Creating the Ultimate Programming Part 1

How to Utilize Post Activation Potentiation (PAP) Into your Workout Routine

Bigger, Faster, Stronger. We have all heard it. In today’s fitness world everyone is looking for innovative methods to help achieve maximum fitness levels in a short period of time.

One method gaining popularity rapidly with strength coaches everywhere is Post Activation Potentiation (PAP) also referred to as contrast or complex training.  

What is PAP’s?

Post-Activation Potentiation (in other words known as “PAP’s”) is a phenomenon that acutely increases excitation in the neuromuscular system increasing motor unit recruitment in fast twitch muscle fibers.

Research has confirmed that using a heavy-loaded (80%-95% 1RM) strength exercise paired with a similar lighter-loaded plyometric movement will allow an athlete to generate greater Rate of Force Development (RFD). Basically, if you squat at a high intensity it should in turn increase your vertical jump height.

It is important to understand that PAP should only be used with primary strength lifts at the beginning of the workout. PAP is extremely taxing on the central nervous system (CNS) and can cause high levels of fatigue. It is crucial to use the appropriate set/rep/intensity/time when programming PAP into your routine. This method is used to increase overall power output, therefore using high volume training can be extremely dangerous when using this methodology.

How does this help me in my training?

What we love about our ATP hustlers is that everyone is striving to hit a goal in their overall fitness level. Though all of us are not high level athletes, we do experience similar hang-ups in our fitness progression. Most people who train on a regular basis have experienced some sort of plateau during their workout routine. This can become extremely frustrating when you are putting in so much time at the gym, but seeing limited to no results. Well I’m here to tell you there is a way to use PAP training in an effective way without putting our bodies at a higher risk of injury or overtraining.  

Reverse Complex Training

Reverse Complex Training can be a great way to help you increase strength and muscle mass by utilizing PAP in a different order. Basically, Reverse Complex Training (RCT) is PAP backwards. Instead of beginning your workout with a heavy loaded squat, you would perform the plyometric movement first and then move to the loaded exercise.

In theory, RCT should create similar neuromuscular response to that of PAP’s. The difference is we now have activated the body to perform higher intensity on the strength exercise versus the plyometric. This allows you to push heavier weight from set one instead of traditional methods needing you to build up to larger intensities.

Higher level athletes integrating RCT into their traditional hypertrophy training proves to be quite effective in gaining muscle mass.  Keep in mind that athletes can experience a decrease in their power during this phase.

Using RCT can help training density by not requiring as much rest time in between sets and allowing the athlete to maintain power during this block. A typical RCT programming consists of 3-5 sets of 4-5 repetitions at an intensity of (60%-80% 1RM). This is great way for athletes to increase the demand on the body and build greater power endurance.


Though there is a lot of research on PAP, is important to understand that it is not for everyone. Plenty of studies have shown that there are other methods of training that can achieve similar results. It’s important to educate yourself before trying anything new in your program. Please use this as a guide and remember there is not conclusive evidence to guarantee PAP will work for you specifically.

When programming your own exercise prescription remember to answer the three W’s. What, Where and Why:

What am I trying to accomplish during this phase/block?

Where is the athlete in their competitive season?  

Why am I using these specific concepts to achieve a certain physiological adaptation? (example:  volume/intensity/time/movements)

Stick to those basic principles and you can safely create a program that will elicit ultimate results.


1.)Contreras, B. (Designer). (2010, 05 4). Post-Activation Potentiation: Theory and Application [Web Drawing]. Retrieved from

2.)French DNKraemer WJCooke CB. Changes in dynamic exercise performance following a sequence of preconditioning isometric muscle actions. J Strength Cond Res. 2003 Nov;17(4):678-85.

3.)Gilbert, G, and Lees, A. Changes in the force development characteristics of muscle following repeated maximum force and power exercise. Ergonomics 48: 1576–1584, 2005.

4.)Gullich AC and Schmidtbleicher D. MVC-induced short-term potentiation of explosive force. N Stud Athlete 11: 67-81, 1996.

5.)Hamada TSale DGMacDougall JDTarnopolsky MA. Postactivation potentiation, fiber type, and twitch contraction time in human knee extensor muscles. J Appl Physiol. 2000 Jun;88(6):2131-7.

6.)Hilfiker RHübner KLorenz TMarti B. Effects of drop jumps added to the warm-up of elite sport athletes with a high capacity for explosive force development. J Strength Cond Res. 2007 May;21(2):550-5.

7.)Horwath, R., & Kravitz , L. (n.d.). postactivation potentiation: A brief review. Informally published manuscript, Exercise Science , Retrieved from folder/postactivationUNM.html

8.)Macintosh BR and Rassier DE. What is fatigue? Can J Appl Physiol 27: 42-55, 2002.

9.)McCann, MR and Flanagan, SP. McCann, MR and Flanagan, SP. The effects of exercise selection and rest interval on postactivation potentiation of vertical jump performance. J Strength Cond Res 24(5): 1285-1291, 2010

10. Rixon KP, Lamont HS, Bemben M. Influence of type of muscle contraction, gender, and lifting experience on postactivation potentiation performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2007; 21: 500–505.

11.)Robbins, D.W. Postactivation potentiation and its practical applicability: a brief review. J Strength Cond Res. 2005, 19(2): 453-458.

12.)Saez de Villarreal, E.S., Gonzalez-Badillo, J.J. & Izquierdo, M. (2007). Optimal warm-up stimuli of muscle activation to enhance short and long-term acute jumping performance. Eur J Appl Physiol, 100 (4), 393-401.