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P90X2 Review: P.A.P. Upper

Here it is: PAP: Post Activation Potentiation. Everything P90X2 has built toward through two phases of balance postures, core work and strength. In other words: welcome to P90X2’s 3-week Game Day. Since PAP is a brand new to the P90X workouts, there’s nothing to compare it to. You can look at PAP as a mishmash of P90X2 moves played out in a round of Fast and Furious go ’til you can’t go no more… but there is a reason behind all this ” go hard or go home” stuff. Post Activation Potentiation isn’t just included to exhaust you (it should), make you sweat ( it will) and let you walk away feeling you got a good workout (you will). PAP as intertwined into P90X2 is built to refine you, make you more explosive and take you from a stock, car lot sports car–faster than most, more moxy than most– to a custom Ferrari: world class.

P90X2 includes two PAP workouts– PAP Upper and PAP Lower. Obviously, this review covers upper and if you bring everything to the table, you should walk away with not all that much left. If you’re not familiar with PAP, it’s cool stuff– stuff increasingly used by Pro-Level athletes as designed by P3 (Peak Performance Project). For a crash course, I’ve covered PAP in detail right here and also in the One on One preview here.

Let’s get into it.

P90X2 PAP Upper Review


PAP Upper will never be called out for false advertising: Post Activation Potentiation training applied to the Upper Body. But this isn’t just ” regular upper body”– aka, biceps and glamor. No, PAP Upper is the whole nine yards: upper back, lower back, shoulders, biceps, a touch of tricep, chest and as always when it comes to X2… core. By definition, PAP is out to tax your muscle to full effect. Like I’ve mentioned previously, Post Activation Potentiation is the muscle version of “no man left behind”. Expect this:

  • Contraction Move: Power move (aka- a weighted lift) fires up the big boys
  • Explosive Move: Incorporates smaller muscles
  • Flexibility/Hold Move: All muscles now awake, firing and ACTIVATED, put them them to work together for maximum POTENTIAL– aka, post -activation potentiation.

By now, after two phases of P90X2, you know what’s expected. P90X2 workouts are a little shorter so you have to bring it all to roughly 30-35 minutes of focused intensity. PAP Upper will deliver the moves to take you to the threshold of what you can do but ultimately you’re the one accountable for bringing the intensity.


P90X2 P.A.P. Upper is a brisk 53 minutes on the clock, but once the workout starts churning through its two complexes (a focused, sequenced group of moves), PAP Upper may feel a lot longer than that. Warm-Up and cool down take roughly 18 minutes, leaving about 34 minutes for a quick trip to sweat-town express. You’ll come out of this one like you just got hosed down.


Surprise! PAP Upper’s warm up isn’t the usual stuff you might expect. The “usual” stability ball warm-ups (except Atlas) are taking a well-earned vacation. Inch Worms, World’s Greatest Stretch and Groiners are still there but the “old reliable” warm-ups are book-ended by some new moves. You’ll begin with some slap-happy, comical looking stuff: a heel-walk where you wander around the room on your heels, quickly followed by “Foot Smackers”, where you do more walking around slapping your feet to the ground like an gimped duck with every step. Burpee Salutations give way to the moves you know and love including foam rollers. You’ll wrap up with Plange push-ups (remember those from P90X– push up into raised back?), a band pull to warm up your upper back and end with Atlas.  It’s a long sequence that hits close to the 15 minute mark with 11 total moves but it doesn’t leave any upper action in the cold.

The Workout

PAP Upper is a fast and furious mix of  two complexes. Complexes are a group of four moves (or sets) performed sequentially, then repeated, which means you’re doing four rounds of each move for a total of 16 sets per complex. When PAP Upper is all said and done, you’ll have completed 32 total sets. Keep in mind, these aren’t Max Reps– in most cases, you’re only doing 10 reps and then jumping to the next move. Still, by round 3 or 4, that’s not as easy as it looks on paper.

In PAP Upper, long breaks are for the weak and it’s time to get in, dig in and push your new-found strength and stability skills into WORKING FOR YOU. There really aren’t any new moves to be found in this workout but it’s all about how the moves are strung together. You may think you’re at the pinnacle of your planking powers but chances are PAP will show you otherwise.

I don’t want to give the complexes in full so anybody could just come here and pull the details down and say “Yeah, I did PAP”, so as usual, I’ll give a couple highlights:

Move Highlights:

Med Plank :

You’re familiar with the plank, but this one is done from an elevated position of both feet on a med ball. You’ll hold this for about 60 seconds and it comes after you’ve put some explosive and energy tapping work into you shoulders and chest. It’s not comfortable and really takes going to “your happy place”.

Towel Pull Up:

My grip must be deteriorating because I find these hard not from a pull up stand point but of keeping a grip on the towels. It’s not a new move but it’s one that takes some focus for me– and by the fourth round, 10 of these felt like quite a feat. Two towels are strung over a pull up bar and instead of using the bar, you hold the towels in a vertical grip, pulling from a lower dead hang to a higher “chin over bar” finish. Welcome to “kipping is totally OK here”.


These are going to be a retread. You’re using skills and technique here gleaned from your last 8 weeks of training. Put them to use wisely:

Follow The Rule. 10 may not seem like many plyo pushups at the outset, but by the fourth round, you’re going ot be pulling on some inner strength to finish these out. Going hard at first will leave you worn and useless at the end. Follow the rep rule here and in weighted moves, pick weights that will challenge you from beginning to end instead of challenging you at first and falling on your head in round four.

You’ll Get Out What You Put In. If PAP is easy, you’re selling your effort short. This is a world-class system that gets some of the world’s best athletes begging for mercy. You’re being asked to step up to that level of game. Put your mind to it and get after it. If ever “Bring It” was intended as a battle cry, this is it.

The Verdict

P90X2: PAP Upper is a workout. I did pretty well despite PAP Upper being tough but I was drained and feeling exhausted the rest of the day. Not to the point I was falling asleep standing up but I knew I’d been put through it. It was just a different post-workout feeling from previous X2 workouts. I’d been through similar P90X2 PAP complexes in the One on One series so there wasn’t much by way of surprise in moves but that workout pushed both upper and lower together. This was all Upper, all the time. It’ll probably come as no surprise that I really enjoyed PAP Upper. Challenging, heart-pounding and performance enhancing. I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out over the course of 3 weeks.


I’m usually conservative in my use of the Recovery Formula but I definitely used one scoop (not two) at the end of PAP Upper. An intense workout like this could use a dose of recovery formula. Don’t’ cheat yourself, though. The Recovery Formula is earned. You can order the recovery formula here.

In the mean time, check out the details on P90X2 here, check out more P90X2 reviews here and feel free to spread the love via Facebook, Digg, Twitter or link if this was worth your time. Or hey, click the subtle link below if you want to give P90X2 a shot. Thanks for the support!

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2 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. Joe says:

    Thanks for the review.

    NB: no such thing as a “tricep”. It’s triceps.

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