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Become a More Explosive Athlete by Incorporating PAP Complexes Into Your Workouts

March 26, 2012

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Looking to move more efficiently and apply more power to the critical movements of your sport? Try incorporating complexes that take advantage of Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) and allow you to train athleticism during strength workouts.

Complex training is an advanced conditioning method that combines high-load strength movements with biomechanically similar plyometric movements. PAP refers to the enhancement of muscle function following high force activity. Sports scientists have found that heavy loading prior to an explosive movement induces a high degree of central nervous system stimulation, resulting in greater motor unit recruitment and force, lasting from five to 30 minutes.1 In other words, a heavy strength movement can lead to enhanced muscle function and optimum conditions for performing a subsequent explosive movement that engages the same muscle groups.

It is important to note that when you perform a heavy strength movement, or max contraction, there is always a tradeoff between fatigue and the potentiation effect. Athletes who have not made resistance training adaptations will most likely be too fatigued after the initial strength movement to benefit from PAP. This is okay. Athletes who cannot immediately take advantage of PAP can still benefit from complex training, since it allows them to train for athleticism and power during a strength workout. Once a foundation is built and adaptations are in place, athletes can expect their muscles to create more explosive power.

P3 Testing and Workouts
At P3 (Peak Performance Project), we are constantly measuring and analyzing movements, using motion capture technology, electronic timing systems and custom force plates. The ability to give athletes real-time feedback and quantify progress from session to session is extremely valuable, because it takes the guesswork out of athletic development.


This force plate graph shows the effect of long-term power adaptations in a pro baseball player who benefited from complex training. Not only did his quantity of force greatly increase during training, he also changed the way he produced his maximal force. The shape of the solid red Horizontal Force line is a smooth, exponential increase, representing the necessary buildup for maximal power, a quality we refer to as "tempo."

On a number of occasions, P3 has measured the effects of PAP on individual athletes. To measure PAP effects on vertical and horizontal jump performance, we had athletes perform Depth Jumps and Skaters (lateral plyometrics) off our custom-made force plates. For all of our tests, 75 percent of the athletes performed significantly better after loading from a heavy strength exercises, like Squats. All the test subjects were experienced, power-trained athletes. Studies have shown a great deal of individual variability in terms of when the potentiation effect occurs. Although a number of variables need to be taken into account, I believe that the execution of high-intensity contractions prior to competition can enhance performance, especially if an individual's physiology and reaction to different variables are well understood due to trial and error testing.

P3 uses quarterly testing to measure and chart athletes' long-term adaptations. In almost all cases, we have seen significant maximal power increases in relevant forms of movement, as well as the speed with which the force is achieved in a movement. Most important, many of these adaptations and gains correlate well with performance during competition.

Along with short- and long-term power adaptations, taking advantage of PAP through complex training is an excellent way to increase training density. This directly affects work capacity and is essential for building the type of anaerobic energy system and muscle endurance that allow an athlete to give maximal effort throughout the course of a competition or practice.

P3 applied the complex below to Utah Jazz power forward Derrick Favors to improve his lateral explosiveness and ability to change direction. When done with short rest intervals, this complex is very demanding from a metabolic standpoint. Last off-season, we pushed Favors to become a "metabolic monster" so he could give maximal effort throughout the course of a 48-minute game without fatiguing.

Athletes are always looking to improve their lateral speed, change of direction and overall lateral explosiveness. Although sets, reps and work-to-rest ratios can—and should—be manipulated to reach desired goals, we recommend the following complex to athletes who are new to complex training and who are looking to maximize power adaptations and take advantage of PAP.

Lateral Explosiveness Complex
Perform complex four times.

Trap Bar Deadlift

  • Stand in trap bar in Deadlift stance with feet hip-width apart; grasp handles
  • Drive up to standing position, keeping back flat and chest out
  • Lower through same motion with control

Reps: 6-8
Rest: 1-3 minutes

Lateral Depth Jump

  • Position two plyo boxes three to four feet apart
  • Stand between boxes
  • Jump up and to side to land on plyo box; immediately hop off
  • Land at start position and immediately explode up onto opposite plyo box
  • Hop off plyo box and immediately repeat sequence for specified reps

Reps: 3 each direction
Rest: 30 seconds

Lateral Agility

  • Set up two cones five yards apart
  • Assume athletic stance at cone one
  • Shuffle to cone two, stop and touch cone
  • Shuffle back to cone one, stop and touch cone
  • Repeat drill as fast as possible for specified time

Duration: 12-15 seconds
Rest: 30 seconds

Side Plank

  • Lie on side with elbow tucked under body
  • Rise into side plank position so only elbow and side of foot touch ground
  • Hold for specified time; switch sides

Duration: 30 seconds; alternate sides each set
Rest: 30 seconds; repeat complex

1. Chiu, L.Z., Fry, A.C., Weiss, L.W., Schilling, B.K., Brown, L.E., & Smith, S.L. (2003). "Postactivation potentiation response in athletic and recreationally trained individuals." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 17(4), 671-677.

P3 (Peak Performance Project) was created to offer athletes the highest level of performance enhancement by understanding and applying the latest findings in exercise physiology and sports science. P3 is led by Harvard-trained physician Dr. Marcus Elliott, an internationally recognized leader in the field of performance enhancement. Dr. Elliott and P3 Performance specialists have successfully trained many of the world's finest athletes in all power-based sports, including basketball, football, baseball, volleyball, soccer and tennis.

- P3 (Peak Performance Project) was created to offer athletes the highest level of performance enhancement by understanding and applying the latest findings in exercise physiology...
- P3 (Peak Performance Project) was created to offer athletes the highest level of performance enhancement by understanding and applying the latest findings in exercise physiology...
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