By Jon Cree
Basketball is one of the most viewed sports in America, amassing a weekly audience of around 1 billion people. In the UK, the sport is becoming much more accessible, with increasing popularity due to British teams competing in the European leagues, which are going from strength to strength. This has been further amplified by the success of British-born Chicago Bulls player, and recently voted all-star, Luol Deng. Deng has had an exponential rise through the ranks of college basketball and was overall 7th pick of the 2004 NBA draft. He is currently among the highest-valued athletes within the sport.
Deng's ability to block, jump for shots and outjump an opponent's rebound makes him a formidable opponent, with his outjumping potential a particular asset.
So...is it possible to increase your jump height, or hang time, by training over just a short period of time?
The answer is, only with the help of post-activation potentiation (PAP).
What is PAP?
PAP is a relatively new and novel area of research that is still classed as a 'phenomenon' in many journals and books that have attempted to explain it. The effect of PAP is to increase an athlete's jump height by performing heavyweighted exercise immediately beforehand. This can lead to a super-compensation period – as fatigue subsides over time, so does the muscle memory stored by the body. However, fatigue subsides more quickly than the muscle memory, which provides the opportunity for PAP to occur (Figure 1). Some examples of positive results in volleyball were documented in 2007 and 2008 [1,2].
Figure 1. The PAP 'window'
It has been theorised that PAP can be produced through a variety of training methods, which can enhance aspects of performance. A more technical definition, as 'the enhancement of power, force or contractile response of a muscle resulting from prior highly intense muscle contractile activity' was coined by Mangus and colleagues in 2006 . Of note is that PAP is a legal ergogenic aid.
THE HARD SCIENCE
Loadings to initiate PAP response
Various mechanisms are used to attempt to initiate PAP but they comprise mainly dynamic movements . The amount of load and number of sets and repetitions of weights lifted can also vary. Research in 1996 looking at exercise at 75–85% 1 RM (1 repetition maximum), plus with 15 –20% of body weight added, yielded mixed results, with the heavier weights showing more improvement in performance . A common trend through the literature, where positive results emerged consistently, has been through heavy load exercise such as squatting prior to measurement [2, 6–8].
Timings after interventions of optimal PAP response
Another major variant in this area has been the rest period used between intervention and measurement of performance. The majority of variations in rest periods have been researched, and it is suggested that the optimal timeframe is within 5 minutes following the intervention of heavy-weight exercise . This was due to previous research stating this is the length of time that is for optimal central nervous system recovery .
Other studies where positive results were obtained used no rest period post intervention  and equally so with rest periods of 15 minutes , 18.5 minutes  and 6 hours  after heavy squat intervention.
Make it work for you
So how and when can you use this PAP phenomenon to your advantage within your training? Below we explain how to achieve a PAP response from training. It can be applied pre game, or within your training as a complex pair. This means you will complete a heavy exercise and then immediately afterwards perform jumps in your rest period (Load and Recover).
A: Apply the theory: eliciting the PAP response
- Firstly, choose an exercise that will be mimicked by your sporting action. For jumping, the back squat is perfect because both require the same movement pattern: flexion and extension in the ankle, knee and hip.
- Next, you need to lift heavy. It is generally suggested that around your 4 RM is used, to ensure you recruit as many muscle fibres as possible for your next activity and 'super charge' your nervous system. Because the movements are similar, the fibres and nerves recruited will match the subsequent movement – in this case the jump.
- Finally, you must get your recovery times right. Optimal results have been shown with around 4–15 minutes prior to performance. This is to ensure that fatigue is reduced sufficiently, but you retain heightened stimulation within the muscle. Arguably, the fitter you are, the more rapidly you recover. Conversely, the stronger you are, the more muscle you activate and the longer you need to recover.
- Take-home message: this is very individual. The best way to find out what works for you is to give it a go!
To apply this to your weekly training schedule, you will need to complete it as a complex. Below are some examples of complex pairs for you to try. The method involves one set of heavy lifts, followed immediately by maximal height jumps before your rest begins. You should then repeat until all your sets are completed (eg, four reps of four sets).
1. Back squat/deadlift; and Two-footed jump to box
2. Bulgarian split squat; and Single-leg jump to box
3. Front squat; and Standing two-footed broad jump
4. Split squat (bar/dumbbells); and Scissor jumps
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2. Weber KR, Brown LE, Coburn JW, Zinder SM. Acute effects of heavyload squats on consecutive squat jump performance. J Strength Cond Res, 2008, 22, 726–730.
3. Mangus CB, Takahashi M, Mercer JA et al. Investigation of vertical jump performance after completing heavy squat exercises. J Strength Cond Res, 2006, 20, 597–600.
4. Hanson ED, Leigh S, Mynark RG. Acute effects of heavy and light load squat exercise on the kinetic measures of vertical jumping. J Strength Cond Res, 2007, 21, 1012–1017.
5. Radcliffe JC, Radcliffe JL. Effects of different warm-up protocols on peak power during a single response jump task. J Sports Sci Med, 1996, 28,189–191.
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7. Hamada T, Sale DG, MacDougall JD, Tarnopolsky MA. Postactivation potentiation, fiber type and twitch contraction time in human knee extensor muscles. J App Physiol, 2000, 88, 2131–2137.
8. Young WB, Jenner A, Griffiths K. Acute enhancement of power performance from heavy load squats. J Strength Cond Res, 1998, 12, 82–84.
9. Clark RA, Bryant AL, Reaburn P. The acute effects of a single set of contrast preloading on a loaded countermovement jump training session. J Strength Cond Res, 2006, 20, 162–166.
10. Gourgoulis V, Aggeloussis N, Kasimatis P et al. Effect of submaximal half-squats warm-up program on vertical jumping ability. J Strength Cond Res, 2003, 17, 342–344.
11. Koch JA, O'Bryant HS, Stone ME et al. Effect of warm-up on the standing broad jump in trained and untrained men and women. J Strength Cond Res, 2003, 17, 710–714.
12. Chiu ZL, Fry AC, Weiss LW et al. Postactivation potentiation response in athletic and recreationally trained individuals. J Strength Cond Res, 2003, 17, 671–677.
Jon Cree is a lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science and Sports Rehabilitation at Middlesex University, UK.