The “Ultimate” PAP/PTF Pyramid Training Scheme

This is just the start

I’ve used a wide variety of training strategies over the years (or the past months if you follow my twitter). However, at heart, I’m a low volume, high intensity guy at heart. I work in a gym all day, so the last thing I want to do is work out in a gym all day. While there are books on intensity variables, I want to take a look at how I’ve been training my military press the past few workouts and why I think this will help you.

Understand I’m using “ultimate” with regards to motor unit recruitment; this is by no means a complete guide but it should send you in the right direction. That said…

Post-Activation Potentiation/ Post-Tetanic Facilitation (PAP/PTF) is a way to  increase the recruitment of the largest, most powerful motor units. Either by using heavy holds, a couple heavy negatives, or heavy singles (or as you’ll see, all three) you can better recruit the big powerful units and, as I’ve found, reduce your warm up time.

I’m 6’3″ with the wingspan of a 6’6″ person, so the military press isn’t my best exercise but I love it. The total body power, coordination, musculature involved…it’s simply awesome in my book. My best press set ever was 145lbs x 5 at a weight of 219lbs. A relatively fatter waist and thicker arms meant better leverage and power. I’m currently 180lbs with a much smaller waist. I’m working back toward that 145 x 5 goal and I’ve seen faster improvement with the scheme I’m about to show you.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Depending on your height, you need to either load the pins high for an overhead lockout OR you do what I do and place the barbell on top of the power rack. MAKE SURE IT IS SECURE SO YOU DON’T KILL YOURSELF. You’re suspending gnarly weights overhead; don’t be a moron.
  2. Depending on your 5 rep press strength, load at least 50% more weight on the bar. You’re going to hold this overhead for at least 15 seconds. For instance, I held 215lbs today for 15 seconds. It was hard.
  3. After 5 minutes (between 4 and 11, really), take the weight down at least 50lbs or to a weight you’d eventually like to 1 rep max. I reduced my load to 165lbs. You will now lower that weight from an overhead lockout position to your shoulders before racking it.
  4. After another 5 minutes, you will load your current 1 rep max on the bar. Feel how it effortlessly the weight screams up toward the ceiling. After racking, hit a bicep pose in the bathroom mirror, tell your friends about how this was an awesome idea, do “The Walk” around the gym and, when you’re done (or roughly 5 minutes later) deload the bar to your current 5 rep max.
  5. Make sure your eyebrows are awesome by licking your thumbs and rubbing with the grain. Take your grip, squeeze like hell, and surprise yourself as your current 5 rep max goes up for 6 or 7 reps.
  6. After you’re finished, you could knock some suspended dips out for extra tricep work, or just marvel at how the tallest reverse pyramid just gave you some instant power.
  7. Before you thank me, know that your body is smarter than you; this is just a way to get those big motor units to wake up and do their job.

Give this a try and let me know if it works for you.



After experimenting with chin ups using this scheme, let me offer some sage advice:

Don’t get greedy with the lock-off.

I loaded 180lbs on the weight belt attempting to hold a 5 to 10 second static. I quite forgot that static strength is less than negative strength and any lock off exercise won’t take advantage of the bone on bone tower (like the squat/overhead press). I jokingly say “I broke my bicep” when really I caused so much irradiation that my tricep felt slightly strained. No pain 2 days later but definitely a zinger for the remainder of the day.

Which is to say: if you can lock out, start with a hold; if you can lock-off, start with the negative. Wisdom.

12 thoughts on “The “Ultimate” PAP/PTF Pyramid Training Scheme

  1. Man this was really awesome. I was about to prod you for such an awesome update.

    I believe I will try this on decline bench tomorrow. loading the bar with 385lbs should be fun. 🙂

    1. Thank you, thank you. Shitty about your thyroid; homeopathic path or nuclear pharmaceuticals path back to health?

      The most surprising thing about this is that it doesn’t make me sore. I feel tight like I did something but nothing hellishly horrible.

  2. Right on, brother — PAP/PTF is no parlor trick; it’s the real deal. I love it when a trainee is *convinced* that xxx is their ultimate max on a movement — then, by manipulation of PAP/PTF, you prove to them otherwise. Shock and awe in the gym 🙂

    Say, doesn’t your gym need another trainer? I’m ready to cash-out, and head to A-town.

  3. Skyler, I know you’ve been training solo lately but do you think some good ol bone crushing negatives could work in step one? Not enough to induce fatigue but enough to feel a lot of load/tension? Depending on rep speed maybe even just one or two eccentric only reps. Or maybe negatives might just be the answer to pull exercises.

    1. Mark,

      My concern with bone crushing negatives is the recovery time between being whipped and the next set. In a reverse pyramid training scheme you’re taking that first top set to or near total fatigue, so the large motor units are being recruited but it’s still straight reps. With negatives being so damn easy to take right up to the limit, I worry about recovery of both muscles and cardiovascular functions. I’m really trying to use this to improve the 5 rep set while still getting some of the benefits of lock outs/negatives.

      Note that when I first did this test with chins some 2 weeks ago I did 2 negatives but no “1 rep max”; last week I did 1 negative and a single 1 rep max. I really think the single negative + single 1 rep max (really a near 1 rep max) seems to work best.

  4. Good read. Martin Berkhan uses a similar approach with many of his clients and they often gain strength even on a diet (I worked with him 2008 and a colleague works with him atm. Very pleased with resuts to say the least).

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