• Introduction
  • The basics of the Margaria-Kalamen power test
  • Equipment required for the Margaria-Kalamen power test
  • Conducting the Margaria-Kalamen power test
  • Interpreting the results
  • Final thoughts
  • Bibliography
  • Length-tension relationship: relationship between muscle length and force production.
  • Maximal anaerobic power: work per unit of time. Developed during maximal short-term physical effort.
  • Post-activation potentiation: a short-term performance improvement due to improved neural activation following a high-intensity stimulus.
  • Rate of force development: a measure of explosive strength.

Introduction

Power is generally regarded as perhaps the most important characteristic in athletic performance. In fact, several studies have demonstrated a strong relationship between power output and various components of physical performance, including sprinting, jumping, throwing, weightlifting, and changes in direction. 

Due to its inherent benefits, most athletic training programs are periodized in a manner where peak power is augmented at different times of the season. Thus, improving the athlete’s preparedness and increasing their chances of winning during the season’s biggest events. Interestingly, peak power may also be beneficial for endurance athletes during the final sprint of a long-distance event. Additionally, the average power output of a distance event can have a strong impact on the outcome of a race.

Scientific literature suggests that peak power levels can be used to differentiate athletic performance. Therefore, developing rate of force development can offer performance benefits to a wide variety of aerobic and anaerobic activities. In order to safely and effectively measure rate of force development, several tests have been designed -each with a different purpose. Because these tests measure peak power in different ways (different segments of the body, direction of force production, etc.), the chosen tests must resemble the physical demands of the activity. These tests provide information about strength and power requirements for specific activities, allow for the development of sports-specific athlete profiles, as well as monitor performance or rehabilitation progress.

This post focuses on the Margaria-Kalamen power test, and explains how to conduct the test for different training groups.

The basics of the Margaria-Kalamen power test

The Margaria-Kalamen power test was first introduced by J. Kalamen (1968), which is a variation of the Margaria et. al (1966) step test. The original step test consisted of sprinting up a set of stairs two steps (each 17.5cm tall) at a time. The sprint was timed using photoelectric cells placed on the 4th and 6th steps (70cm height), which allowed for the vertical component of speed to be calculated.

The results of this protocol determined that maximal constant velocity was reached at approximately 1.5-2.0s, where it would remain constant for 4-5s after the initial acceleration period. The energy released during the time span of the test (1.5-5s after the initial acceleration) was found to effectively measure maximal anaerobic power. Interestingly, when using a 2m run-up, it was found that only 0.5-1s was required to reach peak speed of stair climbing.

Kalamen (1968) took this even further and found that a 6-meter run-up with a vertical (1.05 m/3.4ft) further increased power output. The aptly named Margaria-Kalamen power test (also known as the Margaria-Kalamen stair sprint test) later became the standard for stair sprint tests, and has been effectively used to measure both vertical and horizontal power output.

The Margaria-Kalamen power test determines the subject’s vertical velocity while sprinting up a stairs three steps at a time following a 6m run-up. During the test, specialized electronic timing devices record the time required to move from the 3rd to the 9th step. From there, power can be calculated using the following formula: Power (W)= weight (kg) × 9.8 ms 1 x distance (m)/time (s).

P = Power (Watts), M = Body mass (kg), D = Vertical distance between steps 3 & 9 (meters), t = Time (seconds). 9.8 describes the constant of gravity.

Although the Margaria-Kalamen power test can be used to measure the power output of individual athletes, it may be best suited for classifying power levels into different categories (i.e. poor, fair, average, good, excellent). The test has also been criticized for its validity because the resulting values are derived from a very short distance. The use of electronic timers also allowed subjects to “cheat” in the test by tripping the timing device with the lead leg before the center of gravity reaches the terminal step. Because the test only takes ~0.4-0.5 seconds for trained athletes to complete, even a small change in time may inflate power output by 10-24%. To ensure accuracy of the results, the performance of each subject should be closely monitored.

Although variations (e.g. 2 steps at a time for 20 steps, 3.12m total vertical distance), and more advanced and accurate methods for assessing power have emerged (i.e. isokinetic dvnamometer test, etc.), the Margaria-Kalamen power test offers a universally accepted and widely used field test for measuring power output of the lower extremities. Due to its low cost, ease-of-use, and lack of specialized facilities or tools, the test can be used by athletes and trainers of all levels – especially when comparing a group of athletes’ power output to each other. 

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The Margaria-Kalamen Power Test


Consists of sprinting up a set of stairs three steps at a time.Timing starts after stepping on the 3rd step and ends after reaching the 9th step.The time is recorded to the nearest hundredth of a second.The test is repeated twice with 2-3 minutes between repetitions, and the average is calculated.Effectively measures power of the lower limbs.Results can be used to compare individuals with established values.

