Nothing beats the feeling of knowing you're stronger today than you were yesterday. If you train with weights on a regular basis, chances are you know how exciting it is to nail a heavy lift you could once barely budge. To score your next PR (personal record), give post-activation potentiation (PAP) a try. This method can help you go heavier on maximum-effort lifts like squats, bench presses and deadlifts — today. Exercise physiologist Dean Somerset compares PAP to a priming button on a lawn mower. "You pump that a couple of times to get some gas into the chamber, and that helps you to start it up a lot easier and generate some power at the go," he says.
Incorporating PAP Into Your Workout
To prime the pump, warm up with maximum-effort movements that mimic the demands of the lift you're about to do. Since heavy lifting requires your nerves to fire into your muscles at a very high rate, movements that get this process started will help when it comes time to squat, bench or pull that weight. But don't go crazy. All it takes is a few reps of a PAP exercise. "If you do too many reps, you can actually fatigue the nervous system," Somerset says. And a fatigued nervous system means you generate less power during your lift. If you're chasing a PR, try out one of the following five PAP exercise pairs (and a sprinting warmup).
1. FOR: Bench Presses; DO: Plyo Push-Ups
This supercharged version of a standard push-up gets the nerves firing in your chest and triceps — the ideal preparation for a heavy bench press. HOW TO DO IT: Assume high plank position, either with hands on the floor or elevated on a box. Perform a standard push-up, but at the bottom of the movement, explode upward so your hands leave the ground. Complete one to three reps as quickly as possible, aiming to spend minimal time with your hands on the ground. Proceed to your bench press attempt as soon as you're done.
2. FOR: Squats; DO: Vertical Jumps
The quick, explosive nature of the vertical jump will get your glutes fired up and ready to do their job as soon as you duck under the bar. HOW TO DO IT: Begin standing with feet shoulder-width apart. Bend the knees slightly and then immediately explode upward, swinging your arms overhead to help you gain height and momentum. Land softly on the balls of your feet. Complete one to three reps before your heavy squat.
3. FOR: Deadlifts; DO: Kettlebell Swings
A fast kettlebell swing helps prepare your hips to extend with the force needed to lift a loaded barbell off the floor. HOW TO DO IT: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Grip the handle of a kettlebell with both hands and hike it back and between your legs. Squeeze your glutes and forcefully extend your hips to propel the kettlebell upward. When the kettlebell reaches shoulder height, actively resist as it swings back down between your legs. Use a kettlebell that's 20 percent of the weight you plan to deadlift (e.g., a 40-pound kettlebell if you're lifting 200 pounds), and complete five to 10 swings as quickly as possible. Move right into the deadlift.
Related: 9 Fat-Torching Kettlebell Moves
4. FOR: Overhead Presses; DO: Overhead Medicine-Ball Throws
Fire up your shoulders and triceps with a few reps of the overhead medicine-ball throw. This power exercise will prep your upper body for the demands of an overhead press. HOW TO DO IT: Hold a medicine ball at your chest with both hands and bend your knees. Explode upward, throwing the medicine ball as high as possible overhead. Let the ball land in front of you. Reset before repeating. Choose a medicine ball that's 10 to 20 percent of the weight you'll pressing (e.g., a 10- to 20-pound medicine ball if you're pressing 100 pounds) and complete three to five reps. Focus on gaining maximum height with every throw. As soon as you finish your reps, go for the overhead press.
5. FOR: Snatches; DO: Hard Stomps
A few hard stomps will spark the nervous system and create extension from the hip, knee and ankle — just like the snatch. HOW TO DO IT: Begin standing. If needed, grab a doorframe or pole with both hands for extra stability. Lift your right foot, flexed, and bring your knee to hip-height. Then, stomp the ground angrily with your right foot. Pause a moment to reset, then repeat with the left foot. Complete one to two reps per side before moving on to the snatch.
Related: 16 Essential CrossFit Moves
6. FOR: Sprinting; DO: Power Skips
Not every sprint session can benefit from PAP (see the next slide for more), but for your shorter sprints, get your body ready by performing a few power skips per side. HOW TO DO IT: Begin standing with feet hip-width apart. Lift your right knee to skip as high as possible, simultaneously extending your left arm straight overhead. Land softly on the ball of your foot and immediately lift your left knee to skip while extending your right arm overhead. Continue forward, alternating sides. Aim to gain as much height as possible with each skip.
A Note About Sprinting
Getting into the habit of doing a PAP exercise before every short sprint helps remind your body that it's time to go fast. "Doing one or two reps of PAP before a sprint can help serve as an indicator as much as a preparatory device," Somerset says. According to Somerset, PAP works well for 100- to 200-meter sprints, but is especially beneficial for shorter distances (10 to 40 yards). For longer, repeated sprints, however, PAP will only fatigue the nervous system.
What Do YOU Think?
Do you regularly train with weights? Are you looking to do heavier lifts? What are your favorite weightlifting exercises? Have you ever tried PAP? Do you think you will? If you have, what were the results? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!