The Influence of Post-Activation Potentiation on Performance
Post activation potentiation (PAP) refers to an event caused by previously performed conditioning exercises before the main activity, in order to improve performance in sports that require power, strength or speed (MacIntosh et al., 2012). The idea of post activation potentiation was first introduced in the 20th century after the introduction of post tetanic potentiation, which describes an increase in the excitation or inhibition in neurotransmitter release after a rapid train of action potentials (Brown and von Euler, 1938). Originally defined by (Robbins, 2005) PAP refers to the phenomenon by which acute muscle force output is enhanced as a result of its’ contractile history. It is generally induced from maximum voluntary contractions (Mitchell and Sale, 2011) and is greatest in activities that largely depend on type II muscle fibres (Hamada et al., 2000). Therefore, most research on PAP focuses on sprint or jump performance.
In order to achieve post activation potentiation, specific strength or power exercises have to be incorporated into the traditional aerobic warm up routine. Several different types of PAP induction protocols are used to improve sports performance. Squat (Fukutani et al., 2014), jump and sprint (Karampatsos et al., 2013) protocols are the most popular. This literature review explores available evidence on post activation potentiation and its’ role in improving performance.
1.1 Mechanisms of Post-Activation Potentiation
There are two proposed mechanisms that explain post activation potentiation. The first and most reasonable explanation is the phosphorylation of myosin regulation light chains (Rassier and MacIntosh, 2000). This is mainly due to the actin myosin interaction via calcium released from the sarcoplasmic reticulum. The myosin light chain kinase makes ATP which in turn increases the rate of actin myosin cross bridging. Therefore, the conditioning exercise increases the power output of the cross bridges and stimulates improvements in explosive movements (Hodgston et al., 2005). The second proposed mechanism states that the increase in recruitment of motor units increases synaptic excitation within the spinal cord which results in increases in force generating capacity of the engaged muscles (Aagaard, 2003).
1.2 Rest Interval
Even though PAP might seem like the way forward for most athletes, it is important to notice that there are mechanisms that determine whether an exercise protocol before the main activity will evoke post activation potentiation, or fatigue. This is largely dependent on the rest period between these two activities (Rassier and MacIntosh, 2000). If the main activity was to occur instantly after the conditioning exercises, fatigue would be induced and performance could decrease. On the other hand, if the rest interval is too long, the muscle will have sufficient time to recover and there would be no performance benefit. In the opinion of MacIntosh et al. (2012) the ideal rest time for post activation potentiation is from one to five minutes whereas according to Wilson et al. (2013) the ideal rest period is between seven and ten minutes. The most up to date research suggests that recovery time should be individualized and is dependent on the athletes’ strength level, training experience and muscle fibre structure (Go?a? et al., 2016).
1.3 Individual Differences
Studies have shown that post activation potentiation is to a large extent an individualised occurrence which is due to the participants’ physical characteristics (Robbins, 2005). Research found that some athletes benefited from PAP while others decreased their performance. Hence, it is necessary to take individual differences into account before prescribing a PAP protocol and personalise the type and intensity of the conditioning exercise and the recovery time (Chen et al., 2017). The training level of the individual also plays a key role in the effects of PAP. Gourgoulis and Aggeloussis (2003) found that trained athletes respond better to post activation potentiation when compared with individuals who participate in recreational activities. According to Schmidtbleicher and Buehrle (1987) this is caused by an athlete’s ability to recruit more motor units and do so faster in comparison to untrained individuals.
2. PAP and the influence on performance
2.1 Post activation potentiation on soccer players:
There is a growing body of research, which has found that post activation potentiation can improve sprint performance in soccer players. Low et al. (2015) constructed a study on trained adolescent soccer players and their repeated sprint ability (RSA) following heavy loaded back squats. Results revealed improved sprint times hence stating that PAP has a positive effect on young soccer players. A recent study by Sanchez et al. (2018) also examined RSA performance after a post activation potentiation warm up protocol involving squats with loads of ~ 60% or ~90% 1 repetition maximum (1RM) on players from national and regional competitive levels. PAP induced small effects in regional level players and significant improvements in national level players, thus having an overall beneficial effect. Repeated sprint ability performance improvements on soccer players were also found in Oliveiras’ et al. (2018) study after once again incorporating a back squat exercise (80% 1RM) into the warm up protocol. However, although post activation potentiation has shown to improve sprint performance in soccer players, this may not be the case when looking at improvements in jump performance. Studies by Prieske et al. (2018) and Till and Cooke (2009) found no significant group effect on jump performance in soccer players after a PAP protocol. This could be due to the different PAP protocols used by these authors. Prieske et al. (2018) focused mainly on deadlifts, tuck jumps and isometric knee extensions while Till and Cooke (2009) incorporated leg extensions and balance exercises as opposed to heavy load squats that were previously found to have a positive effect.
