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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Influence of Post-activation Potentiation on Sprinting Performance in Professional Rugby Players

Brent Brookbush

Brent Brookbush


Research Review: Influence of Post-activation Potentiation on Sprinting Performance in Professional Rugby Players.

By Sean Butler BS, CSCS, CES, DPT Student

Edited by Brent Brookbush DPT, PT, COMT, MS, PES, CES, CSCS, ACSM H/FS

Original Citation: Bevan, H. R., Cunningham, D. J., Tooley, E. P., Owen, N. J., Cook, C. J. and Kilduff, L. P. (2010). Influence of post-activation potentiation on sprinting performance in professional rugby players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(3), 701-705. ABSTRACT

Why is this study relevant: Post-activation potentiation (PAP) is a phenomenon in which a muscle’s force is acutely increased as a result of its contractile history (1). Research suggests that while fatiguing muscle contractions may impair performance, non-fatiguing muscle contractions may enhance performance (2). Relatively little research has been performed on the effect of PAP on functional/athletic activities. This 2010 study investigated PAP and sprint performance, demonstrating that 50% of participants performed their best 10-meter and 5-meter sprint times 8 minutes after completing a back squat .

The back squat was one of the lifts used during the study. Both groups improved their 1RM post-intervention, but the longer interset rest group improved significantly more than the short interset rest period group.
Caption: The back squat was one of the lifts used during the study. Both groups improved their 1RM post-intervention, but the longer interset rest group improved significantly more than the short interset rest period group.

Barbell Back Squat

Study Summary

Study Design Quasi-experimental, cross-over design
Level of Evidence IIB Evidence from at least one other type of quasi-experimental study
Participant Characteristics Demographics
  • Number of participants: 16 professional rugby players
  • Age (± standard deviation, in years): 25 +/- 4.8
  • Height: 184.6 +/- 6.3 cm
  • Mass: 103 +/- 12.6 kg
  • 1RM Squat: 170.3 +/- 17.3 kg

Inclusion Criteria:

  • Average resistance training experience of the group was 2.1 +/- 1.4 years
  • Prior to the study, all participants completed a power training regimen that incorporated Olympic lifts, variations of Olympic lifts and complex/contrast exercises, including sprinting.

Exclusion Criteria:

  • N/A
  • Testing took place on two separate days with 48 hours of rest between each day. Participants were instructed to refrain from caffeine, alcohol and strenuous exercise 48 hours prior to testing
  • Day 1: 3RM testing on the back squat and familiarization with testing procedures
  • Day 2: Participants performed a standardized warmup, including progressive 10-meter sprints with dynamic mobility exercises
  • After a 20-minute rest period, participants completed a 3RM back squat
  • Participants then completed four 10-meter sprints at 4-minute intervals
  • To control for any warmup effect created by the sprints, following the warmup 10 participants completed an additional four 10-meter sprints with 4-minute inter-set rest periods
  • 500ml of water was allowed during each test
  • Room temperature was kept at 20—24 degrees Celsius
  • Verbal encouragement was given to maximize performance
Data Collection and Analysis Strength Testing
  • Prior to the start of the strength-testing session, participants performed a warmup that consisted of
    • 5 minutes of light intensity rowing
    • Dynamic movements associated with the musculature involved with the squat
    • Barbell back squats with the following sets, reps and percentages
      • 3 sets of 8 reps with 50% 1RM
      • 1 set of 4 reps with 70% 1RM
      • 1 set of 2 reps with 80% 1RM

  • After the final warmup set, participants attempted 3 reps of a set load (3RM)
  • The lifting weight was increased until participants could no longer lift the weight through the full range of motion
  • 5-minute rest periods separated each attempt
  • 3 RM was determined after 3-4 attempts
  • Participants followed the International Powerlifting Federation rules for the squat

5- and 10-meter sprint performance

  • Laser timing gates were set up at 0-, 5- and 10- meter positions
  • Sprints began with a standard 2-point starting position, with the front foot placed on a line 30 cm behind the first gate to ensure that the gates were not activated early
  • Gates were set approximately 80 cm off the ground to minimize the chance of the lower leg or lower arm breaking the light beams

Statistical Analysis

  • After a test for the normality of the distribution, data were expressed as the mean +/- SD
  • A repeated measures one-way ANOVA was used to determine whether sprinting performance changed throughout the testing session (P<0.05)
  • Paired comparisons were used with Holm’s Bonferroni method to control for type I errors when significant F values were observed
  • Pearson correlation analysis was used to assess the relationship between strength and changes in peak power output after the conditioning exercise
Outcome Measures The only outcome measures were 5- and 10-meter sprint performance. Results are described below.
  • ANOVA revealed no significant time effect in either the 5- or 10- meter sprint times
  • For the 5-meter sprint, a paired sample t-test revealed 47% of the participants performed their best time 8 minutes after the conditioning exercise, with the remainder, spread over 4-, 12- and 16-minute intervals.
  • In the 10-meter sprint, a paired sample t-test revealed 53% of participants ran their best time 8 minutes after the conditioning exercise, and the best times for the others were split between the 4- and 16-minute time intervals.
Our Conclusions Post-activation potentiation (PAP) may be an effective tool to improve 5- and 10-meter sprint performance. Heavy loads (3RM) using the back squat, followed by 8 minutes of rest, demonstrated the most effectiveness in creating PAP for approximately half of the participants. This study illustrates the need for individualized recovery times when utilizing  PAP to improve sprint performance.
Researchers' Conclusions

PAP can enhance sprinting performance in professional rugby players with adequate and individualized recovery periods observed between the conditioning exercise and sprinting.

