Thursday, July 3, 2014

It's Worth Measuring EMG Muscle Activity - Similar Muscle Activity, Similar Size & Strength Gains, No Matter If You Bench Press or Do Push Ups With Elastic Bands

Push ups with bands as they were done in the study at hand (Calatayud. 2014)
Ok, it could be exercise specific and I would have preferred a study comparing different biceps curls, their EMG activity and the subsequent gains, as well (no, not because I am a "big guns"-dumbo, but because those exercises are easier to compare), but still... the study at hand is one of the studies I have been waiting for for quite some time now.

It's a study that was based on the hypothesis "that the 6RM bench press and the 6RM push-ups would induce similar EMG levels." A study that was designed to confirm and falsify this hypothesis and a study to finally elucidate, whether exercise that produce similar EMG activities will also produce similar muscle size and strength gains. In short a study that was designed to determine, whether it makes sense that you use EMG data to plan your workouts.
Navigate the SuppVersity EMG Series - Click on the desired body part to see the optimal exercises.
I guess most of you are familiar with the implications a falsification of the hypothesis would have, right? Well, obviously, it would mean that the SuppVersity EMG Series and the corresponding study by Boeckh-Behrens Buskies et al. wouldn't be wort the memory it's using up on the SuppVersity part of the blogspot empire.

As you can see in Figure 1, the EMG Series is still worth reading. The results of the 5-week study in the course of which the participants, 22 men and 8 women (mean age 21.9 years) with a mean body fat level of 14%, who had not been strength training before, were randomized to one out of three groups, i.e., 6RM Bench press group, 6RM elastic band push-up group and the obligatory control group to evaluate muscle strength gain.
Figure 1: EMG activity in pectoralis major and deltaoids (left) and bench press 6-RM strength pre- and post-test values (right) - muscle size not shown (Calatayud. 2014)
Needless to say that both exercises the bench press and push up with bands had identical EMG values for the pectoralis muscle. Against that background the almost identical strength and size gains confirm the original hypothesis and justify the implementation of EMG tests in scientific studies... ok, I see that the bench press is still superior, but if you look at the data in the corresponding part of the SuppVersity EMG Series you will see that the previous EMG data predicts just that.
Does this apply to everyone? Aside from the fact that the study at hand tested only two exercise for one body part, the fact that the trainees had not been training at an intensity of 6-RM before raises the question whether the results are relevant for trainees with years of training experience. It's obvious that it would be difficult to do a 6-RM push-up for them with bands - that does not mean, though, that on a different pair of exercises with identical EMG activity records would not produce identical strength and size gains, as well.
Bottom line: The results of the study at hand are certainly not sufficient to put the neverending debate about the useful-/lessness of electromyography as a technique for evaluating and comparing the efficacy and specificity of certain exercises at rest.

The results the Spanish researchers from the University of Valencia do, though, are yet sufficient to strengthen my faith in the general usefulness of these tests and - even more important - my conviction that we need more studies like these: Studies, where we have both acute EMG and long-term strength and muscle size gains... needless to say that the SuppVersity is the place to be to read about any future trials like the one at hand, first - so stay tuned!
  • Calatayud et al. "Bench press and push-up at comparable levels of muscle activity results in similar strength gains." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research Publish Ahead of Print. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000589