2.2 Jump Performance
Even though PAP mightn’t necessarily improve jump performance in soccer players, Kilduff’s et al. (2007) study found countermovement jump (CMJ) improvements in professional rugby players after a PAP induced warm up. Likewise a different study on volleyball players found that vertical jump performance was improved with a protocol that involved squats of more than 70% 1RM (Oliveira et al., 2018). Other studies have also reported a positive correlation between post activation potentiation and jump performance. One such study concluded that post activation potentiation may have contributed to the increase in countermovement jump height after a 5RM squat in male athletes (Mitchell and Sale, 2011). Similarly, Arabatzi et al. (2014) found an increase in squat jump performance after conditioning exercises in men. Interestingly, the same study found no effects on females, teen males and boys. This phenomenon may be down to the fact that successful implementation of post activation potentiation appears to be highly individualised, and further studies have found that PAP did not differ significantly between genders (Wilson et al., 2013). Perhaps different warm up protocols or rest periods should be considered for females, teens and boys.
2.3 Sprint Performance
There has been plenty of academic research that considered the effect of a conditioning exercise on sprinting ability. However, instead of including heavy resistance squats into the warm up protocol, most authors incorporated moderate and high intensity running trials or sprints. A study by Chatzopoulos et al. (2007) found improvements in 10- and 30-m sprints after a program which included 10 minutes of cycling followed by warm ups with submaximal and maximal running speed. Improvements were only visible after a 5 minute rest period was allowed. Yates et al. (2018) also found performance enhancements during 40-yard sprints with the use of weighted sled sprints as PAP-loading protocols. Whilst these results show improvements in overall sprint performance, other research has shown improvements in initial sprint acceleration exclusively. Turner et al. (2015) investigated if a warm up consisting of jogging, dynamic stretches and sprinting to near maximal speeds improved baseline sprinting performance. Results showed that PAP had a positive effect on sprint acceleration performance providing that adequate recovery is given. A different study also found improved sprint acceleration after a post activation potentiation protocol of half squats at 90% 1RM (Rouissi et al., 2018). These results indicate that post activation potentiation may only have an effect in the initial seconds of an explosive activity or movement yet nonetheless producing an overall beneficial effect.
2.4 Endurance Performance
Although most research has been carried out on power demanding sports involving fast twitch muscle fibres and explosive movements, there has been a limited number of studies conducted on the effects of post activation potentiation on endurance performance. Silva et al. (2014) found a 6% time reduction in a 20km cycling time trial after a heavy resistance warm up. Most effects were observed during the first 10% of the trial. A further study by Chorley and Lamb (2017) also showed PAP responses in a cycling time trial. Performance effects were once again greatest in the first 1500m of the trial. Considering that any minor advantage in elite sport can be the determinant of success, post activation potentiation protocols may furthermore have a potential in endurance sports. Despite certain research showing no statistical difference between performance with or without conditioning exercises (Eriksson, 2017), further studies should consider largely modified PAP protocols for a range of endurance sports even if improvements were only to occur at the start of the activity.
Need to add another paragraph – complex training, upper body?
Based on the literature reviewed here, there are clear, academically backed findings which indicate that post activation potentiation has a positive benefit on performance. A post activation potentiation protocol involving strength exercise (i.e. squats) appears to be most effective in inducing short term performance improvements. The inconsistencies in results of the various studies are most likely due to differences in design and methodology. This is particularly due to differences in the intensity of the conditioning exercise, the duration of the rest period, the type of activity, the training history of the participating subjects and individual factors. The effectiveness of how a conditioning activity can stimulate PAP mechanisms and boost performance depends on the balance between fatigue and potentiation. Coaches should make sure to construct a specific programme for the individual, rather than a broad programme for the whole squad. Future studies should evaluate the long term effects of incorporating PAP into conventional warm ups and more research needs to be carried out on endurance athletes in training and competitive settings.
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