PWC-Test (Physical Working Capacity)

Physical Working Capacity (PWC) refers to the mechanical power of a person at a defined heart rate, expressed in watts. The PWC test is quite suitable for an initial assessment of the endurance capacity of averagely trained people.

Especially since the PWC test can also be carried out very easily by laypersons. In addition, a repeat test with little effort the performance increase (in watts/kg body weight) of the test person can be determined.

Against today’s analytical methods (e.g. lactate level test and the Spiroergometry), which are becoming easier and easier to use, the PWC test cannot, however, pass.

The PWC test is based on endemic values from thousands of tests, suspected subjects’ performance and postulated maximum heart rates (rule of thumb 220 – age). This is the main weak point of the PWC test.

  • First formulas do not stand up to conscientious scrutiny. It’s as if you had to choose between the dress sizes XXS, L and XXL. What if you don’t happen to have one of these 3 dress sizes?
  • The PWC test does not consider individual performance.
  • The endurance capacity of a highly pulsating human being is underestimated.
  • A so-called “low pulse” and strongly endurance trained persons are overrated.

Advantages and disadvantages of the PWC review in points

Advantages

  • Relatively little expenditure of time.
  • Simple version.
  • Little effort.
  • Requires ergometer and heart rate monitor only.
  • Performance increase easily detectable.

Disadvantages

  • Does not take individual performance into account.
  • Heart Rate Zones cannot be determined directly.
  • Blood and respiratory gas values are not determined.

For a modern, accurate and effective training management – especially for recreational and amateur athletes – an individual performance diagnosis should be carried out, e.g. by a lactate level test or a spiroergometry.

Would you like to carry out the PWC test at home? Here you can download a free PWC test protocol in PDF format.

Download PWC test protocol

When a PWC review is useful

Use of the different variants and schemes of the PWC review for the respective target groups.
The test makes statements about the endurance capacity of the respective person. In order not to have to determine the corresponding heart rate for each age (e.g. with a lactate level test), it has proved to be useful to use 3 variants of the PWC test. Experience has shown that these are used to approximately hit the respective submaximal range for the various age groups:

The 3 variants of the PWC-review

PWC 130

For persons up to 50 years of age or under-achievers up to 40 years of age.

PWC 150

The most common test. For people between 31 and 50 years of age.

PWC 170

For persons up to 30 years of age also more powerful persons under 40 years of age.

PWC 150, for example, means that the load is increased until the heart rate of 150 is exceeded in one load level.

In order to determine its mechanical performance when driving uphill, the PWC would probably be best suited here.

In the area of Fitness and endurance sports have proven the following 2 test schemes.

The 2 test schemes of the PWC- review

WHO scheme

(World Health Organization: 25 watt standard test) for athletes with presumably low performance.

WHO scheme

(World Health Organization: 25 watt standard test) for athletes with presumably low performance.

BAL scheme

(Bundes-Ausschußs-Leistungssport: 50-Watt-Schema) for athletes with presumably high performance.

Usually, these tests take place on a suitable bicycle ergometer with integrated and ECG-accurate (with chest strap) heart rate measurement. This will result in a reliable increase in resistance on the ergometer as well as a correct heart rate measurement guaranteed.

Furthermore, care must be taken to maintain constant cadence and posture during the tests. The correct seat and handlebar position on the bike is checked by the personal trainer.

Preparation and execution of a PWC review

In order to be able to assess the test person and to exclude overloads, a survey is indispensable before the test.

The subject should consult a physician before testing if one or more of the following factors apply:

  • Older than 35 years and longer than 6 months physically or physically inactive?
  • Heavy smoker (> 15 cigarettes per day)?
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • high blood pressure
  • Tachycardia (= increased pulse): resting pulse over 90 beats per minute?
  • COPD
  • Intake of cardiovascular medications (especially beta-blockers)
  • Current infection (common cold, flu, etc.)

It is generally recommended that the test person consult their doctor before starting (endurance) training or performing a test.

Performing the PWC review

Similar to a Conconi-review the test person is exposed to a gradually increasing load on an ergometer.

  • The load is gradually increased up to a predetermined heart rate.
  • The scheme (WHO or BAL) depends on the presumed performance of the test person.

for less powerful persons

for less powerful persons
Start with 25 watts, increase the load gradually by 25 watts every 2 minutes (in the case of very underperforming persons, increases of 15 watts are also possible).

For high-powered persons

Start with 50 watts (for very powerful and athletic people (mainly men) you can also start with 100 / 150 watts) Increase the load by 50 watts every 3 minutes.

  • At end of each stress level the person’s power and pulse are measured and recorded in a log.
  • The level at which the target pulse is exceeded is completed by the end of the load interval.
  • The pulse value actually reached is entered in a protocol.
  • Only after that the load is ended.
  • The maximum heart rate reached determines which variant of the test was performed, e.g. PWC 150 (= performance at pulse 150).

Evaluation and calculation of the PWC150

The following formula can be used to calculate how much power must be added to the last load level below the target pulse to reach the target pulse power (130, 150 or 170).

