fitness research update:
upper body anaerobic exercise

Research paper: The contribution of energy systems during the upper body Wingate anaerobic test
Research team: Dale Lovell PhD, Ava Kerr, Aaron Wiegand PhD, Colin Solomon PhD, Leonie Harvey & Chris McLellan PhD
Published: Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 2013, 38(2)
Read more: nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/apnm-2012-0101#.U9XTlfmSyCi

Introduction: One of the most commonly used methods of measuring anaerobic performance is the 30-s Wingate anaerobic test (WAnT), so-called because it was developed at the Wingate Academy in the 1970s. Most commonly performed on an ergometer, the WAnT has been shown to be a valid and reliable tool for the assessment of anaerobic power and functional performance of elite athletes and clinical populations. While a number of studies have characterised the contribution of the different energy systems during the WAnT for the lower body, little data exists on the contribution of the energy systems during an upper body WAnT.

The 30-second article
  • Little is known about the contribution of the different energy systems to upper body high intensity exercise
  • For this study, 14 physically active men volunteered to undertake a 30-sec ‘all out’ cycle test for the upper and lower body. Body composition was also assessed by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry
  • Significant differences in the energy contribution were found between the upper and lower body during the high intensity exercise bout. The arms were found to be the main contributor to upper body exercise while body mass was the main contributor to lower body exercise.
  • From these observations it can be seen that the upper body may utilise energy differently, and respond differently to high intensity exercise, compared to the lower body.

There are significant differences in neuromuscular and cardiovascular function between the upper and lower body at rest and during exercise. The upper body is reported to have a higher percentage of type II fibres and extract less oxygen during exercise compared to the lower body. Significant differences in peak and mean power have also been reported between the upper and lower body, even when normalised for active muscle mass. Therefore the contribution of the energy systems to Wingate performance during arm cranking may be different to the lower body during a cycle WAnT.

Accordingly, this study measured the aerobic, anaerobic alactic and anaerobic lactic energy contribution during a WAnT for the upper body. In addition, correlations between energy contribution and active and total muscle mass were also assessed. (The lower body was also assessed for energy contribution and body composition, although this information is from unpublished data).

Methods: Fourteen physically active men volunteered to participate in the study. Each participant reported to the laboratory for 30 minutes on three separate occasions. On the initial visit participants underwent body composition analysis. Then on two separate visits in a random order participants completed an upper and lower body WAnT. The upper body WAnT was conducted on a modified electro-magnetically braked cycle ergometer (EE) (Lode Excalibur Sport). The EE was fixed to a table, which in turn was fixed to the ground to prevent any movement in the EE during the WAnT (see photo). The lower body WAnT was conducted on a standard electronically braked cycle ergometer (Velotron, Racermate). Five minutes before, during and for 20 minutes after the WAnT, oxygen uptake (VO2) was measured continuously using open circuit spirometry. Blood lactate concentration was determined from capillary blood samples drawn from the finger at rest, immediately after and every second minute up to the 20th minute post-WAnT. The total energy cost of the WAnT was calculated and then divided into aerobic, anaerobic lactic, and alactic fractions. Body composition was assessed using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA).

Results: Key results for the energy contribution in the upper body are shown in Figure 1, and in the lower body in Figure 2.

Discussion: The results indicate that the upper body WAnT relies more on the anaerobic lactic system than the lower body. The anaerobic lactic system contributed over 60 per cent of the energy for the upper body Wingate, whereas the lower body WAnT was approximately 48 per cent. The greater use of anaerobic lactic energy in the present study is offset by a lower contribution of the aerobic system (11 per cent) in the upper body WAnT. The aerobic contribution to the lower body WAnT was 16 per cent and is similar to other studies which have reported values between 18-29 per cent, with values reported as high as 40 per cent in others.

Differences between the upper and lower body energy contribution during the WAnT may be due to a number of factors. The constant day-to-day use of the lower limbs for mobility may increase their oxidative capacity more than the upper body, with the arms also found to have a reduced ability to extract oxygen during exercise. Furthermore, the upper body has been shown to have a greater amount of type II fibres compared to the lower body, and as a result a greater reliance on anaerobic lactic energy during high intensity exercise. Similar values in anaerobic alactic energy contribution between the upper and lower body in the present study and other studies indicate an equal reliance on phosphocreatine (PCr). This may be due to PCr stores being almost depleted in the first 10 seconds of a WAnT, with the remainder of the energy coming from the aerobic and anaerobic lactic systems.

The present study also found that the muscle mass of the arms was the main contributor to Wingate performance, whereas overall body mass was the main contributor to lower body Wingate performance. This indicates that the upper body is more reliant on the arms-only during the Wingate, compared to the overall body mass contribution to the lower body Wingate. This may be due to the setup of the respective upper and lower body ergometers and/or the differences found in the energy contribution between the upper and lower body.

Conclusions: For the upper body, the anaerobic lactic system provided over twice the amount of energy as the anaerobic alactic system, with the aerobic system providing only a small contribution to the overall energy requirements. The anaerobic lactic system contributed less to the lower body Wingate compared to the upper body, with a greater contribution from the aerobic system. Analysis revealed that arm muscle mass was the best predictor of Wingate performance for the upper body, compared to overall body mass for the lower body. From these observations it can be seen that the upper body may utilise energy differently to the lower body, as well as respond differently to high intensity exercise.​


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