Purpose: For individuals with disabilities exercise, such as wheelchair racing, can be an important modality for community reintegration, as well as health promotion. The purpose of this study was to examine selected parameters during racing wheelchair propulsion among a sample of elite wheelchair racers. It was hypothesized that blood lactate accumulation and wheeling economy (i.e. oxygen consumed per minute) would increase with speed and that gross mechanical efficiency would reach an optimum for each athlete.
Methods: Twelve elite wheelchair racers with paraplegia participated in this study. Nine of the subjects were males and three were females. Each subject used his or her personal wheelchair during the experiments. A computer monitored wheelchair dynamometer was used during all testing. The method used was essentially a discontinuous economy protocol. Mixed model analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to compare blood lactate concentration, economy (minute oxygen consumption), and gross mechanical efficiency across the stages.
Results: The results of this study show that both economy and blood lactate concentration increase linearly with speed if resistance is held constant. The subjects in this study had gross mechanical efficiencies (gme) of about 18%, with the range going from 15.222.7%. The results indicate that at the higher speeds of propulsion, for example near race speeds, analysis of respiratory gases may not give a complete energy profile.
Conclusion: While there is a good understanding of training methods to improve cardiovascular fitness for wheelchair racers, little is known about improving efficiency (e.g. technique, equipment), therefore methods need to be developed to determine efficiency while training or in race situations.