The latest issue of The Rowing News contains an excellent article by Ed McNeely describing peak power and how to measure it on the erg. McNeely's article raises some intriguing points, but it also fails to mention one important factor - body mass - and how it affects this measure.
Peak Power is essentially the highest wattage obtained when setting the drag at 200 over 10 strokes. Others use slightly different protocols, but they all measure essentially the same thing. Refer to McNeely's article for a complete description of how to use it in your training.
McNeely mentions that several studies confirm that peak power is one of the best predictors of 2000 m erg preformance. This would seem somewhat counterintuitive. Rowing is 80% aerobic, while peak power is a measure of anaerobic performance - and mostly the ATP-CP system that works for only a few seconds. Yet McNeely is right.
One study found the correllation between peak power and 2000 m erg performance at r=0.92 p<0.0001.There are others that have found essentially the same result.
This is not isolated to rowing, and also holds for other aerobic sports, even ones where the athlete must carry his or her weight even more than in rowing. Similar findings have been reported for 15 years in cycling. this article from South Africa by several authors including Tim Noakes, who recently was a keynote speaker at the Rowing Canada Coaches Conference found a strong correlation between peak power and both VO2 MAX and a 20 km cycling time trial. Interestingly another cycling study found that peak power increased from 864W to 940W or almost 9% after ingesting a controlled amount of caffeine.
In rowing, researchers have seen a 1.2% improvement in 2 k erg time and a 2.7% increase in mean power with caffeine ingestion. The same researchers in another study saw similar results with most of the improvement coming in the first 500 m - perhaps suggesting the effect was largely anaerobic, as is peak power.
Implications for You - and What McNeely Missed.
Peak Power is simple - perhaps for many even fun - to measure. Athletes don't seel the same pressure, or pain, that they do in a 2K erg test, yet the feedback it gives may be largely the same. We won't eliminate the need for 2K tests, but this may be a simle way to monitor training more regularily.
Train for power - McNeely describes how in his article and there are several other ways to include power training in your plan.
What he missed - the article I cited notes that the strong correlation between peak power and 2k erg times is true only when you consider lightweights and heavyweights separately so be cautious in how you use it to compare athletes. It would be better used to compare an individual athlete's progress in
Don't forget our recent post on weight adjusting erg scores. First - the same formula cannot be used to adjust a measure of peak power. Second, well - weight matters. In fact the article that found the strong correlation with peak power also reported a significant correlation between body mass and 2 km erg performance!
Finally, remember that this information is derrived from studies on elite athletes. MCNeely points out that it may be a good measure because elite rowers are all so comparable aerobically and anaerobic measures may then be an important determining factor. I seriously doubt that this is true for club, masters or junior rowers.
That said, in my coaching experience it can be a useful measure with elite junior athletes, although whether peak power has the same correlation to 2K time in juniors I can't say. It would be interesting to have some coaches take both measures on their next round of testing and report the results here to our readers!