Post-Activation Potentiation for Swimmers: How to Unlock Power and Speed in the Water

Michael Butler
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What is Post-Activation Potentiation?

Post-activation potentiation is a scientific way to dynamically warm up and get your muscles fired up and ready to go! It’s a scientific way to improve your performance by enhancing muscle contractability before a workout or event.

There are many different ways to implement PAP in your workouts:

You can integrate PAP into the workouts themselves, following a PAP protocol for a few drills before going into your workout.

You can implement a PAP protocol directly after your workout.

You can use PAP as a recovery tool.

There are many different PAP protocols, but they basically involve doing an explosive activity immediately before your workout, and it can be as simple as doing a few squats or jumping jacks or as complex as doing jump squats while lead jumping from one edge of the pool deck to another or doing sprints up hills.

This works because when you do an explosive activity, it stimulates the nervous system, making the muscle cells temporarily more excitable. This causes calcium to flow into the cells.

The problem is that this is not sustainable. In other words, as soon as you stop doing the explosive activity, the calcium in the cells goes back to normal, and you’re back to the same old weak and slow way of doing things.

Post-Activation Potentiation for Swimmers

Have you ever heard of post-activation potentiation (PAP)? If you’re a swimmer and you haven’t, you’re missing out on a major source of untapped power, speed, and endurance in the water.

PAP refers to an increase in performance for a short period of time after a high-intensity or eccentric muscle contraction. This practice has been used in weight lifting for a long time. A lot of triathletes use it to initiate powerful starts at the beginning of races.

In both cases, the lifter or racer would lift a heavy weight or perform a powerful contraction and then immediately proceed with another contraction. The PAP effect is that the body is able to tolerate greater loads in the short term after high intensity or eccentric activity.

For example, if you turned the last hard effort in your workout into a 200-yard kick, you’d be doing PAP swimming at its finest.

Research has shown that the results of PAP are highest when contractions are performed with maximal effort. A typical set of PAP swimming would be a 200-yard sprint right after a 1,000-yard swim performed as a warm up.

How to Use Post-Activation Potentiation

It’s no secret that the human body is an amazing machine. It’s also pretty obvious that the most successful athletes in the world have fully optimized their body’s various systems to create optimal performance.

It’s therefore no surprise that leading Western training systems have adopted some of the ancient eastern athletic methods including the practice of using Kegel exercises as a power building tool. Kegel exercises are designed to increase strength and size of the pubococcygeus muscle group.

The pubococcygeus muscle group commonly referred to as “the PC muscle” is one of the deepest muscles in the body. The PC muscles provide several vital functions including:

  • Support of pelvic organs
  • Prevention of prolapse of pelvic organs
  • Sexual response
  • Urine control
  • Postural support

Awareness of the PC muscle group and its relation to certain forms of exercise did not achieve much attention until Dr. Arnold Kegel published his findings about the use of Kegel exercises for the treatment of urinary incontinence.

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