Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2005, 19(2), 453–458
? 2005 National Strength & Conditioning Association
POSTACTIVATION POTENTIATION AND ITS PRACTICAL
APPLICABILITY: A BRIEF REVIEW
DANIEL W. ROBBINS
School of Physical Education, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
ABSTRACT. Robbins D. W. Postactivation potentiation and its
practical applicability: A brief review. J. Strength Cond. Res.
19(2):453–458. 2005.—It has been suggested that postactivation
potentiation (PAP) may be manipulated to enhance both acute
performance and chronic adaptation. PAP refers to the phenom-
enon by which acute muscle force output is enhanced as a result
of contractile history. Evidence exists regarding the existence of
PAP. However, the determination of methods to best manipulate
and exploit PAP remains elusive. Studies to date would seem to
indicate that the practical applicability of PAP in terms of en-
hancing athletic performance is limited.
KEY WORDS. postactivation potentiation, complex training, per-
formance, neuromuscular, contractile
However, at the same time fatigue is realized, postacti-
vation potentiation (PAP) is also elicited (21, 27). PAP
refers to the phenomenon by which acute muscle force
output is enhanced as a result of contractile history and
is the premise upon which ‘‘complex training’’ is based. It
has been postulated that explosive movements may be
enhanced if preceded by heavy resistance exercise (3, 4,
10, 12, 13, 25, 29, 30). For example, the execution of a set
of high-intensity squats prior to the performance of ver-
tical or horizontal jumps enhances jumping performance.
Loading of the neuromuscular system elicits an ‘‘excited’’
or ‘‘sensitive’’ state in which performance is enhanced
Contractile activity produces both fatigue and PAP,
and it is the balance between the two that determines
whether the subsequent contractile response is enhanced,
diminished, or unchanged (21). The poststimulus state
depends on the timelines of PAP and fatigue. Both PAP
and fatigue may increase immediately following contrac-
tile activity and then gradually return to prestimulus lev-
els (27). The optimal recovery time or window is depen-
dent on the decay rate of PAP and the dissipation of fa-
tigue. That is, the coexistence of fatigue and PAP may
result in a net potentiated state, a net attenuated state,
or a constant state as compared to the prestimulus state.
When discussing PAP in this review, the operational def-
inition of PAP will be a net potentiated response. PAP
and its mechanisms have been examined in a number of
studies. Although there is consensus regarding the exis-
tence of PAP, the mechanisms underlying it are yet to be
This review will briefly provide evidence for the exis-
tence of PAP (through an abridged review of the existing
literature) and discuss the perceived paucity of informa-
he contractile response of skeletal muscle is
partially determined by its contractile history.
Repetitive contractile stimulation results in an
attenuation of performance due to fatigue.
tion with respect to PAP and performance enhancement.
The main purpose of this paper will be to critically discuss
the practical applicability of PAP and, in particular, to
raise interest in determining how best to exploit it. It is
not the intent of this review to detract in any way from
the importance of studies conducted on PAP at a physi-
ological level. A clear understanding of PAP and its mech-
anisms will be necessary to take full advantage of this
phenomenon. However, for exercise physiologists the ul-
timate goal is to improve athletic performance; assuming
the existence of PAP, it would seem to be our obligation
to determine if and how this phenomenon can be manip-
ulated in order to achieve that goal.
EVIDENCE OF PAP
Evidence supporting the existence of PAP has been pro-
vided in a number of settings. Metzger et al. (22) con-
ducted a study in which skinned mammalian skeletal
muscle fibers were examined. They observed twitch po-
tentiation in the skinned fibers and concluded that the
potentiation was a result of increased myosin light chain
phosphorylation. Studies have also examined the twitch
contractile properties of muscle in vivo and have consis-
tently described increased twitch tension, increased rate
of tension development, and decreased poststimulus re-
laxation time (2, 14, 15, 23, 24). These studies measured
PAP as the difference in electrically evoked twitch char-
acteristics prestimulus and poststimulus.
