August 12, 2010 posted by

Post-activation Potentiation

I haven’t blogged this week because I’m studying something called post-activation potentiation (PAP) at my buddy Marcus’ training faclitly in Santa Barbara. You’ll be hearing more about Marcus, or Dr. Marcus Elliott, in the future as he’s signed on to help us create fitness solutions for every demographic (especially the highest level). Marcus and I have a long history, dating back to his undergraduate years when we were both spending most of our time experimenting with diets and training protocols. But more on this later. Today I want to introduce you to PAP because it’s going to play a part in our future programs.

PAP is revolutionizing the way we train athletes. It’s not yet popular in the US but Marcus (or Dr. Elliott for those of you who prefer white coat visuals) has been using it with great success on athletes at the highest levels. His training facility, P3 (Peak Performance Project), is only open to professional and high level athletes (and a few local extremely-lucky high school programs). His client list includes the Utah Jazz, Seattle Mariners, and many other professional, collegiate, and Olympic athletes.

An aside—last night there were some high schoolers training next to a few Olympians and I asked one of the P3 trainers if these kids had any idea how lucky they were. When I was a (rather obsessed) high school athlete I was doing all of my own training, most of it experimental, because our coaches new nothing about high-level training, nutrition, or supplementation. I can’t even imagine how different my career would have been with the minds of P3 behind it. The only downside is that I probably would have missed out on my human lab rat moniker if I didn’t have to figure out what worked (and didn’t) on my own.

Anyway, until a few days ago I knew almost nothing about PAP training. I actually had experimented with something very much like it (maybe I should add an of course here) but never made enough sense to me to test it thoroughly. But a group of scientists, including Marcus, has had amazing success training high level athletes with it. So much so that it’s turning the way we train for peak human performance on its head. The gist of it is two fold. First:

“that prior heavy loading induces a high degree of central nervous system stimulation, resulting in greater motor unit recruitment and force, which can last from five-to-thirty minutes”

and secondly:

“PAP intervention enhances the H-reflex, thus increasing the efficiency and rate of the nerve impulses to the muscle”

In laymen terms, this means that doing heavy lifting prior to explosive activity can actually help you fire higher threshold muscle cell motor units which, even even simpler terms, means that you will jump higher, run faster, or life more weight.

A good real world application is one P3 athlete who warmed up for a 100 meter race doing heavy squats prior to setting a PR.

It’s all very fascinating stuff and I’m like a kid in a candy store at P3. Between training sessions Marcus and I brainstorm about how to best lay this into the P90X template in the future. The coming months will be filled with revelations.

pics: above, me, marcus, and us ski team member/singer-songwriter bryon friedman watch the overachieving jazz kick some celt tail. below, p3 ain’t your father’s training facility. note dr. elliott in a background interpreting computer screen readings (to members of ucla’s national champion softball team and their coach, the legendary lisa fernandez) of a dynamic jump test showing the subjects strengths and weaknesses.


  • Intriguing, I might try this right before my birthday challenge (heavy compound lifts). Probably experiment with it first.

  • I think it will be most effective coupling it with the third phase. I'll be experimenting with it soon, and then will head back out to CA and work with Marcus, and will have more info then…

  • Is this sort of along the same lines as trying to achieve complete recruitment during warmup for a bouldering session? I feel like in order to be strong for hard boulders, I have to warm up at just the right intensity where I know the moves 100% but still have to give a good amount of physical effort…thus recruiting the muscles and "opening" them up for the hard effort..On a side not, I noticed that while I was working construction this summer, I would be lifting steel all day long and doing other hard work…Feeling totally wasted, I would go and try to have a bouldering session (usually within 45 minutes or so…) I would feel sluggish warming up but after a little bit, I was pulling through hard moves without really even noticing them…similar process here?

  • From Jens "Attack from K zero" Voigt to hyper analytical training with Dr. E. I dunno, man. When asked how to be the best cyclist in the world, Merckx simply said, "Ride lots". Of course, he had speed balls too, and cortisone, but still – we have those too, and Vitamin D to boot. You can keep your computer anaylsis what-have-you; me, I still jerk off the old fashioned way.-Josh

  • Course you do, dude. Course you do.

  • I think I've been doing something like this. I do a full body weight training routine once a week each exercise to failure going super slow..Only one set then I do Insanity.

  • You guys are experimenting similar to how I was. It's evolved a bit. Marcus has machines that track the power produced by each activity so that you can target weaknesses and bring them into balance prior to training your strengths.

  • The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.

  • I like your style Jackie.-Dude

  • This sounds very much like NASM`s EET phase 6 training in their PES track. EET (Elastic Equivalent Training) is where you first perform a strength execise followed up immediately (I.e. superset) by a power exercise. Check out for more info.

  • Very cool. I wonder how to apply it to my USSA kids.. what would be a "heavy" weight for J3 (13-14 yrs) kids? Would the crossfit version of air squats work?Bob Harwood

  • It's very effective for kids as well but you should assess strengths and weaknesses before jumping into it. It's similar to what the NASM is doing in some ways. At P3 it's far more analytical on an individual basis. We are also experimenting with some EET training for MC2 as well. It may prove to be more easily implemented to a mass audience, at least at early stages of training.Lots more on this will be coming…

  • awsome

  • I can see it now, Dead lifts to warm up for plyo…makes a lot of sense when you think about it, pre loading muscles.

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  • I received my P90X2 DVDs today and CANNOT WAIT until I get to the PAP phase! It's amazing that I get to be part of something so groundbreaking– right in my own home gym. Thanks guys!

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