Equipment required for the Margaria-Kalamen power test

To accurately and safely conduct the Margaria-Kalamen power test, the following equipment is required;

  • A staircase with at least a 6m run-up and a minimum of 9 stairs, each with a height of ~17.5cm or 7in.
  • Two contact mats connected to a computer (optional).
  • A digital scale.
  • Tape for the start line.
  • Measuring tape.
  • Stopwatch.
  • Calculator.
  • Individual and group data sheets.
  • Microsoft Excel or equivalent spreadsheet program.

Note: the Margaria-Kalamen power test can be conducted using only a measuring tape and a stopwatch. Although this results in a less accurate measurement, it also makes it accessible and affordable for a wider audience.

Conducting the Margaria-Kalamen power test

The Margaria-Kalamen power test protocol consist of three main components; 1) warm-up, 2) practice trials, and 3) testing. Like other anaerobic testing protocols, the assessment begins with a short (~5mins) warm-up consisting of exercises like jogging or cycling, followed by brief (~5mins) dynamic stretches (leg swings, high knees, inchworms, etc.).

Once the participant is warmed up, they are instructed perform three practice runs to ensure they are comfortable with the technique. These initial test runs also allow both the subject and assessor to develop the timing of the test, which increases the accuracy of the measurement. Once the subject is comfortable with sprinting up the stairs three steps at a time, the test is ready to be conducted.

  1. Place an electronic start on the 3rd stair and a stop timer on the 9th step. Note: if electronic timers or contact mats are unavailable, a simple stopwatch will suffice. However, the results will not be as accurate. It is recommended that another person measures the time when a stopwatch is used.
  2. Mark the starting line at 6m (20ft) from the staircase using tape and a measuring tape. Also use tape to clearly mark the 3rd, 6th, and 9th steps.
  3. Measure the subject’s weight (in kilograms) and height (in meters).
  1. Ask the participant to stand on the starting line facing the staircase. The participant may start sprinting whenever they are ready.
  2. Upon reaching the staircase, the subject may only step on the 3rd, 6th, and 9th steps.
  3. The timing starts immediately after stepping on the 3rd step and ends after reaching the 9th step.
  4. The time is recorded to the nearest hundredth of a second.
  5. The test is repeated twice with 2-3 minutes between repetitions. The average time of the sprints is calculated.

Once the average of the sprints have been measured, the following formula can be used to calculate power output: Power (W)= weight (kg) × 9.8 ms 1 x distance (m)/time (s). The calculated power for the subject can then be compared to the information in the standardized table below.

Interpreting the results

Regardless of which power assessment method is used, their main purpose is to provide individual information regarding baseline fitness as well as to track the effectiveness of the current training program. The tests also allow individuals to compare their results to established values, providing new goals to work toward. The results, combined with individual goals, can prove beneficial when creating the next phase of a periodized training program.

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Final thoughts

The Margaria-Kalamen power test offers a simple, universally accepted test for assessing power of the lower limbs. Although more modern and accurate protocols exist, the stair sprint test has stood the test of time and remains one of the most accessible power tests for a wide variety of subjects regardless of their age or training background. For consistent tracking, it is recommended that the test is performed periodically to track individual progress.

Did you learn anything new about the Margaria-Kalamen power test? Let us know in the comments.

Bibliography

  • Beckenholdt, SE and Mayhew, JL. Specificity among anaerobic power tests in male athletes. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 23: 326-332, 1983.
  • Hetzler, Ronald K; Vogelpohl, Rachele E; Stickley, Christopher D; Kuramoto, Allison N; DeLaura, Mel R; Kimura, Iris F. Development of a Modified Margaria-Kalamen Anaerobic Power Test for American Football Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24(4):p 978-984, April 2010. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181b2ba42
  • Margaria R, Aghemo P, Rovelli E. Measurement of muscular power (anaerobic) in man. J Appl Physiol. 1966 Sep;21(5):1662-4. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1966.21.5.1662. PMID: 5923240.
  • Murray, D.P., Bera, S.G., Brown, L.E., Findley, B.W. (2007). Strength assessment. In: L.E. Brown (Ed.) Strength Training, Pp. 97-112, Human Kinetics.
  • Seiler, S, Taylor, M, Diana, R, Layes, J, Newton, P, and Brown, B. Assessing anaerobic power in collegiate football players. J Strength Cond Res 4: 9-15, 1990.
  • Taber, Christopher MS; Bellon, Christopher MA; Abbott, Heather MEd; Bingham, Garett E. MA. Roles of Maximal Strength and Rate of Force Development in Maximizing Muscular Power. Strength and Conditioning Journal 38(1):p 71-78, February 2016. | DOI: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000193.
  • Watson, A. Physical Fitness and Athletic Performance: A Guide For Students, Athletes and Coaches. London: Longman, 1983. pp. 147-148.

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