Shoulder and thorax kinematics contribute to increased power output of competitive handcyclists

Current knowledge on recumbent handbike configuration and handcycling technique is limited. The purpose of this study was to evaluate and compare the upper limb kinematics and handbike configurations of recreational and competitive recumbent handcyclists, during sport specific intensities. Thirteen handcyclists were divided into two significantly different groups based on peak aerobic power output (POpeak) and race experience; competitive (n=7; 5 H3 and 2 H4 classes; POpeak: 247±20W) and recreational (n=6; 4 H3 and 2 H4 classes; POpeak: 198±21 W). Participants performed bouts of exercise at training (50% POpeak), competition (70% POpeak), and sprint intensity while three‐dimensional kinematic data (thorax, scapula, shoulder, elbow and wrist) were collected. Statistical parametric mapping was used to compare the kinematics of competitive and recreational handcyclists. Handbike configurations were determined from additional markers on the handbike. Competitive handcyclists flexed their thorax (~5°, P<0.05), extended their shoulder (~10°, P<0.01) and posteriorly tilted their scapular (~15°, P<0.05) more than recreational handcyclists. Differences in scapular motion occurred only at training intensity while differences in shoulder extension and thorax flexion occurred both at training and competition intensities. No differences were observed during sprinting. No significant differences in handbike configuration were identified. This study is the first to compare the upper limb kinematics of competitive recreational handcyclists at sport‐specific intensities. Competitive handcyclists employed significantly different propulsion strategies at training and competition intensities. Since no differences in handbike configuration were identified, these kinematic differences could be due to technical training adaptations potentially optimising muscle recruitment or force generation of the arm.