The next two values for this test protocol are

Pulse 1 = 130 beats / min. at 150 Watt
and
Pulse 2 = 154 beats / min. at 200 watts.

 

The pulse 150 lies between these two values, but much closer to 154, as the following table shows:

linetimeWattPulseblood pressure
112 Min.150130160 / 80
215 min.200154168 / 85

Formula for the exact calculation of the power

Required PWC power at target pulse 150

P = W1 + (W2 - W ) * (P - P1) / (P2 - P 1)
Here P is the target pulse - in our example 150.
W1 = Watt power under the target pulse
W2 = Watt power over target pulse
P1 = pulse value below the target pulse
P2 = Pulse value above target pulse

 

If one inserts the numbers from the table in our example into the formula, the result is as follows:

PWC150 = 150 Watt + (200 - 150) * (150 - 130) / (154 - 130)
The values in brackets are calculated first:
PWC150 = 150 Watt + 50 * 20 / 24
First the product must be calculated ("dot before line calculation"):
50 * 20 /24 = 41,66.
This value must be added to 150 watts to obtain the result:
PWC150 = 150 Watt + 41.66 = 191.66 Watt.
The test person had a body weight of 95 kg.
The relative performance for the PWC 150 test is therefore
191.66 /95 = 2.01 watts per kg body weight

Interpretation, meaningfulness and evaluation tables for the PWC test

What the determined values say about the individual resilience.

Basically applies:

The faster the pulse rises with comparable loads, the weaker the cardiovascular performance; the slower the pulse rises, the greater the performance.

The heart rate, however, varies greatly from person to person, so the performance at a certain heart rate is not 100% meaningful. A “high pulse” person is underestimated and a “low pulse” person (e.g. a strongly endurance-trained person) is overestimated.

Nevertheless, the PWC170 can be used to read approximately the current training status and to monitor progress in the training process by regularly repeating the test. As a rule, exercising persons can increase their PWC value by more than 50 %-70 %.

The relative value “Watt per kg body weight” is often also formed, which makes a good statement about the performance in body mass dependent sports. Here again smaller persons tend to have better maximum values, as they are also significantly lighter due to the training itself.

Rating Tables

Evaluation tables for men and women for the 4 PWC test variants.

Relative performance (watts / kg) for PWC 130

weakmoderatenormgoodvery goodexcellent
Mento 1,091.1 – 1.491.5 – 1.891.9 – 2.392.4 – 2.89ab 2,9
Womento 0.991.0 – 1.291.3 – 1.591.6 – 1.992.0 – 2.49ab 2.5

Relative performance (watts / kg) for PWC 150

weakmoderatenormgoodvery goodexcellent
Mento 1.491.5 – 1.992.0 – 2.492.5 – 2.993.0 – 3.49ab 3.5
Womenup to 1.191.2 – 1.591.6 – 1.992.0 – 2.492.5 – 2.99ab 3.0

Relative performance (watts / kg) for PWC 170

weakmoderatenormgoodvery goodexcellent
Menup to 1.992.0 – 2.492.5 – 2.993.0 – 3.493.5 – 3.99ab 4.0
Womento 1.591.6 – 1.992.0 – 2.392.4 – 2.892.9 – 3.39ab 3.4

Relative performance (watts / kg) for PWC max.

weaknormalnormgoodvery goodexcellent
Menup to 2,492.5 – 2.993.0 – 3.493.5 – 4.094.1 – 4.59ab 4,6
Womento 2,092.1 – 2.592.6 – 2.993.0 – 3.493.5 – 3.79ab 3.8

Compare PWC150 – lactate step review

Advantages and disadvantages of the PWC test compared to a lactate step test.

The test person (m/44) had their IANS at a blood lactate value of 3.67 mmol/l in the lactate step test on a bicycle ergometer. In addition, a heart rate of 126 beats per minute and resistance of 141.1 watts.

On the basis of the estimates made before a PWC test, a “submaximal” PWC150 test would probably have been chosen.

But as the evaluation of the lactate level test shows, the lactate value at 150 pulses is already more than 7 mmol/l. This value is clearly above the IANS and above the GA2 range! Whether this can still be described as submaximal may be doubted.

These test results speak for themselves and lead to the conclusion that the PWC test for determining individual performance should not necessarily be the first choice.

Reasons for aborting the PWC review

Health first! A list of abort criteria.

In order to minimize health risks, tests should only be carried out in the submaximal range! It can happen that a test has to be aborted prematurely.

Possible reasons for this could be:

  • Absorption of the test person (vertigo, severe fatigue, exhaustion).
  • Severely decreasing heart rate,
  • Severely decreasing blood pressure,
  • Blood pressure rising too fast (above 200 mm/Hg, before 200 watts of age were reached).

This post is also available in: German

William C. Hilberg
As an author, Mr. Hilberg has published several papers on health issues that have gained international recognition. He is close to nature and loves the seclusion and activity as a freelance journalist. In his function as editor William C. Hilberg manages the entire content of PENP. Our team greatly appreciates his expertise and is proud to have him on board.