How to Improve Your Squat and Bench Press Using PAP

deep squats

As hard working weight trainers, we are always on the lookout for methods or techniques to help us improve. Whether it be for weight loss, strength or muscle building, we want to use those methods that will help us reach our goals in the most effective and efficient way.

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When it comes to compound lifts such as the bench press and squat, any advice that will help improve exercise performance is always welcome. We know that the slightest improvement in this exercise translates into additional speed, strength and muscle mass.

I was flipping through an old issue of one of my muscle magazines and came across an article about Post Activation Potentiation (PAP). In the article, the author mentioned that strength trainers and athletes have used PAP to boost overall performance in sprints and power movements such as the deadlift. In fact, the article cited that in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that those athletes who used PAP improved their squat levels by 18 additional pounds. This perked my interest because I know that a gain of 18 pounds on my squat is huge! And we all know an improvement in reps (using the same weight as the prior workout) or weight can translate into MORE MUSCLE MASS.

What is Post Activation Potentiation (PAP)?

Roger Enoka (as stated in The Neuromuscular Basis of Kinesiology) defines PAP as “The magnitude of the twitch force is variable and depends on the activation history of the muscle. A twitch elicited in a resting muscle does not represent the maximum twitch. Rather, twitch force is maximal following a brief tetanus; this effect is known as posttetanic potentiation of twitch force.”

Roxanne Horwath and Len Kravitz describe PAP as follows (Postactivation Potentiation: A Brief Review);

“This phenomenon describes the enhanced and immediate muscle force output of explosive movements after a heavy resistance exercise is performed (Robbins, 2005)”.

In other words, muscular performance may be enhanced by using heavy load “potentiates” that elicits a response from the muscles based on contractile history and central nervous system stimulation (CNS). Depending on the degree of CNS stimulation, one can potentially activate more muscle fibers.

I like to think of Post Activation Potentiation as a “super warm up” that provides targeted directions for the muscles to follow. Traditionally, stretches, cardiovascular activities, and light muscle warm ups have been used get the blood flowing. For example, prior to a leg workout, one might do the following:

•  Treadmill for 15 minutes

•  Lower body stretches

•  Light warm up sets

•  Start workout

Here is where PAP is different from a traditional warm up. Instead of prepping your muscles and central nervous system for exercise, it “ignites” them to improve muscular performance.

Back in the day, John Defendis was a world class body builder (actually he is still friggin' huge today!), winning the Mr. America contest in 1988. I remember looking at photos of John back in the late ‘80's and his thighs were super freaky.

In one article, he mentioned that he would run through knee high snow before doing his leg workouts. If you've ever had a chance to trek through knee high snow, it is extremely difficult. I never understood why he would tire himself out like this prior to a heavy squatting session. If this was his warm up, what were his workouts like?! Little did I know that he was using a form of PAP to induce a high degree of muscular output for his leg workouts.

By firing up his muscular pathways and CNS prior to squatting, he was actually priming his lower body for muscular improvement . At this time, PAP was still in its infancy and unheard of in the strength training world.

Today, more and more strength athletes are using PAP to improve muscular performance.

How can you use PAP to improve your bench press and squat?

There are a variety of ways to use PAP to improve the bench press and squat. The purpose of using PAP is to fire up the CNS and muscular pathways, not to totally exhaust the muscle (which is why I think some PAP studies fail). Provide just enough CNS and muscle stimulation and I'm sure you'll see an improvement in your bench press or squat.

Here's a technique you can use to help add a few pounds to your bench press.

•  Warm up lightly on the treadmill for 5 to 10 minutes

•  So a couple of light sets on the bench press to warm the area up; Rest for a minute

•  Do 1 set of 6 to 8 plyometric push ups (you shouldn't fatigue the muscles)

•  Perform 1 set bench press with heavy weight (you should be warmed up properly). Remember, use a spotter.

How to do plyometric push ups:

Plyometric push ups are much harder to perform than regular push ups because it uses an explosive element to the exercise. By using an explosive movement such as plyometric push ups, it ignites the CNS and sets the muscular pathway for the bench press. I must warn you, plyometric push ups are not for beginners so please proceed with caution. You may also try clapping push ups if you don’t want to use blocks (as follows).

Here’s how you can use PAP to improve you squat.

  • Warm up lightly on the treadmill for 5 to 10 minutes
  • Do a couple of light squat sets to warm the area up; Rest for a minute
  • Do 1 set of 6 to 8 of vertical jumps (you shouldn’t be fatiguing the muscles)
  • Perform 1 set of heavy squats (you should be properly warmed up). Remember, using a spotter is a must for heavy squats.  

How to do the vertical jump

Remember, you want to keep the movement explosive. Simply doing a few half assed jumps with no effort at all will not provide enough CNS and muscle stimulation to improve squats. Do a few of these before your squats and I'm sure you'll see a marked improvement in repetitions and weight.

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As the owner of Building Muscle 101, I am committed to providing you the best practical weight training advice. I've been training for over 24 years (and still train to this day!) and the advice and guidance I provide comes directly from my experience and knowledge.

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