Despite the growing interest in Paralympic sports, research into performance in elite wheelchair sports has seen very little development. Two of these sports are wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby, both played on a basketball court. Most existing studies have been carried out for wheelchair basketball, but there is still no simple and reliable indicator of the physical condition of any wheelchair athletes that would allow for their evaluation and would enable them to follow a variety of training programs safely and comfortably.
A group of researchers, including Adrián García Fresneda, a professor at the Mataró TecnoCampus and a physical trainer for Spain’s national wheelchair rugby team, and Gerard Carmona, a researcher in FC Barcelona’s Performance Area, has recently demonstrated the reliability of the “push-start” as an indicator of athletes’ physical condition and its relation to sprint capability. Their results can also be applied to wheelchair basketball and are published in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research magazine.
Seeking simplicity to improve efficacy
“Until now, we didn’t have a field test that allowed us to evaluate training,” comments García Fresneda. “We used lab tests, but these take a lot of time to carry out, and also the results are not direct but have to be extrapolated.” What the authors were looking for was the wheelchair equivalent of the well-known Bosco test, which evaluates the characteristics and capabilities of muscle fibers in the legs through the use of vertical jumps.
The working hypothesis was that both the “push-start” or “first push” (IMPRP: Initial Maximum Push-Rim Propulsion) and the 12-meter sprint capability, could serve as indicators of the physical condition of athletes. The 12-meter sprint capability test had been studied in basketball players, but the reliability of the test had not yet been determined. To do so, they studied 16 wheelchair rugby players who were subjected to two types of tests. On the one hand, the mechanical parameters of the push-start were studied using an encoder, a sort of rope that continually measures velocity, force, and the power exerted. On the other hand, sprint capability at 3, 5, and 12 meters was studied using a radar. The variability between repetitions was calculated in order to study the reliability of each test, and the correlation between the initial push-off and the sprint was investigated, on the logical assumption that one would depend largely on the other.
Variability measurements were consistently low, which suggests that it is a reliable test and that for each repetition, the values obtained are qualitatively similar. Furthermore, the first push accounted for between 60% and 80% of sprint capability, especially at 3 and 5 meters, “which are the distances that are repeated most often during the game,” underlines García Fresneda.
“The study is important because we can use it as an indicator of mechanical performance during push-off, which is the basic motor pattern for movement. It is a simple, reliable and specific test that allows us to monitor the athlete’s performance,” assures Carmona. “We are already using it to verify our training hypotheses,” noted García. It could also be used to identify the most effective programs, bearing in mind that it is not yet known exactly which muscle groups participate in the initial push-off and that these may vary depending on posture and degree of disability.
The results can also be fully extrapolated to basketball, since “both sports are played on the same court and both require accelerations of the greatest possible magnitude,” explains Carmona. “As far as we know, until this study, there had been no testing of these characteristics in the context of wheelchair sports,” he says.
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