avatarZachary Walston, PT, DPT, OCS


How to Test Your Body’s Power Output

Test, train, and improve your ability to generate muscular force quickly

Photo by Harry Cunningham on Unsplash

Power, the ability to generate force quickly, plays a pivotal role in health and fitness. Without it, you will struggle in most athletic endeavors. Hitting a 300-yard drive, setting power clean PRs, and dunking a basketball all require significant power.

To improve power, you need to train it. But before you train it, it’s helpful to know where you stand.

While Olympic weightlifters exhibit immense power and rank among the strongest individuals globally on a pound-for-pound basis, it’s crucial to note that this doesn’t necessarily translate to excelling in activities requiring specific skills, such as throwing a 100-mph fastball or executing a precise tennis serve. Activities like a baseball swing, tennis serve, javelin throw, and weightlifting snatch demand significant power, accompanied by finely tuned motor skills that are not solely developed by concentrating on power alone.

While skill is needed for many power-driven tasks and your body composition influences your power generation floor and ceiling, you must train power to improve it. But before you train it, it’s helpful to know where you stand.

If you aim to assess power production related to a particular skill, opt for a test linked to that skill’s outcome. For instance, monitor the weight you can snatch or the speed at which you can throw a ball. However, if you seek a general gauge of your overall power production, consider using one of the following tests. I use them regularly with my physical therapy patients and athletes to guide treatment plans and exercise programs.

The following is an in-depth review of power assessments. For more on the health implications and methods to train power, read this related story.

The “Sit to Stand”

This is the most basic of the assessments and one I use with many of my physical therapy patients. Research shows the five-time sit-to-stand test can be used in place of leg press force-velocity measurements to determine power. If you are an athlete, you may elect to use the 10-time sit-to-stand or jump assessments that I will cover later. If you are wary of testing your vertical and broad jump, this is the test for you.

Here’s how it works: Start in a chair, fold your arms across your chest, and stand up completely, then sit back down. Repeat this sequence five times as quickly as you can. Measure the total time it takes in seconds. Here are your targets for time:

  1. Young Adults (20–59 years): Around 8–12 seconds is considered normal.
  2. Older Adults (60–79 years): Approximately 12–15 seconds may be considered typical.
  3. Elderly Adults (80+ years): Completion times may vary, but generally, 15 seconds or longer might be indicative of reduced functional mobility.

These are general ranges. If you have sufficient power, you should fall within those range. But what if you want more detail? What is the amount of power you are generating?

The power calculation for the sit-to-stand assessments is as follows

P(watts) = (L-H) x body mass x 9.8 x # / T

The L is leg length in meters, the H is the height of the chair in meters, # is the number of sit-to-stands, and the T is time to complete the assessment. The body mass is in kilograms. So, let’s say your leg length is 1 meter, the chair height is 0.4 meters, you weigh 80kg, and you took 15 seconds to complete the test. Your power output would be 313.6 watts. Is that good?

It depends on your age. For elderly individuals, research shows 313.6 would put you in the upper ranks. For young adults, power output ranks from 7–11 watts/kg in males and 6–9 for females. With the example case being 80kg, the expected range is 560–880 for men and 480–720 for females.

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of calculating power, you can use a piece of equipment commonly found in gyms.

Stationary Cycling

The Wingate anaerobic test is one of the most common power assessments used by coaches and exercise physiologists. Participants typically perform the Wingate test on a specialized cycle ergometer but nearly every stationary cycle found in a gym measures power in watts.

The test involves brief, maximal-effort cycling sprints against constant resistance. Here is the test protocol:

  1. Warm-up: Participants undergo a brief warm-up period on the cycle ergometer to prepare their muscles for the high-intensity effort.
  2. Test Instructions: After the warm-up, participants are instructed to pedal as fast as possible against the predetermined resistance for a short duration, usually 30 seconds.
  3. Maximal Effort: During the 30-second sprint, participants aim to reach their maximum pedaling speed and maintain it throughout the test duration.
  4. Resistance: The resistance on the cycle ergometer remains constant, typically set at 7.5% of the individual’s body weight.
  5. Data Collection: Various parameters are measured during and after the test, including peak power, mean power, and fatigue index.
  • Peak Power (Watts): The highest power output achieved during the test.
  • Mean Power (Watts): The average power output over the 30-second period.
  • Fatigue Index (%): A measure of how much power decreases during the 30-second sprint.

The norms I provided earlier are derived from this test. Here is a reference chart from previous research.

author image, data from Maud and Shultz 1989

Jump Tests

You have several options to choose from with jumping and I recommend assessing all of them.

There are variations of each and they differ by the amount of momentum you generate prior to the jump.

  • Squat Jump: a vertical jump initiated from a static, crouched position
  • Drop Jump: involves stepping off a platform and immediately jumping upon landing. This includes an eccentric (landing) phase to store elastic energy, resulting in a higher jump
  • Counter Movement Jump (most common): Vertical jump with a quick countermovement (a mini squat) before jumping. Uses pre-stretching of muscles for enhanced force production.

You can also do a long jump which involves a running start, but a lot of the distance achieved is related to your skill with landing. There are single-leg variations as well, but those are not as reliable. They are useful for showing side-to-side differences.

Whichever test you use, make sure you are consistent with the setup, execution, and measurement. Do these tests when you are fresh. Your power production is very sensitive to fatigue. Some trainers and coaches will track jump height to assess fatigue and use the measure for planning the day’s training session.

Like the sit-to-stand test, you can calculate power if you want. Use the following formula:

P = (mgh) / t

P is power in watts, m is the mass of the individual (in kilograms), g is the acceleration due to gravity (approximately 9.8 m/s2), h is the jump height (in meters), and t is the time spent in the air during the jump (in seconds).

I tend to just use the total jump height and distance. Here are some data points to aim for:

  • Average jump height for untrained males: 16–20 inches (40–50 cm)
  • Average jump height for untrained females: 12–16 inches (30–40 cm)
  • Average jump height for trained males: 24–28 inches (60–70 cm)
  • Average jump height for trained females: 20–24 inches (50–60 cm)

Upper Body Options

For upper body power, you have several options but they aren’t as standardized or common as the lower body. Rowing ergometers can track watts and you can focus on max output or sustained pulls.

Test your power with one of four different rowing protocols:

  • 7-stroke max
  • 10-stroke max
  • 10-second test
  • 15-second test

They are similar in duration and you will find all of these tests in research. They don’t look at a single pull (like a vertical jump or powerclean) but they are still short in duration.

In rehabilitation, a seated shotput throw is commonly used. Power isn’t calculated via a formula, instead, the focus is on the distance thrown and side-to-side comparison.

Like the lower body, you can simply track progress with movements that require power, such as the snatch, jerk, and power clean.

Next Steps

Whatever test you use, ensure you remain consistent in how you administer and record it. When designing your program to enhance the numbers, use exercises that are similar to the test, such as jumps and rapid squatting for vertical height.

To boost power, prioritize swift movements, especially during the muscle-shortening (concentric) phase, such as the up phase of a squat. Even with heavy weights or near-max lifts, aim to contract muscles and move weights quickly. For optimal power results, slightly reduce resistance, as studies show peak power is generated around 70% of your 1 rep max.

While sustaining peak power is challenging, incorporating longer rest breaks (3–7 minutes) between sets allows muscle ATP restoration. Although training in a fatigued state has benefits, starting fresh maximizes peak results. Measure improvement using earlier tests, as power and strength closely align.

While increased power won’t directly enhance specific skills like hitting a ball farther, it establishes a foundation for skill improvement.

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