Who, What, Why and How?
Athletes, bodybuilders, and working class people alike can all benefit from better understanding the upper limits of their physical ability. As humans, we’re capable of performing with incredibly impressive power and skill, provided the circumstances call for it. Via our internal energy systems, humans naturally exert energy as efficiently as possible. Amongst those systems is anaerobic glycolysis, a process which can rapidly provide the body with energy from glucose stores in the absence of oxygen. This process is used in brief bursts of power and speed, such as sprints and heavy power lifts.
Anyone can briefly exert power, but the question is, how MUCH power can any given person exert when putting in maximal effort. That’s exactly where the widely used Wingate Anaerobic Test comes in. The Wingate test, named after the Israeli institute where it was developed in the 1970s, is used to measure both peak anaerobic power and anaerobic capacity. It involves pedalling at a level of maximal effort against a constant force, which is usually 7.5% of the participant’s body weight, for 30 seconds (1). It’s performed on a cycle ergometer, and usually involves monitoring the participant’s power output consistently throughout the test.
So who might benefit from performing as seemingly esoteric of an analysis as the Wingate test? Almost anyone, really. A study performed on a group of speed skaters, for example, concluded that results collected from Wingate tests performed in the summer were accurate predictors of improvements in their 1500 meter speed skating performance that following winter (2). On the other hand, a separate study performed on a group of 69 young physical education students concluded that the Wingate Test offered a dependable evaluation of both peak power output and mean power output (3). Simply put, if competitive athletes and students alike can all find reliable use in Wingate testing, why couldn’t everyone?
Interestingly enough, not only is the Wingate test a method of measurement, but it can also be used as a means of actual athletic training. One study compared the metabolic and physiological effects of two different types of cardiovascular training, one being a 30-minute bout of moderate-intensity cycling (aerobic), and the other being a series of 4-6 Wingate anaerobic sprints. The study found that BOTH groups experienced significant decreases in body fat and waist circumference, as well as improvements in VO2max, anaerobic power, and anaerobic capacity, all following the intervention of either form of cardiovascular training (5). This alone is evidence that for athletes, bodybuilders, and even regular gym-goers alike, Wingate sprints can be an incredibly efficient method of burning calories, especially compared to longer, less-efficient steady-state endurance activities. For athletes, replacing regular cardio sessions with Wingate sprints could be a more efficient, more exciting, and less time-consuming method of obtaining the same results.
Perhaps it goes without saying that the Wingate test, like almost any other test similar to it, does have some potential areas of improvement. The test, for example, fails to take into account prior activity levels and fatigue. One study found that performing intense activity with either the upper or lower limbs (arms or legs) can cause a temporary decrease in power capacity in the other set of limbs. This implies that any intense arm activity done by a participant prior to performing a Wingate test could be detrimental to said participant’s results due to its effect on the legs’ power capacity (4). This is just one of various faults in testing anaerobic capacity and power via the Wingate test. Other issues include the effect of fatigue occurring over the course of the 30 seconds, the potential negative impact of a warm-up (or lack thereof), and a few other minor complications. This all being said, there’s no doubt that the Wingate test is one of, if not the, best available method for measuring peak anaerobic power and anaerobic capacity in just about anyone.
- Driss, Tarak, and Henry Vandewalle. “The Measurement of Maximal (Anaerobic) Power Output on a Cycle Ergometer: A Critical Review.” BioMed Research International 2013 (2013): 589361. PMC. Web. 30 Sept. 2017.
- Hofman, N, et al. “Wingate Test Is a Strong Predictor of 1500m Performance in Elite Speed Skaters.” International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance., U.S. National Library of Medicine, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28253027.
- Attia, Ahmed et al. “Reliability and Validity of a 20-S Alternative to the Wingate Anaerobic Test in Team Sport Male Athletes.” Ed. Jonathan A. Coles. PLoS ONE 9.12 (2014): e114444. PMC. Web. 30 Sept. 2017.
- Harvey, Leonie et al. “The Effect of Previous Wingate Performance Using One Body Region on Subsequent Wingate Performance Using a Different Body Region.” Journal of Human Kinetics 56 (2017): 119–126. PMC. Web. 30 Sept. 2017.
- Nalcakan, Gulbin Rudarli. “The Effects of Sprint Interval vs. Continuous Endurance Training on Physiological And Metabolic Adaptations in Young Healthy Adults.” Journal of Human Kinetics 44 (2014): 97–109. PMC. Web. 6 Oct. 2017.