Unlike the skinned-fiber experiments and in vivo
studies outlined above in which contractile properties
were examined, a number of studies have been successful
in eliciting PAP in the form of enhancements in athletic
performance. Gu ¨illich and Schmidtbleicher (13) loaded
participants’ neuromuscular systems by using 3–5 uni-
lateral leg press maximal voluntary isometric contrac-
tions (MVICs). Following this loading of the neuromus-
cular system, subjects performed vertical countermove-
ment jumps (CMJs) and depth jumps (DJs) on a Kistler
dynamometric platform. The mean of 8 jumps was cal-
culated for the sets of jumps pre- and postloading. The
researchers found that the participants jumped on aver-
age 3.3% higher following 3 independent MVICs than
they did in the set of jumps prior to the loading. These
results represented a significant mean improvement in
vertical jump height (p ? 0.001). The investigators also
elicited PAP in the upper body, using MVICs in the bench
press position as the loading stimulus and bench press
throws as the performance measurement. Unfortunately,
the experimental design utilized in this study is some-
Radcliffe and Radcliffe (25) conducted a study in
which 5 warm-up protocols were performed: a standard
warm-up, a warm-up plus 4 sets of back squats at 75–
85% 4 repetition maximum (4RM), a warm-up plus 4 sets
of 4 power snatches at 75–85% 4RM, a warm-up plus 4
sets of 4 loaded jumps with 15–20% body weight added,
and a warm-up plus 4 sets of 4 unloaded jumps. These
warm-ups were performed 1 per day on nonconsecutive
days in random order. Following the warm-up protocols,
3 maximal effort horizontal CMJs were performed. The
results indicated that the jump distance was significantly
greater for men after the warm-up plus snatch protocol
than after the standard warm-up alone. The investigators
concluded that using the power snatch in a warm-up pro-
tocol significantly improved horizontal countermovement
jump performance. This study is available in abstract
form only and lacks detail with regard to experimental
design and methodology.
Young et al. (30) found a significant improvement
(2.8%) in vertical jump height in a set of jumps postload-
ing compared to preloading. The investigators preceded a
5RM half squat with a set of 5 loaded countermovement
jumps (LCMJs). Another set of 5 LCMJs was performed
4 minutes postloading. Vertical-jump height attained in
the set of jumps following the 5RM half squat was statis-
tically greater than that attained in the set of jumps pre-
ceding the 5RM squat (p ? 0.05). However, it should be
noted that the experimental design consisted of 2 sets of
LCMJs being performed prior to the loading. Therefore,
possible cumulative effects on fatigue or PAP may have
resulted from the ordering. That is, rather than attribut-
ing the increase in performance solely to the 5RM half
squat, perhaps it can be attributed to the 5RM in com-
bination with the sets of LCMJs.
More recently, PAP as reflected in performance en-
hancement has been observed in both the upper and low-
er body. A 2.39% improvement in vertical-jumping ability
was found post- versus prestimulus (12). The investiga-
tors had the participants perform 5 sets of half squats of
2 repetitions each at 20, 40, 60, 80, and 90% of their 1RM.
The researchers also found that participants with greater
maximal strength experienced greater improvements in
vertical-jump ability. Baker (3) investigated PAP in the
upper body and found a 4.5% increase in power output
following a 6RM bench press executed at 65% 1RM. Pow-
er output was measured while performing bench press
throws with a resistance of 50 kg. The experimental de-
sign was similar to that used by Young et al. (30), and
therefore potential ordering effects may have played a
role in performance enhancement. Chiu et al. (4) com-
pared explosive jumps prior to and following 5 sets of 1-
repetition back squats at 90% 1RM. Although they ini-
tially found no significant enhancement in performance,
when the subjects were divided into a trained power
group and a recreationally active group and compared,
significant differences were found. However, it was the
potentiation percentage difference between the groups
that was compared rather than the change in jump per-
formance. French et al. (10) assessed a number of dynam-
ic exercises following a sequence of leg extension MVICs
of 3 repetitions at 3 seconds or 3 repetitions at 5 seconds.
They found significant increases in jump height, maximal
force, and acceleration impulse in the drop jump and sig-
nificant increases in knee extension maximal torque fol-
lowing the 3 ? 3 protocol.
Studies attempting to elicit PAP as measured by a
poststimulus performance activity are much more equiv-
ocal than those examining twitch contractile properties.
