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Critical Power and Physiology

rowerSince the publication by Monod & Scherrer (1965) and the definition of Critical Power, many researchers have sought to describe it in physiological terms. It has been compared with VO2max, Anaerobic Threshold, Individual Anaerobic Threshold, Ventilatory Threshold, Fatigue Threshold, Lactate Threshold, and just this list alone implies that there is considerable confusion surrounding a precise definition of CP. Any physiological parameter which includes the term ‘threshold’ is subject to scrutiny, and while many of these parameters have fallen into disrepute or are now obsolete, the Lactate Threshold (LT) seems to have maintained many followers. Certainly, it has been well-documented that lactate-related variables are more reliable as predictors of performance, particularly endurance performance capacity, and this no doubt accounts for the continued popularity of LT. The PEATS Program has been developed around what we see as a fundamental and problematic issue with all threshold evaluation, and even that of VO2max: they are all measured during an incremental exercise test, a feature that very rarely is associated with endurance performance or with training. The PEATS Program places a higher value on steady-rate exercise, and hence our testing of Critical Power and the CPT has always been steady-rate in nature as we believe that this feature places the athlete in a context which more closely resembles training and competition.

Our early study of elite kayak paddlers examined the relationship between OBLA (Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation), and found that Critical Power and this parameter were very different, and that CP was higher than OBLA. A further finding was that exercise at Critical Power for 6 x 5 minutes produced a steady-state in lactate values which was maximal in nature; i.e. exercise above CP intensity resulted in steadily increasing values of lactate for the entirety of the test.

So, in summary, Critical Power represents a very useful physiological parameter, higher than Lactate Threshold but lower than VO2max. Further, it is highly correlated with both of these measures as well as being highly correlated with endurance performance capacity.

NEXT: Effects of Training at Critical Power