Why do we see tires, ropes, and all those non-traditional strength training tools in commercials?

post activation potentiation‘Tis the season for… a TON of commercials. I’m sure you have caught at least a couple of those athletic gear commercials of huge guys flipping tires or super athletic girls performing plyometric movements you only dream about. What are they doing though? Working out, right? Training? Maybe, but I won’t get into the differences between training and simply “getting tired” in this post. A big emphasis in the realm of strength training, and yes I mean training, not exercising, recently has been on power development geared towards improving athletic performance. Why do we see tires, ropes, and all those non-traditional strength training tools in commercials? Because it’s badass! Yup, made for TV kind of stuff. But why do athletes and people training all over the globe use these tools? If you were to walk in to the nearest “Globo Gym” and ask that question, you probably would get some convoluted garb of an answer that kind of makes sense but leaves you with more questions than when you walk in. My goal on the other hand is to explain the purpose of this type of training and the role it plays in your strength program.

So what is it? The nerdy term for training like this is “post activation potentiation (PAP),” and it has gained a ton of popularity recently because of it’s ability to improve the contractile force production of power activities like sprinting, jumping, Olympic lifting, etc.

How does it work? PAP works primarily through it’s ability to stimulate the Central Nervous System (CNS) to the point where any activity or work done following that stimulation will have a higher potential for the production of force. In other words, picking a heavy object up off the ground will then make that same object, which isn’t as heavy, feel super light afterwards. A better example would be with using movement patterns. If you were to perform a set of heavy squats, say somewhere around 90% of your one rep max, wait a few minutes and then do bodyweight squat jumps as high as you can, I bet the squat jumps will feel super easy. This is the whole premise behind PAP. There have been documented events of sprinters performing a three rep max set of squats and then going out and setting Personal Records, national records and even a world record in short distance events. The evidence for the use of PAP in training protocols is undeniable. So now comes the question; how should you program it in to your strength-training regimen?

Although the name sounds pretty intense/ confusing, programming PAP into your routine isn’t that difficult. Hell, even those trainers at the Globo Gyms do it, whether or not they know the reasoning behind it doesn’t matter, they are at least doing something correctly. My suggestion is to take a movement pattern (let’s use the squat) and program it as if it were a heavy/ strength day, hit your 5 reps at 90% of your one rep max number, wait 30-60 seconds and get a set of squat jumps, weighted or unweighted in. It’s that simple!

Here are some factors to consider when programming PAP:

1. Your current training status. This seems like it is common sense, but too many people try to add training variables and techniques to their program when they haven’t mastered the basics yet. Here’s a good guideline: Be able to Bench Press your bodyweight for a single rep, Squat 1.5 times your bodyweight for a rep, and Deadlift twice your bodyweight for one rep. If you can’t do one or more of them, focus on basic strength training techniques with linear progressions until you can. Studies have shown that individuals with a higher relative strength are able to show greater improvements in PAP due to the cross sectional area of their muscle (Harrison, 2011). Along with this comes that rest period in between exercises. The stronger you are the less rest you need before you hit that second exercise. So if you just barely make the cut off for strength requirements, wait the whole 60 seconds, if you can DL 3 times your bodyweight, you should be good to go in :30.

2. Intensity of contraction and speed of movement is very important. Focus on doing the second movement as fast as you possible can. Emphasizing power with each rep will recruit more motor units, and the more motor units you can actively recruit the more you will increase strength and power.

So why? Why does this matter? Simply stated, the more we can get out of each movement, or each repetition, the greater the potential for positive training adaptations. Your body wants to act much like you did in that Pass/Fail class you took in college. You only did just enough to squeak by, it didn’t matter whether you would’ve gotten an A or a D, as long as you passed. This is how your body works. It only wants to recruit just enough motor units, to innervate just enough fibers, to allow you to just barely accomplish those heavy reps on the Squat. By using the principles of PAP we can almost over-stimulate the body into working harder and faster, therefore creating the desired training effects in a fraction of the time. If you have any more questions about how to implement PAP into your strength training program hit me up on twitter @Jroswell3, or just stop by the gym and watch the magic.