Gossen and Sale (11) conducted a study in which a 10-
second MVIC was followed 15 seconds later by dynamic
contractions. Performance, as measured by dynamic knee
extension, was not enhanced poststimulus but rather was
attenuated. The investigators concluded that the 15-sec-
ond rest interval between resistive exercise and perfor-
mance measurement was insufficient. That is, at 15 sec-
onds poststimulus the effects of fatigue elicited via the
10-second MVIC were greater than the benefits of any
elicited PAP. Ebben et al. (9) examined the effect of a set
of high-intensity bench press on subsequent medicine ball
power drop. They found no significant enhancements in
mean ground reaction force, maximum ground reaction
force, or integrated electromyographic values for the pec-
toralis major and triceps muscles. The investigators con-
cluded that the coupling of biomechanically similar ex-
ercises in a ‘‘complex training’’ modality offered no train-
ing advantage or disadvantage. They suggested that the
absence of attenuation in performance supported the pos-
tulate that complex training may be advantageous in
terms of efficiency and organization, in that it allows for
resistance and plyometric training to be performed in the
Hrysomallis and Kidgell (16) performed a study in
which PAP was assessed in the upper body. Performance,
as measured by explosive push-ups, was not enhanced as
a result of a 5RM bench press. The authors suggested
that the absence of PAP could be due to a number of rea-
sons, including the supposition that the requirements to
elicit PAP in the upper body may differ from those re-
quired to elicit PAP in the lower body. Jensen and Ebben
(17) investigated the effect of a 5RM back squat on CMJ
performance executed at varying poststimulus rest inter-
vals. They found there to be no ergogenic advantage as-
sociated with complex training and suggested that a de-
crease in performance is realized immediately poststim-
ulus, with no significant differences in jumps performed
1–4 minutes poststimulus as compared to jumps per-
formed prestimulus. Koch et al. (19) compared the effect
of 3 warm-up routines on standing broad jump (SBJ) per-
formance and found no significant differences among the
routines. The routines compared were high-force, low-rep-
etition squats; high-power, low-repetition speed squats;
and stretching. These findings do not support the sug-
gestion that the stimulus needs to be performed quickly
at relatively low intensity in order to alleviate any poten-
tial neural output attunement due to slow lifting speeds.
That is, this study does not support the suggestion that
studies that failed to elicit enhancements in performance
did so because they used a stimulus other than a high-
A study conducted by Duthie et al. (6) also failed to
demonstrate enhancements in performance. This study
attempted to examine power performance in loaded jump
squats over 3 consecutive trials using 3 different proto-
cols. The 3 protocols involved the combination of 3 sets of
3RM half squats with 3 sets of 4 jump squats performed
at 30% of 1RM. One protocol attempted to take advantage
of PAP over the 3 sets via a complex (referred to as ‘‘con-
trast’’ in the study) training method. However, perfor-
mance enhancement was not observed in any of the 3 sets
of 4 jump squats in any of the training protocols. Al-
though enhancement of performance was not detected, a
correlation between absolute strength and performance
was determined with respect to the complex protocol. Spe-
cifically, absolute strength was correlated to peak power
and maximal force at r ? 0.66 and r ? 0.76, respectively.
Thus, 43.56% of the variability in peak power and 57.76%
of the variability in maximal force are directly predictable
from the variability in absolute power. This leaves ap-
proximately half of the variability in both peak power and
maximal force unexplained. It is important to note that
this correlation represents a relationship rather than
cause and effect. Stronger subjects, although not achiev-
ing enhancement in performance, did realize a smaller
decrement in the data measurements following the resis-
tive exercise (as compared to the preresistive exercise val-
ues) than did the less strong subjects. This suggestion is
supported by similar findings in Young et al. (30). The
correlation indicated that subjects with greater absolute
strength were better able to benefit from a training mo-
dality in which resistive exercises were followed by power
exercises in an alternating fashion.
