Power in sports: A literature review on the application, assumptions, and terminology of mechanical power in sport research

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The quantification of mechanical power can provide valuable insight into athlete performance because it is the mechanical principle of the rate at which the athlete does work or transfers energy to complete a movement task. Estimates of power are usually limited by the capabilities of measurement systems, resulting in the use of simplified power models. This review provides a systematic overview of the studies on mechanical power in sports, discussing the application and estimation of mechanical power, the consequences of simplifications, and the terminology. The mechanical power balance consists of five parts, where joint power is equal to the sum of kinetic power, gravitational power, environmental power, and frictional power. Structuring literature based on these power components shows that simplifications in models are done on four levels, single vs multibody models, instantaneous power (IN) versus change in energy (EN), the dimensions of a model (1D, 2D, 3D), and neglecting parts of the mechanical power balance. Quantifying the consequences of simplification of power models has only been done for running, and shows differences ranging from 10% up to 250% compared to joint power models. Furthermore, inconsistency and imprecision were found in the determination of joint power, resulting from inverse dynamics methods, incorporation of translational joint powers, partitioning in negative and positive work, and power flow between segments. Most inconsistency in terminology was found in the definition and application of ‘external’ and ‘internal’ work and power. Sport research would benefit from structuring the research on mechanical power in sports and quantifying the result of simplifications in mechanical power estimations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Accepted Author Manuscript


  • Mechanical power
  • Internal power
  • External power
  • Mechanical energy expenditure
  • Joint power


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