Relationship between Functional Classification Levels and Anaerobic Performance of Wheelchair Basketball Athletes

By Molik, Bartosz; Laskin, James J. et al. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Relationship between Functional Classification Levels and Anaerobic Performance of Wheelchair Basketball Athletes


Molik, Bartosz, Laskin, James J., Kosmol, Andrzej, Skucas, Kestas, Bida, Urszula, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


Wheelchair basketball athletes are classified using the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) functional classification system. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the relationship between upper extremity anaerobic performance (AnP) and all functional classification levels in wheelchair basketball. Ninety-seven male athletes from the Polish and Lithuanian national wheelchair basketball leagues took part in this study. The Wingate Anaerobic Test was used to assess four AnP indexes with an arm crank ergometer. The level of AnP in wheelchair basketball athletes depends to some degree on classification level. No significant differences were found for the AnP indexes across levels 1.0-2.5 and 3.0-4.5. However, the AnP level for those in classes 1.0-2.5 was significantly lower than those in classes 3. 0-4.5. The findings from this study provided some evidence that the IWBF functional classification system should be reexamined and that a consolidation of the current eight levels might be in order.

Key words: arm crank ergometer, Wingate test

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For a sport classification system to be valid and acceptable, the outcome of an event must depend on functional abilities, such as balance, coordination, natural talent, training, skill, physical fitness, and motivation, rather than disability-centered variables, such as spasticity, level of amputation, or level of paralysis (Strohkendl, 2001; Vanlandewijck & Chappel, 1996). In 1982, Strohkendl introduced a functional classification system that was adopted by the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF, 1982). Wheelchair basketball athletes were divided into five main classes: 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, and 4.5 (4.5 being the greatest level of functional ability) and three subclasses 1.5, 2.5, and 3.5, used for athletes with mixed characteristics (Courbariaux, 1996; IWBF, 2004). With this functional system, the limit is 14 points (based on classification level) for the five players on the floor at any one time.

Wheelchair basketball combines repeated short, intense exercise bouts that include rapid acceleration and deceleration, dynamic positions changes, and maintaining or obtaining one's position on the court (Coutts, 1992). The ability to successfully perform these efforts depends on the athlete's fitness as measured by anaerobic power (AnP). The IWBF (2004) classification system differentiates between functional levels such that each classification is mutually exclusive across performance domains. Meeting this core premise has been the subject of much discussion, research, and debate among coaches, athletes, officials, and researchers (Molik & Kosmol, 2001).

Hutzler's (1998) review suggested that a functional classification level can predict an athlete's AnP, similar to what was reported with aerobic performance. A number of studies have used AnP to compare wheelchair basketball athletes across the range of functional levels. Hutzler (1993) demonstrated relatively high correlations between players' classification and their mean anaerobic opacity (r = .717, p= .015). Hutzler and Sagiv's (1996) analysis of 57 wheelchair basketball players demonstrated the similarity in power output between those with low lesion level paraplegia (below the sixth thoracic vertebra [T6] complete) and those with polio. They suggested athletes could be categorized into three groups versus the eight used by the IWBF: Group I (paraplegia above T6 complete), Group II (paraplegia complete below T6 or equivalent and polio), and Group III (lower limb amputations). Vanlandewijck, Goris, and Verstuyft (1996) demonstrated that wheelchair basketball athletes' on-court performance (a series of 20-m sprints and an incremental velocity shuttle-run to exhaustion test) depended on AnP rather than aerobic capacity. Hutzler, Ochana, Bolotin, and Kalina (1998) examined 50 athletes from different sport disciplines (22 of whom played wheelchair basketball).

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