Three studies performed at the University of Victoria
also failed to elicit any enhancements in performance fol-
lowing a resistive exercise. Scott and Docherty (28) saw
no improvements in either mean or maximal vertical or
horizontal jump height following a 5RM squat. However,
some subjects did in fact enhance performance poststim-
ulus, whereas others attenuated performance. This sup-
ports the postulate that PAP is an individual-specific phe-
nomenon. King (18) found no enhancements in vertical
jump performance following 2.5-, 5-, or 10-second MVICs
performed in the squat position. It was postulated that
the 10- and 5-second contractions may have elicited fa-
tigue sufficient to outweigh any PAP. With respect to all
contraction durations, individual-specific variables such
as training status and fiber-type composition may have
been responsible for the lack of enhancement in the per-
formance measurement. A third study conducted at the
University of Victoria investigated PAP over 3 consecu-
tive sets and found no significant enhancements in per-
formance (26). In an attempt to replicate a typical com-
plex training session, a 7-second MVIC performed in the
squat position was followed by a series of 5 CMJs. This
complex pair was performed over 3 trials, and 6 depen-
dent variables were measured for all 3 sets of CMJs.
Evidence for the existence of PAP with respect to
twitch contractile properties is abundant. Evidence for
PAP also exists in more practical performance-type mea-
surements. However, the evidence for PAP in perfor-
mance measurements has been somewhat confounded by
studies which have failed to observe enhancements in
poststimulus performance. Although scarce and perhaps
confounded, evidence as to the existence of PAP with re-
spect to both twitch contractile properties and perfor-
mance measurements does exist.
EXPLOITATION OF PAP
Presuming that the phenomenon of PAP does exist, ex-
ercise physiologists must determine if, and how, it can be
harnessed to enhance athletic performance. It has been
hypothesized that PAP may be exploited in order to
achieve short-term enhancement of power performance or
to achieve chronic adaptation through training and there-
by improve performance (6, 13, 30).
Short-term Enhancement of Power
It has been suggested that the execution of high-intensity
contractions prior to the performance of an athletic activ-
ity can enhance the performance of that activity (3, 12,
13, 25, 30). That is, PAP may be exploited in a warm-up
protocol to enhance subsequent performance. Gu ¨llich and
Schmidtbliecher (13) reported that in 1995 a bobsledding
team used maximal voluntary contractions (MVCs) prior
to competition to elicit PAP and subsequently won the
world championship. However, this was not a controlled
study and any number of variables or combinations there-
of may have been responsible for the bobsledding world
championship. Perhaps PAP did contribute to their per-
formance. However, it would seem problematic to con-
clude that the MVCs performed prior to competition con-
tributed in a positive manner to the team’s performance.
This is not to say that the execution of high-intensity con-
tractions prior to competition cannot work to enhance
performance, but rather that further research is neces-
sary before any conclusions can be drawn.
A number of considerations would need to be taken
into account if an attempt were to be made to manipulate
contractile history in order to enhance acute athletic per-
formance through PAP. The training variables requiring
consideration include type of contraction (e.g., isometric,
concentric-eccentric, etc.), intensity, volume (e.g., repeti-
tions, sets, cadence, time under tension), rest interval(s)
between possible multiple sets, rest interval within the
complex pair, and possible varying responses of different
muscle groups. Young et al. (30) and Duthie et al. (6) have
suggested that there is a relationship between strength
and PAP, specifically, that stronger, better-trained ath-
letes may be better equipped to benefit from PAP. Gu ¨llich
and Schmidtbliecher (13) concluded that the time course
of PAP varied greatly between individuals. These postu-
lates suggest high interindividual variability with respect
to PAP and further confound any attempt to manipulate
contractile history for the purpose of enhancing perfor-
mance. Assuming interindividual variability does exist, a
multitude of categorical variables would also need to be
considered. These include training status, training age,
chronological age, genetics (e.g., fiber-type composition),
anthropometrics, gender, relative strength, and absolute
strength. Before any conclusions can be made as to the
efficacy of exploiting PAP in a warm-up protocol designed
to enhance performance, further scientific research is re-
It has been suggested that PAP may be manipulated
when training to produce high chronic adaptation (6, 13,
30). The manipulation of PAP within a training protocol
is commonly referred to as complex training. Complex
training combines traditional resistance training with
plyometric training in an attempt to transfer strength
gains into power (5). Complex training utilizes biome-
chanically comparable exercises in conjunction with each
other (8). Commonly, a high-intensity/low-volume resis-
tance training exercise is paired with a plyometric exer-
cise targeting the same muscle group, and this coupling
is commonly referred to as a complex pair (5). For ex-
ample, back squats may be followed by depth jumps in an
attempt to develop lower body power. Different combi-
nations of resistance and plyometric training have been
utilized and investigated. In a review by Ebben (7) it was
concluded that complex training (following a high-inten-
sity resistance exercise with a biomechanically compara-
ble plyometric exercise) was as effective as, or possibly
superior to, other combinations of resistance and plyome-
tric training. Plyometric training is done at maximum
speeds in order to train the athlete to compete at higher
speeds (5). Power is important for performance in many
sports, and it has been suggested that complex training
can be significant in its development.
