It has been a hot minute since I wrote anything regarding post-activation potentiation, AKA the Mash Method.
That doesn’t mean we have abandoned the theory. Quite the contrary! I based the majority of my personal training on PAP without really understanding why I was using it. I just knew it worked, so I continued. Now I strategically use this theory with my athletes during appropriate times.
What is PAP?
Before I go any further, let me define the theory. Here’s what I found from PubMed: (You can see the original article here.)
Post-activation potentiation (as originally defined by Robbins): Force exerted by a muscle is increased by its previous contractions. It is a theory purporting that the contractile history of a muscle influences the mechanical performance of subsequent muscle contractions. Fatiguing muscle contractions impair muscle performance, but non-fatiguing muscle contractions at high loads with a brief duration may enhance muscle performance. The peak torque of an isometric twitch in skeletal muscle is transiently increased after a brief maximum voluntary contraction. Thus, PAP is the increase in muscle force and rate of force development that occurs as a result of previous activation of the muscle as well as the force and power of evoked high velocity shortening contractions, and the maximum velocity attained by evoked shortening contractions under load. In other words, excitation of the nervous system produces an increase in contractile function due to a heavy load-conditioning stimulus.
In other words: if you lift something heavy, your body “remembers” that lift for a brief time period and your nervous system will recruit more fibers if you try the lift again. I explain in a lot more detail in the Mash Method:
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How do apply PAP?
First, you have to consider one important aspect of PAP. If you perform a true 1RM movement like a max squat, it is going to impair performance due to fatigue. Therefore, you want to either lighten parts of the lift with bands or chains, perform a partial movement (board presses, half squat, etc), use a submaximal movement that is still heavier than the following movement, or simply practice a static hold. No matter what you do, there will be a degree of fatigue, and it will be at its highest right after the performance of a movement. The challenge is that potentiation effect will also be at its highest right after the lift.
The amount of fatigue will depend on the movement. For example, if you do a heavy squat hold and walkout with 110% of your maximum, there won’t be a lot of fatigue because of the lack of range of motion. However, if you perform a full squat with bands and bar weight equal to 110% at the top and 80% at the bottom, there will be more fatigue. A good rule of thumb is to rest 60 seconds after a movement that doesn’t create a lot of fatigue – like a hold or 80% squat. We’ve gone with two minutes for movements that are a bit more taxing on the body – like maximal squats with bands or chains. I recommend tracking the data with your own athletes or with yourself to determine what works best individually.
Here are the applications we have for PAP:
- To increase the efficiency of a movement
- To breakthrough plateaus
Let’s look at a few way to improve efficiency in your movements. The simplest way that most of you are using PAP without even knowing is with waves. Here are a couple of examples:
Squats: (88% x 1, 78% x 5) x 3 waves – the 88% will recruit the extra fibers necessary for increased efficiency with the 75% for 5. We would perform this type of wave during the transmutation (strength building) phase where our goal is to average around 5 repetitions per set at an average of 78-80% load. The primary focus is the set of five repetitions. Something that we have noticed is that our athletes will be better prepared to hit all-time 5-repetition maximums. For bodybuilders looking to go to near failure, you will be able to maximize the number of repetitions performed during all-out sets.
You can do the same thing for snatches, cleans, jerks, or clean and jerks. Most athletes will notice more efficiency on each successive wave. You will also prepare your athletes for meets where they have to wave down and back up due to the change in order. In meets, sometimes an athlete will make a lift, jump up 3 kilograms, and then find themselves 12 attempts out. At that point, the athlete will basically have to perform four more warm ups to stay warm and primed (12 attempts out divided by 3 attempts per warm up = 4 warm ups).
Lately we experimented with a new way of prescribing PAP with great success. First, I want to make it clear these examples of PAP won’t work the same for everybody. I suggest experimenting when you are 20 weeks out from an important meet. We experimented with Matt Wininger, one of our junior athletes who has been lifting for about a decade. It worked extremely well for him. Here’s what we did with his snatches:
Snatch Pull: 90% x 2, Snatch: 70% x 1, Snatch Pull: 95% x 2, Snatch: 75% x 1, Snatch Pull: 100% x 2, Snatch: 80% x 1. Then we’d repeat that entire progression again. Finally, we would work up to a heavy single with the same format.
As you can see, we used a snatch pull heavier than the snatch, and we used it with waves. The first day that we used this technique, we noticed an improvement in the movement – and miraculously Matt hit a 3-kilogram lifetime PR. I can’t promise this result for everyone, but dang, it’s worth trying out. You can see this lift on Instagram:
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19-year-old @mattwininger_ with a Lifetime PR Snatch of 110kg/242lb. We tried a brand new approach today that led to this 5kg PR. We will share it in detail tomorrow. We definitely intend on addressing a few asymmetries, but overall I’m excited with this new approach. =================== www.mashelite.com <link in bio> for: . – Mash Mafia Online Team . -Hundreds of Free Articles & Workouts . – 24 Awesome E-Books . -Seminars . -FREE “The Barbell Life Podcast” . . @intekstrength #intekstrength @harbingerfitness #harbingerfitness @mg12power #mg12thepowerofmagnesium #wodfitters @wodfitters @strongerexperts #strongerexperts @leanfitnesssystems #LEANFit @shruggedcollective @andersvarner @usaweightlifting #usaw #weightlifting #strengthandconditioning #powerlifting #oly #mashjacked
Breaking through plateaus
PAP is also great for getting lifters through those dreaded plateuas. We’ve used a similar plan for jerks as well:
3 Heavy Jerk Dip Squats: 105%, rest 60 sec, Jerk from Blocks: 90% x 1. Then repeat this for 2 more sets and finally work up with the same format.
This worked really well for one of our athletes, Courtney – because let’s face it, there’s a confidence factor as well. It makes a load that normally feels heavy to an athlete feel light. This is where you have to throw science out of the window just a bit. However, I am sure that PAP is one of the very reasons that athletes experience that sensation.
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There are a few other ways of practicing PAP as well:
1. Bands or Chains: this was my personal favorite one. I would work up to a heavy single, double, or triple with bar weight and bands. Normally it ended up being 30% bands weight + 80% bar weight. At this load, the rep was still easy, but it prepared my body to crush a personal record. It would end up being 110% at the top and about 80% or so at the bottom. I say “about” because bands are so different for each person based on height, set up, and age of bands.
2. Partials: you can use 105% or more with partial squats, presses, or pulls in conjunction with full lifts. The key is to warm up with the full movement, so you are ready for the full movement after the partial.
3. Walkouts or Holds: these are my wife’s personal favorites with the squat. You can work up to 95%, and then perform a walkout and hold with 110% for 5-10 seconds. She waits about 60-seconds, and then hits a personal record.
PAP will not work for everyone. There is no need at all to use PAP for beginners. I consider this an advanced technique for highly trained athletes. Even with highly trained athletes, it won’t work the same for everyone. Some athletes will set amazing lifetime personal records, and some will not notice a difference. Try it for a few weeks at a time, track the data, and then make a determination for each individual. It will definitely work more times than not – and for some, it will be a game-changer.