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What is P.A.P.?

P90X2 will be the most scientifically advanced workouts on the market”.  That is a bold claim made by Carl Daikeler when he was introducing P90X2 for the first time.  Now that I have done all of the P90X2 workouts, I can see why.   P90X has evolved in more ways than one.  The incorporation of foam rolling, instability, Nero-Integrated stretching (NIS) to go along with the muscle confusion cross training system would enough for most people…but not for Tony Horton and P90X2.  P90X2 takes it to the next level with P.A.P. or Post-Activation Potentiation.  But what is P.A.P. exactly and why does it work?  Where did it come from and why is it beneficial to your overall fitness? Let’s dive in…

What is P.A.P. (Post-Activation Potentiation)?

In phase 3 of the P90X2 program, you are introduced to the “Performance” phase.  This phase utilizes Complex Training and a phenomenon known call Post-Activation Potentiation or P.A.P. for short.  This type of training was typically only used for the elite athletes of the world, but with P90X2 you can now use it at home for your own performance gains.  The person behind bringing P.A.P. to P90X2 is a man named Dr. Marcus Elliott.  He is the Chairman of the Beachbody Scientific Advisory Board and his Peak Performance Project (P3) is integral to P90X2 and the evolution of P90X.  At P3, Dr. Marcus Elliott has been studying the effects of P.A.P. for years on his athletes, here is what they found…


At P3, a major route to improving performance is through the application of Complex Training, which involves combining High-Load strength movements with biomechanically similar plyometric/ballistic movements as a means of taking advantage of Post-Activation Potentiation (P.A.P.), a phenomenon that refers to enhancement of muscles function as a results of its contractile history.  P3 has found that Complex Training is far superior in developing athletic power to either resistance training or plyometric training alone, and while there are other mechanisms involved in P3 Complexes, the successful manipulation of P.A.P. plays an important role.

What does that all mean?  Basically it is doing a weighted resistance exercise prior to an explosive one, which can increase the amount of power produced by conditioned individuals.  Very counter-intuitive than how we normally train.  In conditioned athletes, “loading ” a muscle actually activates “muscle cell motor units” and makes you be able to lift more weight or explode more.  You have a short window after the resistance exercise to make you perform better.  The “complexes” in these P.A.P. workouts are put together to take advantage of this.  This makes you jump higher, move faster, and lift more weight.  Not a bad deal right?

Why Does it Work?

It’s science…(Ron Burgundy voice).  I don’t want to dive too much into the science talk but for those who are curious this is what I have found…

PAP intervention enhances the H-reflex, thus increasing the efficiency and rate of the nerve impulses to the muscle”

In laymen terms, this means that doing heavy lifting prior to explosive activity can actually help you fire higher threshold muscle cell motor units which, even even simpler terms, means that you will jump higher, run faster, or life more weight.

Underlying Mechanisms of PAP

1. Heavy loading prior to an explosive movement induces a high degree of central nervous system stimulation, resulting in greater motor unit recruitment and force, which can last from five to thirty minutes (Chiu, Fry, Weiss, et al 2003) .

2. Along with more central nervous system stimulation, PAP has been attributed to Phosphorylation of myosin regulatory light chains, meaning that following a heavy strength movement actin and myosin which function together to generate force and muscle contractions are more sensitive to calcium and more active. The greater the phosphorylation of the myosin light chain protein, the faster the rate of contraction and tension (Chiu, Fry, Weiss, et al 2003).

3. Another scientific finding that explains this effect is the enhancement of the H-reflex, increasing the rate of neurotransmission to the muscles (Hodgson, Docherty, Robbins, 2005).

How Does P90X2 use P.A.P. to Benefit YOU?

Isn’t that the question we all want answered.   Now that we know what P.A.P. is and how it works.  Why use it?  What benefits does it give us in our daily lives and in our own health/fitness?  First let me explain how these P.A.P. workouts were set up and why they are set up in “Complexes”.

In each training complex, we follow two P.A.P exercises with two more movements that target areas in the body they’ve found to be weak in a high percentage of athletes.  These exercises are focused on pelvic and scapular (hip and shoulder) instability.  The Complex Training is set up the way it is to help increase your power and explosive strength, giving you better muscle gains and better overall fitness.  It will also greatly reduce the chance of you getting injured.  This is the major one for most people because if we can prevent the injuries that age, weakness and inflexibility have on our everyday lives then we can feel younger and more energetic to do the things we want to do.  Sports programs working with P3 have seen their rate for non-contact related sports injuries drop to virtually zero because of this!  If that doesn’t make you want to try P.A.P. then I don’t know what will.


I am VERY excited to see the full benefits of phase 3 and what it does for your fitness as well as my own.  I hope this answered most of the questions you have about P.A.P.  I think Dr. Marcus Elliott sums it up best when he goes onto analyze how the program works and the importance of both power and stability for athletes of all types, primarily those in power sports.  Here is what he says in an interview…

It’s more than just losing weight or bulking up. You will wake up proprioceptive awareness, balance and a sense of stability with the legs, trunk and shoulders. The PAP segments will improve athleticism with big and powerful movements. It’s about making your body feel like its designed to be an athlete.


Ready For to take advantage of Post-Activation Potentiation? Share your impressions below!