It is the phenomenon of PAP that is the basis of com-
plex training, although other mechanisms may also be
involved in the mediating of performance through com-
plex training. Complex training attempts to capitalize on
PAP resulting from high-intensity resistance training.
The plyometric phase, which is performed after heavy
loading, is executed while the system is in an ‘‘excited
state.’’ Power performance is thereby enhanced and the
training can be performed at a higher level. Although not
directly concerned with PAP, a number of studies have
provided scientific evidence to support the superiority of
complex training as a method to train and develop ath-
letic power (1, 29), concluding that it is an advantageous
means of developing power and enhancing athletic per-
formance. Studies performed by Verkhoshansky and Ta-
tyan (29) and Adams et al. (1) concluded that complex
training was superior in developing power to either resis-
tance training or plyometric training alone. A second Ver-
khoshansky and Tatyan (29) study concluded that com-
plex training was superior to resistance training but less
effective than depth jumps alone in developing vertical
jump power. These 3 studies act to support the hypothesis
that complex training is an advantageous means of de-
Lyttle et al. (20) also suggested the superiority of com-
plex training over resistance training or plyometric train-
ing alone as a tool for enhancing power development. Lyt-
tle et al. (20) compared the effects on performance of com-
plex training and maximal power training under the as-
sumption that both modalities are superior to resistance
training or plyometric training alone with respect to pow-
er development. Although it was determined that no sig-
nificant differences exist between the 2 programs, that in
itself is not an unfavorable conclusion with respect to
complex training. In fact, it suggests that complex train-
ing is as effective as dynamic training in developing pow-
er. It should be noted that the term ‘‘complex training’’
has been used to describe varying combinations of resis-
tance and plyometric training and that PAP could only
be considered to have enhanced performance if the activ-
ity was performed poststimulus in the same ‘‘complex
The literature indicates that complex training is as
effective as, if not more effective than, other training pro-
tocols with respect to developing power. One possible ex-
planation for this could be the successful manipulation of
PAP, which would allow the athlete to train at a higher
level and consequently realize improved gains. However,
it is important to note that these studies concerning com-
plex training did not directly examine PAP. Therefore, it
is impossible to draw any conclusions regarding PAP in
relation to these studies. Evidence for the existence of
PAP as measured in a performance activity has been pro-
vided through a number of studies. Although there is con-
sensus regarding the existence of PAP, questions remain
regarding how best to elicit PAP and how best to capital-
ize on it. In particular, protocols for eliciting PAP and
exploiting it in the enhancement of athletic performance
remain elusive. PAP is central to complex training, and,
therefore, special importance should be devoted to this
An attempt has been made not only to provide evidence
for the existence of PAP, but also to present some of the
factors which must be considered when attempting to ma-
nipulate PAP with the intention of enhancing athletic
performance. An abundance of literature exists with re-
spect to twitch contractile properties poststimulus com-
pared to prestimulus. An even larger number of studies
have examined mechanisms by which PAP occurs. How-
ever, literature regarding the manipulation of training
variables in an attempt to elicit and subsequently exploit
PAP as expressed in the enhancement of athletic perfor-
mance is scarce. The determination of parameters for the
training variables is confounded by the postulate that
high interindividual variability is associated with PAP.
