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Post-Activation Potentiation

Underlying Physiology and Implications for Motor Performance


The response of muscle to volitional or electrically induced stimuli is affected by its contractile history. Fatigue is the most obvious effect of contractile history reflected by the inability of a muscle to generate an expected level of force. However, fatigue can coexist with post-activation potentiation (PAP), which serves to improve muscular performance, especially in endurance exercise and activities involving speed and power. The measured response of muscular performance following some form of contractile activity is the net balance between processes that cause fatigue and the simultaneous processes that result in potentiation. Optimal performance occurs when fatigue has subsided but the potentiated effect still exists. PAP has been demonstrated using electrically induced twitch contractions and attributed to phosphorylation of myosin regulatory light chains, which makes actin and myosin more sensitive to Ca2+. The potentiated state has also been attributed to an increase in α-motoneuron excitability as reflected by changes in the H-reflex. However, the significance of PAP to functional performance has not been well established.

A number of recent studies have applied the principles of PAP to short-term motor performance as well as using it as a rationale for producing long-term neuromuscular changes through complex training. Complex training is a training strategy that involves the execution of a heavy resistance exercise (HRE) prior to performing an explosive movement with similar biomechanical characteristics, referred to as a complex pair. The complex pair is then repeated for a number of sets and postulated that over time will produce long-term changes in the ability of a muscle to generate power. The results of these studies are equivocal at this time and, in fact, no training studies have actually been undertaken. The discrepancies among the results of the various studies is due in part to differences in methodology and design, with particular reference to the mode and intensity of the HRE, the length of the rest interval within and between the complex pairs, the type of explosive activity, the training history of the participants, and the nature of the dependent variables. In addition, few of the applied studies have actually included measures of twitch response or H-reflex to determine if the muscles of interest are potentiated. There is clearly more research required in order to clarify the functional significance of PAP and, in particular, the efficacy of complex training in producing long-term neuromuscular adaptations.

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No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.

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Correspondence to David Docherty.

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Hodgson, M., Docherty, D. & Robbins, D. Post-Activation Potentiation. Sports Med 35, 585–595 (2005).

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  • Maximal Voluntary Contraction
  • Jump Height
  • Myosin Regulatory Light Chain
  • Drop Jump
  • Complex Training