Testing Your One-Rep Max? Try This Surprising, Science-Backed Trick to Move More Weight

Unlock your maximum strength with post-activation potentiation.

Over the past two decades, the amount of research on post-activation potentiation (PAP) has skyrocketed. Most proven PAP protocols utilize a heavy strength exercise (for example, Barbell Squats) followed by a high-velocity activity (for example, Vertical Jump). By squatting a heavy weight for a couple of reps without going to failure and then resting for a few minutes, you can jump higher than you would had you not lifted the heavy weight.

But few athletes know that you can also use post-activation potentiation to increase maximal strength. How? By flipping the conventional PAP formula on its head. If you first perform an explosive movement, then rest for a short period, then get under the bar, you should be able to move more weight.

Don't just take my word for it. Let's dive into a couple different studies that have examined this very topic to illustrate just how impressive of an effect post-activation potentiation can have on your one-rep maxes.

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Over the past two decades, the amount of research on post-activation potentiation (PAP) has skyrocketed. Most proven PAP protocols utilize a heavy strength exercise (for example, Barbell Squats) followed by a high-velocity activity (for example, Vertical Jump). By squatting a heavy weight for a couple of reps without going to failure and then resting for a few minutes, you can jump higher than you would had you not lifted the heavy weight.

But few athletes know that you can also use post-activation potentiation to increase maximal strength. How? By flipping the conventional PAP formula on its head. If you first perform an explosive movement, then rest for a short period, then get under the bar, you should be able to move more weight.

Don't just take my word for it. Let's dive into a couple different studies that have examined this very topic to illustrate just how impressive of an effect post-activation potentiation can have on your one-rep maxes.

Stronger With PAP: The Studies

The first study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2003, looked at how two Depth Jumps (a high-intensity activity) performed 30 seconds before a 1RM Squat attempt affected maximal strength. The result?

Average Squat 1RM improved from 139.6 kg to 144.5 kg, which is roughly a 3.5% improvement. In other words, a 307.76-pound Squat became a 318.56-pound Squat with this PAP technique. It's worth mentioning that the researchers also examined whether three double-leg Tuck Jumps, a medium-intensity exercise, done 30 seconds before a 1RM attempt would elicit similar improvements in Squat strength. No significant changes were observed following the Tuck Jump protocol. So it's safe to say that you need to perform a high-intensity Jump variation to take advantage of the PAP effect on the subsequent Squat. This would explain why Depth Jumps led to strength gains, but Tuck Jumps did not.

So what about PAP and upper-body strength gains?

In a 2006 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, trainees experienced a significant increase in their 1RM Bench Press performance after performing two Plyometric Push-Ups or two Med Ball Chest Passes with a 3-5 kg med ball 30 seconds prior to the lift. Subjects who performed two Plyo Push-Ups before the 1RM Bench Press witnessed a 2.9 kg (6.4 pound) strength boost, on average, while the Med Ball Chest Pass group's gains averaged 3.1 kg (6.8 pounds). These numbers amount to a 2.4% and 2.6% increase, respectively, over trainees who didn't engage in any PAP activity prior to attempting a Bench Press 1RM.

How to Use This Info For Bigger Maxes

While post-activation potentiation has shown promise when it comes to driving up maximal strength in the short term, don't get too carried away with your expectations. If you haven't been consistent with your training, don't expect PAP to be some magical panacea that makes up for your laziness.

Furthermore, there's compelling evidence that PAP works best for strong and explosively trained athletes. Weaker and recreationally trained individuals don't seem to get much, if anything, out of it. The findings of the two studies discussed above confirm this notion. While the subjects were far from elite powerlifters, they still squatted about 315 pounds and benched 265 pounds on average. If your current Squat and Bench Press falls far below these numbers, don't be surprised if PAP doesn't deliver similar results to those outlined in the studies.

Trained lifters can expect about a 3 kg increase in your 1RM Bench Press when you bang out two Plyo Push-Ups or Med Ball Chest Passes 30 seconds prior to benching a maximal single. Two Depth Jumps 30 seconds prior to a Squat 1RM can increase the lift by up to 5 kilograms. Consider that it takes less than 10 seconds of extra work to perform two reps on any of these three potentiating movements. That makes PAP a very effective and time-saving tool in the toolbox of an intermediate or advanced lifter looking to squeeze out a few extra pounds worth of maximal strength gains.

References:

[1] Masamoto, N et al. "Acute Effects of Plyometric Exercise on Maximum Squat Performance in Male Athletes." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2003 Feb; 17(1):68-71.

[2] Wilcox, J et al. "Acute Explosive-Force Movements Enhance Bench-Press Performance in Athletic Men." International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 2006 Sep; 1(3):261-269.

[3] Chiu, LZF et al. "Post-activation Potentiation Response in Athletic and Recreationally Trained Individuals." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2003 Nov; 17(4):671-677.

Photo Credit: GoodLifeStudio/iStock

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Topics: SQUAT | BENCH PRESS | BUILD MUSCLE | MAX OUT