Monday, October 10, 2011

Hit A Bigger Weight With Post-Activation Potentiation

I love trying to get stronger!  It is currently my main training goal.  I am also very passionate about helping my clients get stronger because I believe this will help them achieve any goal that they may have related to health and fitness.  Because of this, I read a lot of articles and books related to the topic.

Today, I want to discuss a method to increase strength by “tricking” the nervous system.  This method takes advantage of a phenomenon called post-activation potentiation (PAP).  The principle behind PAP is that "prior heavy loading induces a high degree of central nervous system stimulation, resulting in greater motor unit recruitment and force..." 

PAP is often used to enhance power output following a heavy set.  For example, performing a heavy set of squats and then sprinting or jumping soon after.  This is also the idea behind complex training.

However, PAP can also be used if your goal is to lift a heavier weight.  In this regard, PAP works by making a weight feel lighter and less intimidating than usual after using a heavier weight just prior. 

Many strength coaches, including Bill Hartman, Charles Poliquin, Chad Waterbury, Christian Thibadeau, etc. have discussed ways to take advantage of PAP - it is not a new idea.  However, as I have stated many times before, a lot of quality tools are forgotten because of so much information that is now available.  It can be very valuable, at times, to go back and read older texts and articles as you will often find many awesome ideas and tools that are very effective but have been forgotten.

The method I am about to share below takes advantage of the fact that the nervous system is a huge factor in how much weight you are able to lift.  Therefore, to become as strong as possible you must learn to train your nervous system effectively.

How to use PAP to get stronger:

1)  Estimate the weight you intend to use for your top set for the specified set and rep range.

2)  Perform a few warm-up sets that include your top set weight determined in step 1.  Perform less reps with this weight than you are planning on using in your working set - you do not want to fatigue yourself.

3)  Perform a final warm-up set with slightly more weight than the weight determined in step 1.  Again, use less reps than you plan to use for your working sets, and do not fatigue yourself.  The goal is only to excite your nervous system.

How much weight you should use over your top working set will largely depend on your strength level and prior training experience.  For example, if you are planning on hitting 225x8 in the back squat then you might hit 245x3 to prime your nervous system.  Make sure that you are confident with the weight that you will be using to take advantage of PAP.

4)  Rest ~2-3 minutes after the heavier, potentiating set, and then perform your working sets.
Research has shown that this rest period allows for the most force to be produced after the potentiation set (O'Leary et al. 1997).

Below is an example of a female whose goal is to increase her Back Squat 5RM, which is currently 200lbs.  She has experience in lower rep ranges and her 1RM is 235lbs.  Here is how she might go about utilizing the above protocol:

Perform a thorough warm-up including soft-tissue work, dynamic mobility work, activation exercises... just joking - I know you don't care about that part.  :)

Warm-Up Sets:
#1 - Barx10
#2 - 135x5
#3 - 175x3
#4 - 200x2
#5 - 215x1-2, rest 2-3 minutes

Working Set 1 - 205x? (hopefully 5 reps for a PR!)

Final Notes:
Only use this method if you are confident you can hit the heavy set.

Do not fatigue yourself on the heavy set.

Make sure you are fairly experienced with the lift you will be using this with.

The protocol is more effective with big, compound movements (e.g. squats, deadlifts, bench, rows, etc.)

Do not use this method for too long as it can be hard on the nervous system.  I would recommend using the method with only one lift for a month and then using it with another exercise the next.  

NOW GO GET STRONG!!  And have a good week.  :)

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