Post-Activation Potentiation in Action: Video

Post-Activation Potentiation in Action: Video

I write at length in Power & Towers & Swimming: The Guide about a phenomenon known in the strength & conditioning world as PostActivation Potentiation, or PAP for short. The theory is simple, yet ultimately quite complex when one considers the underlying physiological effects at play when engaging in PAP training. These effects include, but are not limited to: increased muscle fiber and motor unit recruitment, increased rate of force development, and general increased neurological awareness ("neuromuscular excitability" if you will...the concept of "switching on" the neuromuscular system). The concept: a resisted or assisted training effort produces a "better" effort post stimulus, IE...the effort post stimulus is greater, further, higher, faster, etc., than it would have been without the prior stimulus. For a more indepth look at PAP, refer back to a sample practice featuring PAP that I posted in October of 2016. 

Reading about PostActivation Potentiation is a worthy endeavor. A picture they say, is worth a thousand words. What then, is a video featuring PAP in action worth? The following two clips were shot on January 2nd, 2017, during our annual Florida Training Trip. The set was part of a team power practice that included six different stations. The efforts shown here feature weight belts and running dives, and the results were spectacular, for lack of a better term. Many swimming coaches love running dives, for a variety of great reasons, of which I will not delve into today, and we are no different. We routinely prescribe running dives during the summer here at Liberty and during our Florida Training Trip, as both pool locations feature a deck on which our women can run. 

The set: 

1 x 15 Running Dive Max With Weight Belt
Rest 3:00
1 x 25 Running Dive Max With Weight Belt
Rest 3:001 x 25 Running Dive Max No Weight Belt 

The student-athlete featured is junior Rachel Hoeve, our best sprinter. Rachel is a 6'0 Michigan native with Dutch genes, and combines her immense physical talent with a tremendous work ethic. To say that she is a joy to coach is quite the understatement, indeed! 

Rachel has made vast improvements in our program, and the way she works PAP efforts, and specifically PAP work with weight belts and Power Towers, is a big reason as to why.  

Best High School Times

50 Free: 24.35
100 Free: 52.56
100 Back: 1:01.89

Best Times at Liberty

50 Free: 22.99 (22.43 Relay)
100 Free: 51.23
100 Back:  57.12 

Already This Year, Unsuited and Unrested

50 Free: 23.40 (22.60 Relay)
100 Free: 51.76
100 Back: 57.27

If I were not a collegiate coach, and a betting man at that, I would bet that Rachel will continue to see improvements this year, and again her effort on PAP type training is a big reason as to why. 

25 Yard Running Dive With a 25-Pound Weight Belt 

Time: 12.14
Stroke Count: 17 

Now for a few disclaimers:  

  • 25 pounds is heavy, yes
  • It took Rachel two years to build up to this weight
  • She can and does go heavier
  • If you choose to implement this type of training in your program, proceed with caution, and at your own risk
  • The principle of adaptation applies. As we would not go "heavy" (relative, as always) in the weight room with an athlete that has never lifted before, so we would not go "heavy" the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, or sixth time and so forth and so on that they use weight belts  

25 Yard Running Dive Max No Weight Belt

Time: 9.80
Stroke Count: 15 

The result was phenomenal, and quite fun to watch/coach. Disregard the time for a second, and notice the effects, namely stroke/kick tempo, and distance per stroke. One does not need the watch as the results are visible to the naked eye, and this is the beauty of PAP in action. The effort without the weight belt is faster than what she would have gone had she not worn the belt on the previous effort. A side note: My reaction here to the 9.80 - last year in Florida, then senior Kendall Hough set our team record for a runnnig dive at 9.77, and Rachel was oh so close to breaking it on this effort. As it were, a similar PAP set last year featuring heavy running dive weight belt efforts produced her 9.77, and it always takes PAP stimulation prior for our best sprinters to see their fastest times on these running dive efforts. As a further side note, Kendall also had a fantastic career here, dropping from 23.83 to 22.67 in the 50 and from 50.96 to 49.06 in the 100 free over her the course of her four years. Weight belts and PAP training, along with her work ethic, played a significant role! 

We love running dives with weight belts when attempting to produce a PAP effect, and for several reasons: 

  1. All phases of the swim itself of course receive a PAP effect, including the underwater body dolphin phase, the stroke, the kick, and core engagement/connectivity from hands to feet.
  2. The weight belts also produce a PAP effect for the run and dive, as the athletes run faster, and dive further/faster on the post effort without the belt. 

So fast was Rachel moving during the underwater body dolphin phase that she actually missed her breakout on the effort without the belt; her body was moving faster underwater than her mind could perceive, and a missed breakout was the result, as seen in the freeze frame shots below. I believe a 9.60 effort is possible with a clean breakout. 


Ideally she has already initiated the breakout by this point in the swim. 


So much speed does she carry into the breakout that she starts to come out of the water. Again, if we can channel that speed forward, with a clean breakout, a 9.60 is certainly possible. As for the brain not being "ready" for the pure speed this type of PAP work produces, recall Mike Bottom's sprint philosophy regarding speed assisted work with cords, racing suits with fins in practice, and other tricks to teach the brain and body how it feels to travel at such high velocities, and learn how to make the small improvements and adjustments necessary at said velocities to maximize efficiency. In Rachel's case, I'll make a note that we need to work on high-speed, assisted breakouts with cords when we get back on campus, and we'll prescribe more cord work for her during this year's taper than we did last year. Not all will be full 25-yard speed assisted efforts; we routinely use cords to practice only high-speed breakouts as well. 

On yet a further side note, I speak at length once again in the book about resistance training as it relates to body position, and how there are a pocket of coaches and sport scientists that do not believe in resistance training because of the possible adverse body positions this type of training may cause. These tend to be the principle of specificity purists, and their debate points center around the idea that because a Power Tower, weight belt, or other forms of resistance cause the body to deviate from the ideal, perfect racing position, these forms of resistance should not be used in training. While I respect their right to disagree, I do find it humorous that many of these same coaches miraculously have no problem with the adverse body position caused by repeat 400's and so forth. If we are going to talk body position, let us be sure to call it both ways. If we disregard the Power Tower because of a possible adverse body position while training, we had better feel the same way about the typical 800 choice for warmup as well.

In watching the videos, what do your eyes tell you? If the video contained no captions, could you tell that she was in fact wearing a 25-pound weight belt? Did it appear that her body position was affected to a degree that would cause you to instinctively shut down the set for fear of extreme technical degradation or possible injury, similar to how one might shut down a squat in the weight room when the spine is out of proper squatting alignment due to a heavy load? Speaking of loads, to the weight, 25 pounds is heavy, yes. But consider the time of 12.14 seconds, and the fact that Rachel has been 13.08 from a flat start dive off the blocks with the same 25-pound belt. If you ask the average man off the street to dive a 25 max he will have a hard time going 13.08, and we have women doing that with a 25-pound weight belt. Now again consider the 25 "heavy?" In my humble opinion, 25 pounds is only the tip of the iceberg in regards to the upper limits of weight belt training and the PAP effects possible with these types of efforts!

If you found value in this article, by all means share it with those who might also benefit from learning about the marvel that is PostActivation Potentiation. For more, consider picking up a copy of Power & Towers & Swimming: The Guide, where I dedicate an entire chapter to PAP style training, featuring Power Towers, Weight Belts, and other forms of power and resistance. 

Train Fast! 

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