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Here are my back-of-the-envelope calculations. I account only for the energy expended in pulling your body mass up.

Say you are 70kg (approx 155lbs) and a pull up raises your mass up by 60cm (approx 2ft).

Then one pull up increases your gravitational potential energy by m × g × h = 70 × 9.81 × 0.6 = 412.02 Joules, which is very nearly 0.1 kcal.

Of course, the human body is inefficient. If its efficiency is 10%, then one pull-up would burn about 1 kcal. If its efficiency is 20%, then one pull-up burns 0.5 kcal. 10% and 20% are some of the numbers I have seen on some webpages.

Does anyone have a more precise account of this?

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  • Hmmm.........interesting. Looking forward to the answers. Aug 13 '14 at 4:02
  • 1
    It depends on the exercise and the person. For example, cycling (as measured through expirometry) is about 25% efficient. And, a well trained person that can go up and down without jerking around will be more efficient than someone who has to wriggle and buck to do a pullup.
    – JohnP
    Aug 13 '14 at 14:45
  • Another thing is that your body is inclined so one must consider the raise in the center of mass (which would be less than 2 feet) rather than raise in the shoulder height.
    – claws
    Aug 13 '14 at 21:16
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    There is not going to be any one real "answer" to this question. Its going to depend heavily on variables that are always beyond the scope of control outside of a scientific study performed under very strict conditions. Broadly, these variables include: hydration, strength/weight ratio, flexibility, age, height, weight, endurance, and very broadly, experience doing pull ups. Feb 2 '15 at 18:06
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A common formula for approximating calorific expenditure is:

Kcal/Min ~= 5 calories * massKg * VO2 / 1000

Where:

  • The 5 calories/min constant assumes you're primarily burning carbohydrates over a short period, while awake, if the exercise is sustained for a period use 4.86 to reflect a mix of fat and carbohydrates are being converted to energy.
  • the VO2 value is the volume of Oxygen consumed (mL/Kg/min), this variable can be guestimated based on your heart rate in a given period e.g.

VO2 = (currentHeartRate / MaxHeartRate) * VO2Max

where:

MaxHeartRate ~= 210 - (0.8 * ageYears)

VO2Max ~= 15.3 * (MaxHeartRate / BasalHeartRate)

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