Traditionally, leg cycle ergometry is used to assess the power output of the lower limbs. However, it is suspected that the upper body makes a significant, albeit as yet unknown, contribution to the measured power output, and as such, the lean mass of the whole body should be considered during ergometric assessment. To test this idea, indices of mechanical power output were obtained from 11 subjects during high intensity leg cycle ergometry tests (20 second duration; 75 grams per kilogram total body mass) using two protocols: one with a standard handle-bar grip (with grip) and one with supinated wrists (without-grip). Peak mechanical power, mean mechanical power, fatigue index and total mechanical work values were calculated for each subject during each test and the sample mean differences associated with the two protocols were compared using paired Student t-tests. The with-grip protocol yielded significantly greater peak mechanical power output than the without-grip protocol (886±124 W and 815±151 W, respectively), suggesting a significant upper body contribution to the maximum power output measured for the legs. As a first step towards quantifying the upper body involvement during leg cycle ergometry, surface electromyography of the forearm musculature was measured in a twelfth subject whilst performing each of the test protocols. During the with-grip ergometer tests, the intensity of electrical activity in the forearm musculature was similar, if not greater than, the intensity of electrical activity recorded for the forearm musculature during 100% maximum voluntary hand grip-dynamometer contractions, suggesting maximum isometric-type forearm muscle contraction during the with-grip leg ergometry tests. These findings suggest that the performance of traditional-style leg cycle ergometry requires a muscular contribution from the whole body. As such, researchers should be mindful of this, both in terms of the allocation of ergometer loads, and in the analysis of blood-borne metabolites.
Baker, J., Gal, J., Davies, B., Bailey, D., & Morgan, R. (2001). Power output of legs during high intensity cycle ergometry: influence of hand grip. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 4(1), 10-18. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1440-2440(01)80003-7