Can a Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) Protocol Improve Speed, Agility, and Vertical Jump Height for Professional Soccer Players?

Sean Flannery

[7 min read]

Enhancing athletic performance and ensuring maximum gains from training sessions are pivotal factors in determining success in sports. Development in speed, agility, and power are significant for many intermittent team sports such as soccer (Jovanovic et al., 2011). There is a continuous pursuit by players and coaches to discover the most beneficial training methods for performance enhancement.

Consequently, there is an evolving research base indicating optimal modes of training and preparation for competition, which extends to the pre-match routine (Reilly et al., 2002), including warm-up (Needham et al., 2009). The warm-up is said to help athletes reach full physical potential for training or competition (Gelen, 2010). Warm-ups increase muscle temperature, nerve conductivity, and the speeding of metabolic reactions, which consequently helps produce higher muscle force and power production (Bishop, 2003). These elements are essential for team sports that rely on acceleration, deceleration, or change of direction (Dawes et al., 2012).

Some research has suggested that aerobic warm-ups and dynamic stretching are beneficial for sprint, jump, and agility tasks (Pagaduan et al., 2012; Hough et al., 2009). McBride et al. (2005) showed a significant increase in sprint speed following a heavy load warm-up, while Young et al. (1998) showed a significant increase in vertical jump height following a warm-up with heavy load squats. This perhaps can be attributed to Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP).

Post-Activation Potentiation increases force and power production in excess of what can be achieved without the use of heavy resistance exercise (Bevan et al., 2010). PAP is a phenomenon by which muscular performance is acutely enhanced when preceded by maximal or near-maximal neuromuscular activation (Tillin and Bishop, 2009). In a study by Bevan et al. (2010) a reduction in sprint time over 30 metres was observed following the utilisation of PAP.

Further studies have shown that Post-Activation Potentiation can increase power output by increasing neuromuscular activity (Jaggers et al., 2008; Marek et al., 2005), positively impacting performance. In recent times, explosive jumps and sprints have been incorporated into team sport warm-ups, in order to induce a PAP effect (Zois et al., 2011). Some studies have demonstrated that a dynamic warm-up may be more beneficial in preparing muscles for explosive movements (McMillian et al., 2006; Thompsen et al., 2007). The vertical jump has been seen to effectively measure power output and is presently utilised by many professional football outfits (Dalrymple et al., 2010).


The Effects of Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) on Vertical Jump

The Counter-Movement Jump (CMJ) is a key performance indicator for numerous sports. Several research studies have evidenced a positive correlation between lower limb strength/power and CMJ performance (Bosco et al., 1986; Nagano et al., 2005; Salles et al., 2011).

Resistance exercises that induce a Post-Activation Potentiation effect (e.g., loaded squat) have been shown to improve CMJ height (Saez Saez de Villarreal et al., 2007), as well as short-sprint performance (Chatzopoulos et al., 2007). Heavy-loaded back squats, (85% of 1 repetition maximum) have been shown to increase mean and peak ground reaction force and jump height (Weber et al., 2008). McCann and colleagues (2010) revealed that heavy squats increased PAP, which increased muscular strength and power.

The effects of a PAP-inducing protocol, however, on team-sport-specific tasks such as reactive agility, have conflicting results. One such study investigating reactive agility performance following various warm-ups found no improvement (Gabbett et al., 2008). This may have occurred as a result of the young age profile of the participants, as a young age profile may compromise the reliability and generalisability of results (Paul et al., 2016).

It has been demonstrated that younger participants have likely not sufficiently developed type-II muscle fibres (Ausubel, 2002). These fibres have been evidenced to be incremental in yielding a heavy resistance exercise effect. Conversely, a small-sided game warm-up was seen to enhance reactive agility and CMJ performance (Zois et al., 2011) suggesting that benefits may be transferable to tasks that closer replicate team-sport demands.

A study by Weber et al. (2008) indicated that a heavy-loaded back squat has a positive effect on squat jump performance. Similarly, Bevan et al. (2010) conducted a study investigating the effect of heavy-loaded Back Squat on linear sprint performance. It was determined that 91% of a participant’s individual one-repetition max (1RM) effectively induced a Post-Activation Potentiation effect, yielding improved sprint performance.

Post-Activation Potentiation is said to be elicited by submaximal isometric contractions (Vandervoort et al., 1983). Consequently, even though utilising a set of repetitions of a weight lifting exercise has been shown to induce a PAP effect, the volume of sets required to achieve this has been contested. Numerous studies have attempted to determine whether one or more sets of a loaded resistance exercise result in enhancements in explosive actions (Bishop, 2003; Hodgson et al., 2005; Tillin and Bishop, 2009). An exact formula in terms of the optimal number of sets has not been determined.

McCann and colleagues, (2010) sought to determine if a power exercise would lead to a greater PAP effect than a strength exercise, as well as the effect of PAP on the ground reaction force during a vertical jump. Results of this study concluded that there is not a discernible difference between strength and power exercises, in terms of their ability to elicit a PAP effect, in this case observed by difference in vertical jump height performance. This research suggests that an individualised approach, in terms of implementing a PAP protocol would be optimal, with different participants benefitting from a strength or power exercise to different degrees. Essentially, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach in terms of producing a PAP effect.

This research suggests that individualised training increases vertical jump height and enhances sporting performance. PAP has a noted influence upon the rate of force development, which is a marked requirement for speed-strength performance. This has encouraged the application of PAP to invoke sporting performance, particularly the utilisation of resistance training (Robbins, 2005; Sale, 2002).

