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Critical Power: Implications for Determination of V˙O2max and Exercise Tolerance


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: October 2010 - Volume 42 - Issue 10 - p 1876-1890
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181d9cf7f
Basic Sciences

For high-intensity muscular exercise, the time-to-exhaustion (t) increases as a predictable and hyperbolic function of decreasing power (P) or velocity (V). This relationship is highly conserved across diverse species and different modes of exercise and is well described by two parameters: the "critical power" (CP or CV), which is the asymptote for power or velocity, and the curvature constant (W′) of the relationship such that t = W′/(P − CP). CP represents the highest rate of energy transduction (oxidative ATP production, V˙O2) that can be sustained without continuously drawing on the energy store W′ (composed in part of anaerobic energy sources and expressed in kilojoules). The limit of tolerance (time t) occurs when W′ is depleted. The CP concept constitutes a practical framework in which to explore mechanisms of fatigue and help resolve crucial questions regarding the plasticity of exercise performance and muscular systems physiology. This brief review presents the practical and theoretical foundations for the CP concept, explores rigorous alternative mathematical approaches, and highlights exciting new evidence regarding its mechanistic bases and its broad applicability to human athletic performance.

1School of Sport and Health Sciences, St. Luke's Campus, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon, England, UNITED KINGDOM; 2Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Wales, UNITED KINGDOM; 3Institute of Food Nutrition and Human Health, Massey University, Palmerston North, NEW ZEALAND; and 4Departments of Kinesiology, Anatomy and Physiology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS

Address for correspondence: Andrew M. Jones, Ph.D., School of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Exeter, Heavitree Road, Exeter, EX1 2LU, United Kingdom; E-mail:

Submitted for publication November 2009.

Accepted for publication February 2010.

©2010The American College of Sports Medicine