SRU researchers focusing on upper-body muscular strength


Student doing exercises

Istvan Kovacs, a Slippery Rock University assistant professor of physical and health education works with Austin McClinton, a senior health and physical education major, as he uses a contact mat for pushups which SRU students used in a study to measure upper body strength.

June 6, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Ordering someone to drop and give you 20 pushups is often a form a punishment, but at Slippery Rock University students are volunteering to do them for scientific research.

Austin McClinton, a senior health and physical education major from Beaver Falls, is conducting research comparing upper-body muscular endurance and upper-body muscular power. Under the direction of Istvan Kovacs, assistant professor of physical and health education, McClinton tested and put nearly 50 SRU students through a six-week training regimen during the spring semester. He'll now spend the summer compiling and analyzing the data with hopes of presenting his findings at conferences next year.

Austin McClinton


The results could help coaches, trainers and instructors better prepare athletes to perform specialized activities using the upper body. The researchers compared a training group that focused on endurance, through high repetitions of pushups, and another group that focused on power, performing more explosive, dynamic pushups where the hands leave the ground but with fewer repetitions. The short interval, power training is called plyometric training, but the term is often associated with the lower body and jumping.

"We wanted to see which training group would improve the most," said McClinton, who took Kovacs' Applied Principles of Exercise class in spring 2017 where he honed his interest in research. "I've always been interested in strength and conditioning and when we sat down and brainstormed topics I wanted to do something that would be original research. We couldn't find a lot about plyometrics for the upper body."

According to Kovacs, plyometric training is not researched as much for the upper body because it is more difficult to measure and many sports rely on the lower body for movement and speed.

"This is a very special type of strength training because we are looking at the upper-body muscular power," said Kovacs, who received a Ph.D. in biomechanics at Eotvos University in Hungary and once competed for the Hungarian National Track and Field team. "Muscular power is a combination of strength and speed. In sports, like with a shot put thrower, you need the dynamic movements -- the quick, powerful movements -- for muscular power. There are specific training methods that target that ability."

Last fall, Kovacs helped McClinton apply for a Student Faculty Research Grant, which paid for supplies, including a contact mat that measured power of the participants' pushups, similar to a person's vertical jump. After collecting data in the spring, McClinton received another grant, a Summer Undergraduate Research Experience grant, to pay for hours to compile and analyze the results through a statistics software program.

The working title of the research is "The Effects on Muscular Endurance vs. Power Training for Upper Body Strength of College-Aged Students."

Istvan Kovacs


"Research is always something I've been interested in," said McClinton, who would like to pursue a master's degree in exercise physiology and become a strength and conditioning coach. "(This experience) has helped me in many ways, such as learning the software, conducting and planning the testing, knowing all the variables and implementing what you learn. You just have to keep an open mind and never overlook the slightest detail."

During the participant testing phase, McClinton first established base lines of both endurance and power, which ranged from people who couldn't do one pushup to a participant who did a hand-clap pushup 15 inches off the ground. Then the participants trained in their respective endurance and plyometric groups three days a week doing as many as six sets for each workout.

There were different variations each week, like adding weight, and the researchers followed principles to make sure each participant's workload allowed for progress based on their pretest.

The early findings indicate that all the participants improved from their pretest exercises but at higher rates for their specific strength focus. The researchers will also examine how the strength abilities, endurance and dynamic, transfer to one another.

"(This research will benefit) those who need to perform in an athletic setting for muscular power based on upper body activities," Kovacs said. "Any athlete or coach would benefit by looking at this study and helping their rate of improvement by using dynamic training. We know how to improve muscular power but it was not researched much for upper body strength. This adds to the general knowledge of strength training for athletic performance."

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 |