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Surface Electromyographic Activation Patterns and Elbow Joint Motion During a Pull-Up, Chin-Up, or Perfect-Pullup Rotational Exercise

Youdas, James W; Amundson, Collier L; Cicero, Kyle S; Hahn, Justin J; Harezlak, David T; Hollman, John H

Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research:
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181f1598c
Original Research

Youdas, JW, Amundson, CL, Cicero, KS, Hahn, JJ, Harezlak, DT, and Hollman, JH. Surface electromyographic activation patterns and elbow joint motion during a pull-up, chin-up, or Perfect-Pullup™ rotational exercise. J Strength Cond Res 24(12): 3404-3414, 2010-This study compared a conventional pull-up and chin-up with a rotational exercise using Perfect·Pullup™ twisting handles. Twenty-one men (24.9 ± 2.4 years) and 4 women (23.5 ± 1 years) volunteered to participate. Electromyographic (EMG) signals were collected with DE-3.1 double-differential surface electrodes at a sampling frequency of 1,000 Hz. The EMG signals were normalized to peak activity in the maximum voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC) trial and expressed as a percentage. Motion analysis data of the elbow were obtained using Vicon Nexus software. One-factor repeated measures analysis of variance examined the muscle activation patterns and kinematic differences between the 3 pull-up exercises. Average EMG muscle activation values (%MVIC) were as follows: latissimus dorsi (117-130%), biceps brachii (78-96%), infraspinatus (71-79%), lower trapezius (45-56%), pectoralis major (44-57%), erector spinae (39-41%), and external oblique (31-35%). The pectoralis major and biceps brachii had significantly higher EMG activation during the chin-up than during the pull-up, whereas the lower trapezius was significantly more active during the pull-up. No differences were detected between the Perfect·Pullup™ with twisting handles and the conventional pull-up and chin-up exercises. The mean absolute elbow joint range of motion was 93.4 ± 14.6°, 100.6 ± 14.5°, and 99.8 ± 11.7° for the pull-up, chin-up, and rotational exercise using the Perfect·Pullup™ twisting handles, respectively. For each exercise condition, the timing of peak muscle activation was expressed as a percentage of the complete pull-up cycle. A general pattern of sequential activation occurred suggesting that pull-ups and chin-ups were initiated by the lower trapezius and pectoralis major and completed with biceps brachii and latissimus dorsi recruitment. The Perfect·Pullup™ rotational device does not appear to enhance muscular recruitment when compared to the conventional pull-up or chin-up.

Author Information

Program in Physical Therapy, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota

Address correspondence to James W. Youdas,

© 2010 National Strength and Conditioning Association