The ‘Critical Power’ Concept: Applications to Sports Performance with a Focus on Intermittent High-Intensity Exercise


March 2017

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The curvilinear relationship between power output and the time for which it can be sustained is a fundamental and well-known feature of high-intensity exercise performance. This relationship ‘levels off’ at a ‘critical power’ (CP) that separates power outputs that can be sustained with stable values of, for example, muscle phosphocreatine, blood lactate, and pulmonary oxygen uptake (V ˙ O 2
), from power outputs where these variables change continuously with time until their respective minimum and maximum values are reached and exercise intolerance occurs. The amount of work that can be done during exercise above CP (the so-called W′) is constant but may be utilized at different rates depending on the proximity of the exercise power output to CP. Traditionally, this two-parameter CP model has been employed to provide insights into physiological responses, fatigue mechanisms, and performance capacity during continuous constant power output exercise in discrete exercise intensity domains. However, many team sports (e.g., basketball, football, hockey, rugby) involve frequent changes in exercise intensity and, even in endurance sports (e.g., cycling, running), intensity may vary considerably with environmental/course conditions and pacing strategy. In recent years, the appeal of the CP concept has been broadened through its application to intermittent high-intensity exercise. With the assumptions that W′ is utilized during work intervals above CP and reconstituted during recovery intervals below CP, it can be shown that performance during intermittent exercise is related to four factors: the intensity and duration of the work intervals and the intensity and duration of the recovery intervals. However, while the utilization of W′ may be assumed to be linear, studies indicate that the reconstitution of W′ may be curvilinear with kinetics that are highly variable between individuals. This has led to the development of a new CP model for intermittent exercise in which the balance of W′ remaining (W ′ BAL
) may be calculated with greater accuracy. Field trials of athletes performing stochastic exercise indicate that this W ′ BAL
model can accurately predict the time at which W′ tends to zero and exhaustion is imminent. The W ′ BAL
model potentially has important applications in the real-time monitoring of athlete fatigue progression in endurance and team sports, which may inform tactics and influence pacing strategy.

Sports Med (2017) 47(Suppl 1): 65-78

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