Biomechanics of handcycling propulsion in a 30-min continuous load test at lactate threshold: Kinetics, kinematics, and muscular activity in able-bodied participants



This study aims to investigate the biomechanics of handcycling during a continuous load trial (CLT) to assess the mechanisms underlying fatigue in upper body exercise.


Twelve able-bodied triathletes performed a 30-min CLT at a power output corresponding to lactate threshold in a racing recumbent handcycle mounted on a stationary ergometer. During the CLT, ratings of perceived exertion (RPE), tangential crank kinetics, 3D joint kinematics, and muscular activity of ten muscles of the upper extremity and trunk were examined using motion capturing and surface electromyography.


During the CLT, spontaneously chosen cadence and RPE increased, whereas crank torque decreased. Rotational work was higher during the pull phase. Peripheral RPE was higher compared to central RPE. Joint range of motion decreased for elbow-flexion and radial-duction. Integrated EMG (iEMG) increased in the forearm flexors, forearm extensors, and M. deltoideus (Pars spinalis). An earlier onset of activation was found for M. deltoideus (Pars clavicularis), M. pectoralis major, M. rectus abdominis, M. biceps brachii, and the forearm flexors.


Fatigue-related alterations seem to apply analogously in handcycling and cycling. The most distal muscles are responsible for force transmission on the cranks and might thus suffer most from neuromuscular fatigue. The findings indicate that peripheral fatigue (at similar lactate values) is higher in handcycling compared to leg cycling, at least for inexperienced participants. An increase in cadence might delay peripheral fatigue by a reduced vascular occlusion. We assume that the gap between peripheral and central fatigue can be reduced by sport-specific endurance training.

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Fig. 1
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Fig. 4



Analysis of variance


M. biceps brachii, Caput breve


Continuous load trial

d :

Cohen’s d


M. deltoideus, Pars clavicularis


M. deltoideus, Pars spinalis


M. extensor carpi ulnaris (forearm extensors)


M. flexor carpi radialis (forearm flexors)


Integrated EMG (% MVIC)


M. latissimus dorsi

P 4 :

Calculated power output at a fixed lactate concentration of 4 mmol·l−1


M. pectoralis major, Pars sternalis


M. rectus abdominis


Ratings of perceived exertion


Standard deviation


Surface electromyography


M. triceps brachii, Caput laterale


M. trapezius, Pars descendens

θ :


η 2p :

Partial eta squared


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The authors would like to thank all participants who took part in this study for their patience and commitment. There were no funding sources for the present article.

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OJQ, TA, and KA conceived and designed research. OJQ and JM conducted experiments. TF provided medical check of the participants before experiments were performed and medical backup during experiments. OJQ and JM contributed new analytical tools. OJQ and analysed and wrote the manuscript. TA and KA reviewed the manuscript. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Oliver J. Quittmann.

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Quittmann, O.J., Abel, T., Albracht, K. et al. Biomechanics of handcycling propulsion in a 30-min continuous load test at lactate threshold: Kinetics, kinematics, and muscular activity in able-bodied participants. Eur J Appl Physiol 120, 1403–1415 (2020).

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  • Fatigue
  • Handbike
  • EMG
  • Lactate steady state
  • RPE