Size Does Matter: Understanding Power-to-Weight Ratio

June 17, 2013 | Heather Mangieri

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Rarely do I work with an individual who is not, in some way, concerned about body weight. Although I usually counsel people to ignore numbers on the scale, size does matter—just not in the way you probably think.

Power-to-weight ratio (PWR) is the power a person generates (speed strength) divided by body weight. Increasing their PWR allows athletes to generate force more efficiently, an important consideration for sports like mountain climbing, running and cycling.

Athletes can improve their PWR by becoming lighter while maintaining or improving their muscular strength. Consider this example: a cyclist weighting 200 pounds is climbing a hill using 100 percent effort. Another cyclist, who weighs 150 pounds, is maintaining the same speed using only 75 percent effort. What happens when the individual with the higher PWR ratio begins to cycle at 100 percent effort? You guessed it! He quickly pulls ahead in the race. In theory, athletes with a higher power-to-weight ratio will ride (or run, or climb) faster than those with a lower ratio.

Before you start plotting how to shed pounds, consider that body weight reduction could also have a negative impact on your PWR. If you focus solely on weight loss without trying to improve your muscular strength, your performance will suffer. Instead of just trying to lose weight, focus on changing your body composition. Body fat percentage is a key indicator of whether the weight change you’re experiencing is positive or negative.

Once you have identified a training program that will stimulate lean muscle mass, it's important to consider how you will feed your muscles and preserve your hard work without overdoing it and storing unwanted fat. Remember that when you eat can be just as important as what you eat.

It takes a combination of diet and training to improve PWR. Athletes who are already lean will improve their PWR by increasing lean muscle mass. Others may need to shed a few pounds. Evaluate your training and nutrition to determine your next step.

Photo: pacifichealthlabs.com

Heather Mangieri
- Heather Mangieri is an award-winning expert in food and nutrition and a board certified specialist in sports dietetics. She owns Nutrition CheckUp, a nutrition...
Heather Mangieri
- Heather Mangieri is an award-winning expert in food and nutrition and a board certified specialist in sports dietetics. She owns Nutrition CheckUp, a nutrition...
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