive is higher.

The theory of PAP training comes into play when we pair a heavy voluntary muscle contraction to an explosive movement after. By stressing the body with a heavy load we’re increasing our neural drive and recruitment; we’re then using that increase in neural drive to perform better with explosive movements after the lift. Since neural drive is higher for that short period of time, there will be an acute increase in the rate of force we can develop. Basically, PAP training is the pairing of a heavy strength movement followed by a plyometric movement.

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Why PAP works comes from two theories that revolve around why our RFD is increased when we match a heavy load with an explosive movement. First, is phosphorylation in myosin (the protein found in muscle), which creates a higher sensitivity in calcium release in muscle contractions following the heavy lift. In common terms, the sarcoplasmic reticulum in muscle releases calcium ions, which bind to receptors in the muscle and help us perform muscle contractions. The second is synaptic excitation, which is using the strength movement to increase the excitability of our nervous system, so we can increase our force generating capacity.

Have you ever lifted a super heavy load, then dropped the weight and found the lighter weight to feel like a feather? That’s because the nervous system is highly stimulated and is ready to produce more work.  

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In practical terms, this style of training encompasses a strategized means of increasing RFD for acute bouts. This is ideal for elite athletes who are trying to increase the amount of power they can produce during their sport or activity. A coach can then regulate the training by setting up appropriate work:rest ratios to ensure PAP effectiveness. When using PAP, a strength coach must be aware of their athlete’s fatigue levels. PAP will work optimally when fatigue doesn’t inhibit the performance of the plyometric movement; this is why the heavy load is kept to a short duration (lower reps, I usually prescribe 3, no more than 5). Also, higher rest period between sets (think 3-5 minutes) will provide the athlete with enough time for recovery so they can perform optimally.

Example 1: Back squat 85% 1-rm x 3 reps – 15 second rest – 5 high hurdle jumps – 4 minute rest

Example 2: Bench press 80% 1-rm x 4 reps – 15 second rest – 5 plyometric push ups – 4 minute rest

Example 3: Front squat 80% 1-rm x 3 reps – 15 second rest – 5 overhead ball throws (triple extension focused) – 4 minute rest

It’s important to note that PAP training is very individualized, meaning some athletes respond better to it than others. This is suggested due to varied training history, muscle fiber percentages (more fast, more slow), and neural differences. Usually elite athletes who need a higher RFD in their activity reciprocate best with PAP; they often have the training history and background to match the demands PAP has on the muscular and nervous systems.


1. Schmidtbleicher, D. & Haralambie, G. (1981). Changes in contractile properties of muscle after strength training in man. European Journal of Application Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 46(3), 221-228.

2. Lorenz, D. (2011). POSTACTIVATION POTENTIATION: AN INTRODUCTION. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy6(3), 234–240.

3. Grange, R. W., Vandenboom, R. & Houston, M. E. (1993). Physiological significance of myosin phosphorylation in skeletal muscle. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 18(3), 229-242.

4. Lesinski, M., Muehlbauer, T. Busch, D. & Granacher, U. (2014). Effects of complex training on strength and speed performance in athletes: A systematic review. Effects of complex training on athletic performance. Sportverletzung Sportschaden, 28(2), 85-107.