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Fitness formula: heavy lifts + plyos

The formula: heavy lifts + plyometrics

The reason: If you want to be more powerful, you need post-activation potentiation, or PAP. The training strategy supersets a heavy lift with a plyo exercise that mimics said lift. As a result, your muscles will create stronger contractions during anaerobic workouts like sprints and jumps than they would otherwise.

“It’s a neat way to hack the central nervous system,” says Scott Fournier, Tier 3+ trainer and master instructor at Yorkville in Toronto. 

Imagine sprinting while pulling a sled behind you. That’s the equivalent of your heavy lift. Now imagine dropping the sled and continuing to run. You’d go much faster, even faster than you would if you’d started sans sled. 

PAP has a similar effect on anaerobic performance. When you do a heavy lift, all the nerves that control your fast-twitch muscle fibers go into overdrive, priming them for power. After a short rest, your muscles recover—but those nerves are still activated and ready to go, Fournier says. In that state, you’re most likely to perform the following plyometric move to your fullest ability. 

Fournier notes that the point of PAP isn’t to increase your calorie-burn or build muscle. Instead, it’s best for helping you land a higher box jump, set a new 30-second sprint PR, or improve your performance in another fast, intense exercise. 

Try it: 

Fournier recommends doing one of the below lift-plyo pairs at the beginning of any strength or cardio workout, anywhere from one to three times per week. Always start with a warm-up and activation drills that target the muscles you’re training that day. 

For your heavy lift, choose a weight that’s 60 to 85 percent of your one-rep max. (You should be able to complete 5 to 15 reps with that load.) Perform 2 to 4 reps of the heavy lift, or 1 to 2 per side where applicable, as quickly as possible. This will increase the signals firing your muscles without fatiguing the tissue. 

After the lift, rest for 3 to 4 minutes. Hydrate and take diaphragmatic breaths during that time to prepare yourself for part two. Then, complete 1 to 2 reps of the plyo exercises (or up to 30 seconds of the sprint) at max effort. 

You should max out after one or two reps. If you finish with energy to spare, you didn’t go hard enough, Fournier says. In that case, add speed to the treadmill, height to your box, or put more power into the equipment-free exercises. 

Barbell hip thrust + broad jump

This glute exercise prepares the muscles to help you spring off of the ground more forcefully so you can jump farther.

Other heavy lift options: reverse lunge, back squat, deadlift 

Walking lunge + sprint 

You can use a barbell, kettlebells, or dumbbells, depending on your preference and strength levels. The lunges, which, like running, are contralateral, prep your nervous system for sprints lasting 30 seconds or less. 

Other heavy lift options: reverse lunge, squat

Reverse lunge + single-leg box jump

Box jumps train the muscles’ elastic components, which act like springs to help you run faster and jump higher. Doing a heavy lift beforehand makes the benefits even greater. 

Other heavy lift options: staggered-stance squat, step-up

Bench press + plyo push-up 

The press activates the chest and shoulder muscles so you can catch enough air during the push-up to clap your hands together before landing. 

Other heavy lift options: dumbbell floor press

Front squat + vertical jump 

During a heavy squat you need to press powerfully through your feet to return to standing, which primes you to jump higher. 

Other heavy lift options: back squat, deadlift

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