Post Activation Potentiation vs Post Activation Performance Enhancement – Two Impressive Performance Boosts

By on October 22, 2021

Post activation potentiation (PAP) is a powerful tool that can help any athlete to squeeze more performance out of their body for a given workout. However, it’s also a concept that is seriously overlooked and rampantly misunderstood. Most commonly, post activation potentiation gets confused with post activation performance enhancement (PAPE). This can undermine the effectiveness of both.

Which is a shame, seeing as either strategy can provide a significant, immediate boost to performance.

See also: Plyometric Training Explained In Depth

Just to be safe, let’s take a closer look and see how you can incorporate each into your training.

Post Activation Performance Enhancement

What is Post Activation Potentiation?

Post activation potentiation is the better known strategy as compared with PAPE, so let’s start there.

Essentially, post activation potentiation explains the way in which muscles become easier to contract after they have been previously contracted. This results in a strength boost for a subsequent lift. The more forceful the contraction, the greater this effect. This is the simple reason that 100kg feels light after you have been lifting 140kg for the last set.

And this is why coaches use techniques such as “contrast training.” Here, a coach might ask their athlete to perform a few heavy squats, then to follow this up immediately with box jumps. The athlete will now find it much easier to engage the muscles they need to leap high up in the air because they have already “primed” the nervous system for that kind of forceful action.

See also: Priming: Warm Ups for the Brain

This can also work with overcoming isometrics. Here, instead of lifting a heavy weight, you instead push or pull against a bar locked in place or a machine that’s too heavily loaded to move. The aim is to encourage the athlete to exert maximum force for around 6-10 seconds. Again, this is followed immediately by the “target” exercise.

How it Works

The reason this works is due to changes in myosin light chain phosphorylation, which in turn make the these filaments of muscle fiber more sensitive to calcium and easier to contract.

However, this is not due to a change in the resting potential of the cells.

Post activation potentiation has a half-life of 28 milliseconds.

What’s really key to understand here, is that the effect has a half-life of 28 milliseconds. That means the increased sensation of strength will only last for about a minute (study). For contrast training to work, the athlete needs to go immediately from the heavy lift to the explosive movement.

So, if your coach tells you to do some heavy squats at the start of a workout, to rest up a bit, and then perform box jumps, this isn’t post activation potentiation. And yet, you may still see some benefits.

 What it is, is post activation performance enhancement. Or they’re just confused.

What is Post Activation Performance Enhancement?

Post activation performance enhancement has a similar effect to PAP, except that it lasts significantly longer. Often, PAPE can last for minutes, or even an entire workout (reference).

This performance enhancement persists, even once the extra excitability of the muscles fibers has worn off. So, what’s going on here?

Countermovement jump weighted

It actually comes down to a bunch of different factors: blood supply to the muscle, changes in muscle temperature, muscle/cellular water content, rehearsal of the movement patterns, improvements in mobility, and more (source, source). In short, an effective workout can properly prime the muscles for action in a host of different ways. Some of these mechanisms last longer than others.

This is another good reason to warm up before training. And to ensure that the warm up is well suited to the activity itself – generic warm ups won’t properly tap into this effect. Alternatively, you can try using “conditioning activities” to get blood flowing to the right area and warm up the muscles. Warm up sets are also useful in this capacity.

The key differences between post activation performance enhancement and post activation potentiation from a practical standpoint, then, are as follows:


  • Requires a similar or identical movement pattern
  • Should involve a heavy load/max contraction
  • Should be performed immediately prior to the main activity


  • Can be performed at the start of the workout
  • Doesn’t necessarily need to involve an identical movement pattern (though this comes with enhanced benefits)
  • SHOULD though involve the same muscles
  • Doesn’t necessarily need to involve a heavy load – simply getting blood flowing may be enough
  • Takes several minutes to have an effect

The big question you may be wondering is: which is more powerful? While there is no consensus on this (and some have speculated that PAPE makes PAP redundant), I would argue that PAP has a more specific and potent effect when used correctly. Most of us already warm up, but PAP undoubtedly increases performance on key lifts beyond that point.

Of course, you can also combine the two by using conditioning activities at the start of your workout, followed by an overcoming isometric or heavy lift that immediately precedes the target activity.

Using Iso-Flo

Indeed, it’s likely that a combination of both these factors is playing a role during any given workout! But now you understand the difference, you can start to strategically incorporate both post activation potentiation AND post activation performance enhancement in your own training.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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