Uncover Pure Anaerobic Power with the Wingate Test

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

The Wingate test is a 30-second, all-out sprint on a cycle ergometer (think spin bike or stationary cycle) against a weighted braking resistance.

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

Importantly, the anaerobic test has repeatedly proven a valid and reliable predictor of anaerobic fitness.

What does the Wingate Test measure?

The Wingate test simply provides athletes, coaches, and sports scientists with specific, relevant data on four different variables:

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

PP is a measurement (Watts) of the highest mechanical load generated during any three-to-five-second interval of the test.

To find RPP (W/kg), divide PP by body mass (kg).

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

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

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

Anaerobic exercise requirements?

Anaerobic energy production reflects an athlete’s 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 in athletes, 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.

Studies of specificity without causation

The limited range has led to sports scientists widely implemented a 30-sec version, to others that have lengthened the duration to 60-sec or even 120-sec.

Short sprints rely almost exclusively on anaerobic pathways, and this has led studies to speculate that a better result on the test can ultimately predict event-specific success.

…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 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?

It 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 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 identified prediction outcomes 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 the test’s validity is personalized and specialized, just like an athlete’s training.

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

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