Caption: Runner

By Graysonbay (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Review & Commentary:

This study adds the impact of back squats on sprint performance to a growing body of research on post-activation potentiation (PAP) (1-6). Further, the study investigated various rest period lengths for achieving optimal performance. Based on the findings, human movement professionals should individualize recovery periods when using heavy back squats to maximize benefits achieved using a post-activation potentiation strategy.

This study had several strengths, including:

  • A standardized warmup was used in addition to a familiarization session. Strength testing has been proven to be reliable under these conditions (3).
  • The repeated measures design allowed athletes to act as their own control group. This design helps to account for confounding variables such as sleep, nutrition, training experience, genetics, etc., making it appropriate for the professional athletic population.
  • The use of various rest periods added to the studies design, demonstrating that back squats may enhance sprint performance with individualized rest periods.

Weaknesses that should be noted prior to clinical integration of the findings:

  • A small sample size (n=16) of professional rugby players makes the results less generalizable.
  • Sports teams are unlikely to have access to weight lifting equipment prior to sprinting on the field, reducing the applicability of the study. Bodyweight split squats have been shown to enhance jump performance. Future research should compare the effects of bodyweight and low load exercise to barbell back squat performance on PAP (4).
  • Baseline assessment of sprint time (without back squat ) was not measured. This may have provided data regarding the amount of rest needed to see any benefit.

Why This Study is Important:

PAP research typically uses electromyography to measure muscle activity during jumping or squatting exercises. While this information is important to understanding PAP, it doesn’t provide human movement professionals with data on performance measures within sports. This study demonstrates that sprinting, an important performance measure, can be enhanced following a heavy back squat . The variability of outcomes among participants indicates that recovery times should be individualized, beginning with 8-minutes of rest and adjusted according to performance.

How the Findings Apply to Practice:

Human movement professionals should consider using heavy barbell back squat to induce PAP prior to power/speed training programs. To maximize PAP, the results of this study support individualizing the duration of rest periods following 3RM barbell back squat .

Related to Brookbush Institute Content

The Brookbush Institute (BI) recommends the use of PAP strategies (when appropriate) to augment performance. As an evidence-based practical education company, the BI will continue to review and compile all studies to provide evidence-based recommendations to assist in program design. The results of this study suggest that the barbell back squat could be recommended as a tool to provide a PAP stimulus that may improve sprint performance in a power training program. Further research is needed to determine if other, more "portable" equipment could be used, as barbell/power racks are not often positioned near areas conducive for sprinting.

The BI recommends that individuals who want to improve performance follow an incremental program that begins with endurance/stability and hypertrophy/general strength training and progresses to high-intensity training that includes max strength and power training. It may be recommended that max strength and power phase are completed before introducing PAP strategies, as PAP combines the two phases, and significantly increases the volume and intensity of a training session.

A sample program may include these phases:

  • Endurance/Stability: Increase reps or progress exercises (stability)
  • Hypertrophy/General Strength: Increase load, increase training volume (small progressions in exercise may be appropriate)
  • Max Strength: Increase load; it may be appropriate to regress exercise to more stable environments
  • Power: Increase speed, height or distance

Barbell Back Squat

Squat Form and Modifications

Box Jumps


  1. Robbins, D. W. (2005). Postactivation potentiation and its practical applicability: a brief review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(2), 453.
  2. Lorenz, D. (2011). Postactivation potentiation: An introduction. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 6(3), 234.
  3. Seo, D. I., Kim, E., Fahs, C. A., Rossow, L., Young, K., Ferguson, S. L., & Lee, M. K. (2012). Reliability of the one-repetition maximum test based on muscle group and gender. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 11(2), 221.
  4. Bishop, CJ., Tarrant, J., Jarvis, PT. and Turner, AN (2017). Using the split squat to potentiate bilateral and unilateral jump performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 31(8), 2216-2222.
  5. Cuenca-Fernández, F., López-Contreras, G., & Arellano, R. (2015). Effect on swimming start performance of two types of activation protocols: lunge and YoYo squat. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(3), 647-655.
  6. Esformes, J., & Bampouras, T. (2013). Effect of back squat depth on lower-body postactivation potentiation. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(11), 2997-3000

© 2017 Brent Brookbush

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