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The critical power (CP) is mathematically defined as the power-asymptote of the hyperbolic relationship between power output and time-to-exhaustion. Physiologically, the CP represents the boundary between the steady-state and nonsteady state exercise intensity domains and therefore may provide a more meaningful index of performance than other well-known landmarks of aerobic fitness such as the lactate threshold and the maximal O2 uptake. Despite the potential importance to sports performance, the CP is often misinterpreted as a purely mathematical construct which lacks physiological meaning and only in recent years has this concept begun to emerge as valid and useful technique for monitoring endurance fitness. This commentary defines the basic principles of the CP concept, outlines its importance to high-intensity exercise performance, and provides an overview of the current methods available for its assessment. Interventions including training, pacing and prior exercise can be used to alter the parameters of the power-time relationship. A future challenge lies in optimizing such interventions in order to positively affect the parameters of the power-time relationship and thereby enhance sports performance in specific events.

Anni Vanhatalo and Andrew M. Jones are with Sport and Health Sciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, St. Luke’s Campus, University of Exeter, Exeter, U.K. Mark Burnley is with the Department of Sport and Exercise Science, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, U.K.