What is normalized power and how to interpret it?

potencia normalizada
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Normalized power is a concept that has gained great importance in the world of sports and physical training in recent years. It is an advanced metric that seeks to offer a more precise view of the intensity and effort in physical activities, especially in cycling and triathlon. But what makes normalized power so special and how can we interpret it properly?

What is normalized power?

Normalized power emerges as a solution to the problem of measuring physical effort accurately in activities that present significant fluctuations in exercise intensity. Unlike average power, which provides a simple average of the energy produced over a period of time, normalized power adjusts this average to more accurately reflect the physiological impact of intensity peaks.

This adjustment is crucial because moments of intense effort have a disproportionately greater effect on the body, both from an energy perspective and in terms of necessary recovery, compared to moments of lower intensity or rest. By weighing these peaks of effort more heavily, normalized power provides a more realistic measure of physical wear and tear and the metabolic stress experienced.

To calculate this power, a method is employed that first raises the power of each moment to the fourth, thus highlighting the importance of the most intense efforts. Then, these elevated values are averaged over the duration of the exercise, and finally, the fourth root of the obtained average is taken.

This process emphasizes the contributions of intense efforts to overall performance, while minimizing the influence of low-intensity periods. The result is a metric that offers a faithful representation of actual effort, allowing athletes and coaches to interpret and adjust training with unprecedented precision, thereby optimizing both performance and recovery.

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Fuente: Envato Elements

Why is it important to know normalized power?

Understanding and applying normalized power can be an advantage for athletes and coaches. By reflecting effort more accurately, it allows for better adjustment of training plans, prevention of overtraining, and optimization of recovery. Additionally, for athletes who compete, understanding normalized power is crucial for planning how and when to exert maximum effort during a competition.

A scientific validation of the importance of normalized power in sports training comes from the work of Andrew R. Coggan, who in 2006 published “Power Training Levels,” a study that has been fundamental in the development of power-based training systems.

Differences between normalized power and average power

Average power is calculated simply as the average of all power generated during physical activity, without taking into account the variability in exercise intensity. This simplicity in calculation leads to underestimations or overestimations of actual effort, especially in sports like cycling, where variations in terrain and race strategy cause significant fluctuations in effort intensity.

On the other hand, normalized power is introduced as a more sophisticated concept that tries to overcome these limitations, offering a more accurate representation of physiological effort by considering fluctuations in intensity over time.

The key difference between these two metrics lies in their approach to interpreting exercise intensity. Average power may not adequately reflect the physiological impact of intermittent high-intensity efforts, as these are diluted when averaged with periods of lower intensity. In contrast, normalized power addresses this challenge by weighing peaks of effort more heavily.

By doing so, it recognizes the higher energy cost and physiological stress associated with intense efforts, even if they are brief or intermittent. This approach provides athletes and coaches with a more useful tool for evaluating and planning training, ensuring that effort is quantified in a way that faithfully reflects its impact on the body.

How are normalized power values interpreted?

Interpreting normalized power values goes beyond observing a simple number; it involves a detailed analysis of the context in which the effort was made and the physiological implications it entails. A high normalized power value indicates considerable, and often sustained, effort, reflecting high-intensity training or a competition where the athlete has pushed their limits.

However, it is crucial to contextualize these values within the overall training plan and the specific goals of the athlete. An exceptionally high value may be a cause for celebration due to a personal record broken, but it may also signal potential overtraining if not balanced with adequate recovery. The key is to interpret these values within a framework of training periodization, taking into account the accumulated workload, training phase, and long-term goals of the athlete.

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Fuente: Envato Elements

Keep these tips in mind to improve

Improving normalized power requires a strategic and multidimensional approach, focused both on improving aerobic capacity and resistance to intense efforts. One of the most effective methods to increase normalized power is to incorporate high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into training, which not only increases cardiovascular capacity but also improves the body’s tolerance for accumulating and quickly dissipating lactic acid.

These intervals should be alternated with recovery periods to allow the body to adapt and improve its efficiency in using oxygen during prolonged efforts. Additionally, threshold training, where exercise is performed just below the highest intensity level that an athlete can sustain continuously, is crucial for increasing the ability to maintain high-intensity efforts for longer periods, thus raising normalized power.

On the other hand, nutrition and recovery play fundamental roles in the process of improving normalized power. A well-balanced diet, rich in complex carbohydrates, high-quality proteins, and healthy fats, ensures that the body has the necessary fuel to perform at its best and recover efficiently after each training session. Hydration, both during and after exercise, is also essential to maintain optimal performance and facilitate recovery.

Moreover, active recovery techniques, such as light cycling or swimming on rest days, help to improve circulation and accelerate the muscle repair process. Incorporating stretching and mobility sessions, as well as ensuring quality sleep, are equally important aspects to maximize adaptation to training and, therefore, improve normalized power.

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