The following post is from a lecture given by current NSCA President, Dr. Greg Haff, at an NSCA conference (I believe it was the 2016 Coaches Conference). I just wanted to share some of the notes I took and expand with some of my thoughts on how to better use these complexes for strength and power training.
*Disclaimer – I do not have the papers to reference for which Dr. Haff used in his presentation; I only have the facts that he stated and presented. However, I can assure you that he is very diligent in supporting what he presents with peer-reviewed research findings.
**Disclaimer #2 – I also want to point out that these are my opinions of what I took away from the presentation. This is not me speaking on behalf of Dr. Haff. I may very well have misunderstood some things, though I feel confident I did not.
We all know that strength and power training in sport is extremely important, especially when that sport is strictly requiring those traits. Well, what if we could enhance our results in less time (as far as session time, maybe not as far as time for positive adaptation – or maybe so??).
Post-activation potentiation (PAP) is something most of us have used before in the strength and power training of our athletes. Lift a heavy weight, then do some similar, lighter activity more explosively shortly thereafter. Why do we do this? Because PAP has potential to increase movement velocity and rate of force development (RFD).
Dr. Haff addressed PAP training to increase strength and power in his presentation and discussed the current research (or current as of January 2016). Let’s see if the research is in support or opposition of what you do with your athletes.
What Should be the “Conditioning” Activity?
Conditioning in this instance is meaning that of conditioning the muscle. So, what should the main activity in the protocol become? Most of us use squats or deadlifts, as the stimulus is multi-joint and heavy, while some coaches like to use heavy isometrics. Which is best?
Isometrics Cause a Negative Performance Response
I have not personally read anything stating that isometrics cause performance decrements (though, it seems to be a large part of the success behind Coach Dietz’ Tri-Phasic method), but we know that strength increases while using isometrics can only happen within 15 degrees (positive or negative) of the angle being held. So, if our main goal while using a PAP protocol is to increase both strength and power, why not use a full range of motion to build strength throughout that full range?
High Intensity is Best
Instinctively, we know this, but it’s good to be supported by research. And, of course, if we’re using a heavier movement, the lighter movement that follows will feel much lighter (hence, the name and idea of potentiation). It has been shown that it is best to use loads of >85% 1RM with the “conditioning” movement of the PAP protocol that you choose to use.
Weightlifting Movements, Squats, and Deadlifts
You were right, squats and deadlifts are great tools for this protocol, along with the weightlifting movements. Overall, I think as long as you choose multi-joint movements that cause a larger systemic response, you’re on the right track.
The performance activity, in this sense, is an explosive activity that involves little or no external loading and is similar to the “conditioning” activity that preceded it in the PAP protocol. In his presentation, Dr. Haff recommended activities like jumps, sprints, throws, and plyometrics. Because we want these to be explosive, we would keep the repetitions low and very technical on these performance movements.
When is it Appropriate to Use PAP for Strength and Power Training?
This could lead to a debate, I’m sure. Let’s keep it short; it’s best if the athletes in question have had at least two years of training experience, as this is the training age that has shown the largest impact from PAP protocols. The more experience, the better results.
Generally, I would think this is because the response we want is directed by the “conditioning” activity, which needs to be heavier. If younger athletes who have just learned how to squat or deadlift are expected to do a heavy set and then jump, it may not be the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen. Their movement, in this early stage of training, must take precedent. Therefore, this type of protocol may be too advanced that early in the training process.
As they become more experienced, they will be able to hold their technique through higher intensity activities. This is the appropriate time to begin using protocols like PAP.
Having said that more experienced athletes show greater results, stronger athletes also show greater results. Yes, these go together, as more experienced athletes will have had more time in the weight room to become stronger. However, stronger athletes not only lift more, but also express higher power outputs, which makes the overall response to PAP that much greater.
Stronger athletes benefit more from PAP protocols that include lower sets with heavier loads (>85% 1RM)
What is “Strong?”
It may be important to distinguish what is considered “strong” and what is not. This may help direct you to which type of PAP protocol is best for the adaptation of each individual athlete. Dr. Haff presented the following numbers, though I’m not sure if these were his standards or those of someone else.
Squat (male): >1.75x bodyweight
Squat (female): >1.5x bodyweight
Bench (male): >1.35x bodyweight
Bench (female): I am missing the note for female bench – it may not have been presented, though.
What About the Weak Athletes?
What if weaker athletes that do not meet these strength standards use a PAP protocol? To which type of protocol do they respond better?
Dr. Haff stated that weaker athletes respond better to protocols which use multiple, lighter loads. I’m assuming this is describing the loads and volume of the “conditioning” activity such as squats or deadlifts within the protocol. So, if you must use a PAP protocol with weaker athletes (maybe with a team that has a large mix of strength levels where you don’t want to discourage the weaker athletes), program more sets with lighter loads, while keeping lower repetitions per set.
Recovery between sets is an important variable in the programming of any protocol. Though, it may be even-more-so important in PAP protocols, as this time between activities could completely defeat the purpose or completely drive the adaptations.
*The following is in terms of time between the conditioning activity and the performance activity.
Weaker athletes need more time between activities to gain the greatest benefit, while stronger athletes need less time. Though, the funny thing is that we know the heavier the load being used, the longer rest required, which is why, I think, we see the “greatest benefit” (below) being almost equal.
Stronger athletes: 3 minutes (greatest benefit = 5-7 minutes)
Weaker athletes: 6 minutes (greatest benefit = 8 minutes)
Now, it would be great if we could follow the “greatest benefit” rest recommendation, unfortunately most of us are restricted to how long we can train our athletes.
Dr. Haff mentioned that he was working on some ways to fit proper rest into a PAP protocol while also being able to keep the total time of the session reasonable. I have not seen anything showing this yet, but I’m sure he’s working on it (or maybe already published it and I just haven’t read it). Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing more on it.
Some Movement Examples for You
What are some good examples for combinations of strength and power (conditioning activity and performance activity) movements that you can use for your program? Really, just be creative!
Try some of these out:
- Back Squat + Jump
- Overhead Squat + Jump
- Back Squat + Sprint
- Snatch Pull + Throw
- Clean Pull + Throw
- Snatch Pull + Jump
- Clean Pull + Jump
- Snatch + Jump
- Clean + Jump
- Snatch + Sprint
- Clean + Sprint
How to Choose/Create Your PAP Protocol?
The best way to make sure your PAP protocol stimulates the greatest results is to program the appropriate volume load for the individual. Use the strength standards to determine where each individual falls on the spectrum. From there, you can decide if they are “weaker” and need lighter load, more sets, and more rest, or if they are “stronger” and need heavier load, shorter overall rest, and less volume.
If you’re working in a team setting, you could create two programs; one for the “weaker” athletes and one for the “stronger,” as determined by 1RM testing of the back squat and bench press.
Overall, be sure to keep the total volume lower, mainly by way of keeping the repetitions per set lower. This is because we are trying to improve strength and power. If you get over five repetitions with your “conditioning” activity, you’re probably no longer using a heavy-enough load to elicit the proper response.
Here is a good resource to learn more surrounding the muscle physiology and actions of PAP from the NSCA.
I hope this was beneficial in helping you learn more about post-activation potentiation and how to use it in your programming. Do you already use this in programming for your athletes’ strength and power training? If so, how do you make it work? Do you use it similarly to what was presented, or do you do something different? Share with the rest of us below!
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