An athlete’s ability to generate high forces quickly results in performance enhancement (Kraemer et al., 2000). McBride et al. (2002) considered that this generation of high forces is linked with enhancements in jumping, sprinting, and agility performance. PAP is a smart training method as it can simultaneously train strength and power among athletes without an increase in training volume (Robbins et al., 2005). The volume needs to be enough to elicit PAP but not too much so that fatigue counters the effects (McBride et al., 2005).


The Effects of Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) on Speed

Delecluse (1997) considered how powerful triple extension of hip, knee, and ankle joints, is pivotal in accelerating body mass at the beginning of a sprint. An increase in sprint performance can be achieved through the development of muscular power. Developing muscular power results in marked improvements in peak acceleration, muscle-twitch force, and the rate of force development (Hilfiker et al., 2007; Sale, 2004).

Muscular power enhancements have been seen to occur when heavy resistance exercises have been performed (Bevan et al., 2010; Robins, 2005). By performing such an exercise, Post-Activation Potentiation is elicited, and subsequently displays improvements in force and power production, which are crucial in developing speed. These improvements are greater than what can be gained without heavy resistance exercise (Khamoui et al., 2009; Weber at al., 2008).

Chatzopolous et al. (2007) discovered that when utilising the potentiation gained from performing heavy resistance exercise, the time taken to complete a 30m sprint is reduced. A study by Okuno et al. (2013) on adult handball players, showed how heavy resistance exercise was effective during repeated sprint tests. This would suggest the applicability of such exercise in intermittent team sports.

Muscular development (Ausubel, 2002), and the condition of the participants (Okuno et al., 2013) is said to determine the ability to attain such physiological benefits. The participant’s age directly influences these characteristics as young athletes typically possess less voluntary muscle strength, speed, and power (Van Praagh et al., 2002). Similarly, young athletes possess a reduced ability to utilize higher-threshold motor units (Haff et al., 2001) which respond better to heavy resistance exercise (Hamada et al., 2000).

Sale (2004) informs that characteristics pertaining to muscular power can be developed through relevant training and consequently, trained adolescents may adapt more positively to heavy resistance training. Low et al. (2015) investigated whether prior heavy resistance exercise would improve the repeated sprint performance of 16 trained youth soccer players. Their analysis revealed significantly reduced total time with the use of heavy resistance exercise and demonstrated improved sprint times of trained adolescent soccer players after heavy resistance exercise although benefits appear not as sustained as in adult participants.


The Effects of Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) on Agility

There are few studies examining the effects of Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) on agility or the ability to change direction at speed (Maloney et al., 2014; Young et al., 2006). Maloney et al. (2014) investigated three standardized dynamic warm-up conditions among elite badminton players, either wearing a 5% bodyweight vest, a 10% bodyweight vest, or no weighted vest (control condition). They discovered that agility performance was significantly faster when compared to the control condition for both the 5% and the 10% bodyweight vest conditions.

In a study by Zois et al. (2011) on amateur football players, physical performance tests related to team sports were carried out, including reactive agility. The players performed a normal football warm-up, small-sided games (SSG), or a 5RM on a leg press machine prior to testing. Agility performance was observed to have improved by 3.8 – 4.7% following the SSG and 5RM leg press respectively.

Agility has been seen to heavily determine success in intermittent team sports such as rugby (Gabbett et al., 2008; Wilson et al., 2013). Spiteri et al. (2014) noted that when an athlete changes direction at a high intensity, they must possess high levels of eccentric, isometric, and concentric strength. Spiteri et al. (2015) suggested a prominent relationship between isometric strength and agility when they identified that isometric strength was particularly higher in faster subjects when undertaking agility t-tests.

Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) Protocol

The Back Squat is one of the most commonly used heavy resistance exercises to utilize for a Post-Activation Potentiation protocol. The back squat activates the quadriceps muscles which are seen to generate power and contribute to running speed (Dosher, 2009). 91% of one repetition has been observed as being effective in producing improvements in sprint performance (Bevan et al., 2010).  

The utility of PAP as an acute enhancer of CMJ, speed, and agility performance in professional soccer players has been observed in the findings of previous studies (Tillin and Bishop, 2009; McBride et al., 2005), in which a positive effect on the above predictors have been observed following the implementation of a PAP protocol.

These findings pose food for thought in terms of challenging traditional preparation practices in the arena of soccer, with results likely generalisable to other sporting disciplines. There are a multitude of methods to achieve the PAP training effect. PAP may also be achieved by utilizing complex training, whereby a heavy-loaded exercise is combined with a biomechanically similar explosive activity, especially one that is specific to a particular sports discipline (Weber et al., 2008).

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Agility Performance Speed

About the author

Sean Flannery

Sean Flannery is owner/operator of SFX Sports & Fitness based in Sligo while also managing his role this season as head S&C Coach with Sligo Rovers F.C in the League of Ireland. Sean has worked as an S&C coach for several years, spending two years previously as head of S&C with Sligo Rovers 1st Team from 2016-18. He has also spent three seasons working with Sligo Senior Men's Hurlers where they secured three All-Ireland titles back-to-back. He has coached numerous elite individual athlete's from the north-west region, most notably Irish International swimmer Mona McSharry who was coached for 5 years up to her departure to Tennessee Vols in 2020. Sean has a MSc. in Sports Strength & Conditioning (Limerick Institute of Technology, 2017) and a BSc. in Exercise and Health Fitness (University of Limerick, 2010-2014). Prior to beginning his academic journey Sean spent many seasons playing in the League of Ireland, most notably for Sligo Rovers where he won League Cup honours in 1998 and the 1st Division title in 2005.

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