Thus, the problem that arises is the identification of spe-
cific parameters for each training variable for an individ-
ual athlete or group of homogenous athletes. In order to
determine optimal values for the 6 training variables dis-
cussed above, athletes would first need to be grouped ac-
cording to the 8 categorical variables also discussed
above. Following this, a series of experiments would need
to be performed to determine if PAP could be exploited to
enhance performance. That is, once the athlete had been
categorized, the type of contraction, intensity, volume,
and rest interval(s) could be set at optimal values through
a series of trial-and-error experiments. This process
would need to be repeated for varying muscle groups and
varying athletic activities. Thus, parameters could be set
for each homogenous group of individuals, thereby allow-
ing the enhancement of acute athletic performance. This
is assuming that PAP may be elicited in all athletic pro-
files. It is possible that certain individuals or groups may
not respond. It has been suggested that stronger individ-
uals are better equipped to respond to this type of train-
ing (6, 12, 13, 30), and as such exercise prescriptions tar-
geting strength may be recommended prior to the pre-
scription of complex training-type exercises.
Assuming that contractile history may be manipulat-
ed to result in enhanced performance, the question of fea-
sibility is raised. It would be a considerable task to de-
termine training variable parameters for countless differ-
ent athletic profiles. Assuming training variables were
determined in conjunction with the categorical variables,
a myriad of other implications could arise. For example,
if it were determined that a single 5-second MVIC per-
formed in the squat position was optimal as a stimulus
for a certain athletic profile in order to enhance high-
jump performance, possible practicality problems could
include (a) the availability of MVIC equipment at the site
of competition, (b) coordinating the PAP/fatigue timelines
within the competition timeline, and (c) subsequent
jumps and any cumulative effects. Issues of transferabil-
ity could also arise. Whereas the aforementioned MVIC
may act to enhance high-jump performance, it may not
act to enhance performance of an activity such as a 100-
m sprint or rugby game. Again, a series of trial-and-error
experiments would be necessary to determine the possible
applicability of PAP to various athletic activities.
The concept of manipulating PAP in a training mo-
dality, such as complex training, requires scientific re-
search. Studies have compared complex training to other
modalities but have not specifically examined PAP. Two
studies have investigated PAP over multiple sets (6, 26).
However, these were acute studies and therefore cannot
be extrapolated to chronic adaptation resulting from PAP.
If training variable parameters could be determined for a
given athletic profile, these could perhaps be applied to
multiple sets and performed over a training macrocycle.
This training modality (complex training) could be com-
pared to other modalities aimed at developing power and
some conclusions as to the efficacy of PAP with respect to
chronic adaptation could perhaps be drawn. However, it
is possible that the optimal parameters determined in or-
der to enhance acute performance (assuming their exis-
tence) could not be applied to multiple sets. It is also pos-
sible that a net potentiated state may not be elicited over
consecutive sets. It would again be necessary to perform
a series of experiments to determine if and how a complex
training modality is superior to other training programs
in terms of developing power.
Assuming PAP could be exploited in such a way as to
allow a complex training type of modality to result in su-
perior gains in power as compared with similar training
modalities, other obstacles could arise. For example, ef-
ficiency could become an issue if it were determined that
in order to optimally develop lower-body power in a cer-
tain athletic profile 4 sets of a given complex pair should
be performed with rest intervals of 5 minutes between
and within the complex pair. Athletes and coaches may
not be willing to spend approximately 40 minutes per-
forming 4 complex sets.
The purpose of this review has not been to provide evi-
dence for the existence of PAP. Rather, given the as-
sumption that PAP does exist, an attempt has been made
to examine the practical applicability of PAP with respect
to enhancing athletic performance. The hypothesis that
high-intensity contractions performed prior to a single ac-
tivity (e.g., a 100-m sprint) can improve performance in
that activity has been discussed. The results discussed in
the literature regarding the enhancement of acute per-
formance are equivocal, and the task of determining pos-
sible parameters allowing for consistent enhancement of
performance is a daunting one. The hypothesis that the
execution of high-intensity contractions prior to a pro-
longed activity (e.g., a rugby game) improves performance
has not been examined in the literature, and as such, any
conclusions lack supportive scientific evidence. With re-
spect to chronic adaptation, some evidence does exist to
suggest that complex training is at least as beneficial as
other comparable training methods designed to develop
power. However, as discussed above, it is impossible to
speculate as to the significance of PAP in these studies.
At present, the existing body of literature would seem to
suggest that the practical applicability of PAP with re-
spect to enhancing athletic performance is limited.
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