Learning of Wheelchair Racing Propulsion Skills Over Three Weeks of Wheeling Practice on an Instrumented Ergometer in Able-Bodied Novices

Rick de Klerk, Gabriëlle van der Jagt, Dirkjan Veeger, Lucas van der Woude, Riemer Vegter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The acquisition of daily handrim wheelchair propulsion skill as a multi-layered phenomenon has been studied in the past. Wheelchair racing, however, is considerably different from daily handrim wheelchair propulsion in terms of propulsion technique, as well as the underlying equipment and interface. Understanding wheelchair racing skill acquisition is important from a general motor learning and skill acquisition perspective, but also from a performance and injury prevention perspective. The aim of the current lab-based study was 2-fold: to investigate the evolution of racing wheelchair propulsion skill among a sample of novices and to compare them with an experienced wheelchair racer under similar conditions. A convenience sample of 15 able-bodied novices (8 male, 7 female) completed a standardized three-week submaximal uninstructed practice protocol (3 weeks, 3 sessions per week, 3x4 min per session) in a racing wheelchair on an ergometer. Required wheeling velocity was set at 2.78 m/s (10 km/h) and a rolling friction coefficient of 0.011 (resulting in a mean target load of 21W) was used. For comparison, an experienced T54 Paralympic athlete completed one block of the same protocol. Kinetics, kinematics, and physiological data were captured. A mixed effects regression analysis was used to examine the effect of practice for the novices, while controlling for speed. All participants finished the protocol successfully. However, not all participants were able to achieve the target speed during the first few sessions. Statistically significant improvements over time were found for all outcome measures (i.e., lower metabolic strain, longer push and cycle times) with the exception of mean power and torque per push. The athlete used a significantly greater contact angle and showed "better" outcomes on most metabolic and kinetic variables. While the athlete used a semi-circular propulsion technique, most participants used a double looping over technique. Three weeks of uninstructed wheelchair racing practice significantly improved efficiency and skill among a group of novices, in line with previous studies on daily handrim wheelchair propulsion. The comparison with an experienced athlete expectedly showed that there is still a large performance (and knowledge) gap to be conquered.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Rehabilitation Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • wheelchair
  • practice
  • propulsion skills


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