Uncover Pure Power with the Wingate Test

Nate Boyle
fitness test
Professional cyclist being tested on body geometry simulator in fit services.

The Wingate test is an anaerobic performance test. A 30-second, all-out sprint on a stationary cycle against a braking torque.

Developed in the 1970s to quantify anaerobic power and capacity, the Wingate has become one of the most utlized fitness tests. Adapted over time for slightly different performance measurements and participant requirements, the Wingate has been hacked together to ‘make work, work’.

Importantly, the Wingate Anaerobic test has repeatedly proven a valid and reliable predictor for anaerobic power and capacity.

What Does the Wingate Test Measure?

The Wingate Test provides athletes, coaches and sport scientists with specific, relevant data on four different variables:

  1. (PP) peak power
  2. (RPP) relative peak power
  3.  (AC) anaerobic capacity
  4. (AF) anaerobic fatigue

Anaerobic Peak Power is a measurement (Watts) of the highest mechanical power generated during any three-to-five-second interval of the test.

To find Relative Peak Power (W/kg), divide peak power (PP) by body mass (kg).

Anaerobic Capacity is the total amount of work completed during the Wingate. It is expressed in kilo-gram joules (1 kg-m = 9.804 J). and a product of combining each five-second peak power output interval.

Anaerobic Fatigue is calculated by subtracting the highest and lowest five-second power outputs; then dividing the result by the highest peak power. By multiplying the answer with 100, the metric is represented as a percentage.

The rationale behind the anaylitcs is that athletes need to know how fast their muscles can generate power (watts), but also how fast the body’s aerobic or anaerobic energy system can contribute to that power output (seconds). Thie Wingate is a great way to test current fitness level and measure improvement over time.

Anaerobic power Requirements?

Anaerobic power reflects an athletes ability to produce mechanical energy from physiological pathways containing glycogen (lactate) and phosphocreatine (ATP-PCr).

The Wingate test is not so much about lactate production, but the ability to produce energy via phosphocreatine and adenosine triphosphate (ATP). 

The anaerobic energy system is often referred to as the phosphagen system because it depends on a fast breakdown of ATP with the concomitant release of phosphate (the PCr) to generate energy. This system has a limited capacity, but it can be quite powerful.

So when an activity lasts longer than about two minutes, there are insufficient amounts of PCr to supply the required amount of ATP.

Specificity without Causation

The limited range has led to sport scientists that widely implementd a 30-sec Wingate, to other that have lengthened the duration to 60-sec or even 120-sec. 

Short sprints rely almost exclusively on anaerobic pathways, and this has led to speculation that a greater performance on the Wingate test can ultimately predict event-specific success.

Wingate scores for anaerobic power and capacity were only moderately correlated with 50 yd dash times…and with the 600 yd run…indicates that the Wingate anaerobic test is only a moderate predictor of race results times but becomes a stronger predictor when WAnT scores are adjusted for body weight.

Gerald D. Tharp, et al

While unproven, the more applicable theory would be that improvements in Wingate scores could predict improvements in sprinting times.

…the effects of caffeine on a maximal anaerobic exercise protocol using the 90‐s Wingate Test. This study suggests an ergogenic effect of caffeine for those who regularly consume caffeine but not for those who do not. These results imply a possible learning effect for caffeine…

Kevin Ogden, et al

Is the Wingate test valid?

The Wingate is the gold standard for anaerobic fitness testing. Mainly because, it’s easy to replicate and standardize the intensity, duration and equipment. With accurate results, athletes can measure their anaerobic power and strength as needed and over time. But what about aerobically trained athletes?

…aerobic and anaerobic contributions to performance during the Wingate test in sprint and middle-distance runners and whether they were related to the peak aerobic and anaerobic performances determined by two commonly used tests: the force-velocity test and an incremental aerobic exercise test.

P Granier, et al

By looking into both sets of trained athletes, researchers identifed performance prediction outcomes from a Wingate test based on how each subset was trained. Would they rely more on aerobic or anaerobic training to complete the task?

…sprinters and middle-distance runners used preferentially a metabolic system according to their specialty. Nevertheless, under the conditions of its experiment, they seemed to rely on the same percentage of both peak anaerobic and peak aerobic performance…

P Granier, et al

Interpreting the results, it would appear that a Wingate test’s validity is personalized and specialized, just like an athlete’s training.

One closing note on accuracy, a computer-aided Wingate test is more reliable than tests performed using a standard mechanical ergometer. And whenever fitness testing is recorded, it is paramount that it be done so in a consistent manner. This maximizes data integrity and its subsequent influence on performance.

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