7 Step Process for Trying Swimming Post-Activation Potentiation

7 Step Process for Trying Swimming Post-Activation Potentiation

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Below is an interview with Augusto Barbosa. Augusto is a sport scientist with experience in competitive swimming. He is the founder and the Technical Director of Meazure Sport Sciences, a company established in Brazil, which currently provides biomechanics and performance analysis services for several swim teams and for the Brazilian Paralympic Committee, as well as scientific consultancy to sports technology development companies. Augusto achieved master and doctorate degree in Physical Education at State University of Campinas, and still maintain research projects with emphasis on sport training and swimming biomechanics. He also contributes actively as a member of the review board for various sport science journals. This interview discusses swimming post activation potentiation and his latest research study. See his complete work here.

1. Are other sports using post activation potentiation? 

Yes, post-activation potentiation (PAP) has been widely studied in the past two decades in many different sports such as judo, rowing, cycling, running and even team sports.

2. Could post activation potentiation improve performance in other variables than you researched?

Yes! Vertical jump is probably the most studied variable in this field. Particularly in swimming, studies have observed PAP benefits in a number of start parameters, such as dive distance, block time, flight time, hip horizontal velocity, 5 and 15-m time and peak horizontal and vertical force. Some of these results are very conflicting though. There is another more recent study (for details, see Hancock, Sparks, Kullman, 2015) that verified a very substantial improvement in 100-m freestyle swim time. We are talking about a 0.54 seconds drop (!!!). The conditioning activity consisted of 4 maximal 10-m swims attached to a resistive power rack 1 min apart. Their great and consistent results highlight that swimming post-activation postentiation may be both useful and promising.

3. Do you think parachutes and paddles aren't specific enough for swimming post-activation potentiation?

This is a very interesting question. We know that the artificial enlargement of hands’ surface area provided by paddles, and the additional drag created by parachutes, lead swimmers to generate a greater propulsive force without meaningfully changing trajectory, pitch, and sweepback angles of the hand. Then, I do believe that paddles and parachute can provide enough intensity and sport-specific actions to trigger post-activation potentiation. However, the use of these implements alone is definitely not the only factor that matters. It is also about manipulating all the others training variables (i.e. volume, rest interval, type of contraction and movement speed) towards the appropriate balance between neuromuscular activation and fatigue.

4. What other resistances and rest intervals would you test next?

Before testing any other resistance and/or rest intervals I would be firstly worried about gathering a very homogeneous group of swimmers in terms of propulsive force level. In our study we identified only two subjects that positively reacted to the proposed conditioning activity and, interestingly, they were also those with the highest force levels at the baseline. Then, as detected in other sports, we assume that the ability to mobilize neuromuscular system during swimming is crucial for post-activation potentiation.

In our study, conditioning activity consisted of 8 maximum efforts of 12.5 m starting every 2.5 min using both hand paddles and parachute, and we found that it was consistently detrimental for impulse and peak force, which decreased for 8 and 7 participants, respectively. Then, we considered that both total muscle mechanical work and short rest interval could be acting as limiting factors for post-activation potentiation.

There, I would start testing how much volume is actually necessary to eventually trigger PAP. The point is: if only one effort is effective enough as a conditioning activity, why should one use eight? Reducing the total volume of the in-water strength training set could help a lot on getting the appropriate balance between neuromuscular activation and fatigue dissipation.

Then, I would try to keep testing swimmers' performance until 12 min. We know that rest interval noticeably affects PAP magnitude and that moderate improvements on vertical jump performance can be observed when rest intervals after the conditioning activity range from 8 to 12 min. Nevertheless, if the intention is to utilize PAP in competition, one should consider space and time conditions as they can limit the execution of the proper warm-up.

5. Why do you think some people respond to swimming post activation potentiation?

Studies have reported there is a number of individual characteristics that may favor the occurrence of post-activation potentiation, such as athletes' training level, power-strength ratio and fiber-type distribution, for instance (for more info, please see Tillin & Bishop, 2009). Then, an athlete without these characteristics may be less responsible to post-activation potentiation.

6. How can elite sprinters test if they respond to swimming post activation potentiation?

I would suggest the following procedure:

7 Step Process for Trying Swimming Post-Activation Potentiation

  1. As  more than one session may be required, it is important to always get the same warm-up.
  2. Perform 2 x 25m maximal sprints with a passive rest of 4 min. Keep it the same throughout the whole experiment. These two times will be used as baseline performance. As they are expected to be very consistent, try your best to attenuate sources of errors, such as the reference instants for beginning and end of timing (for example: from the instant when feet break contact with the pool wall to hand's touch to the opposite edge).
  3. Perform 1 x 25 maximal sprint with an external resistance that you are very used to (paddles, parachute, paddles+parachute, power rack or extensors). This is called the conditioning activity.
  4. Get off the implements and start testing your 25 m performance after 4 min the resisted effort is finished. Keep testing it every 4 min until the maximum 16 min, if possible.
  5. Check if there was any improvement and when it occurred (after 4, 8, 12 or 16 min).
  6. Repeat the whole process again in different days using 3, 5 and 7 x 25 maximal sprints as conditioning activity.
  7. Analyze data to find the best individual conditioning activity and rest interval. I hope you can take great advantage of this warm-up strategy.


1. Hancock AP, Sparks KE, Kullman EL. Postactivation potentiation enhances swim performance in collegiate swimmers. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 29 (4): 912-7.

2. Tillin NA, Bishop D. Factors modulating post-activation potentiation and its effect on performance of subsequent explosive activities. Sports Med. 2009; 39 (2):147-66.

For more info for Augusto, please see here:
Augusto Barbosa, PhD
Diretor Técnico | Technical Director
Meazure Ciências do Esporte | Meazure Sport Sciences
+55 11 97694-3377

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