Purpose: The T54 wheelchair racing class comprises athletes with normal arm muscle strength and trunk strength ranging from partial to normal. Paralympic sports classes should comprise athletes who have impairments that cause a comparable degree of activity limitation. On the basis of this criterion, the purpose of this study was to determine whether the T54 class is valid by assessing the strength of association between trunk strength and wheelchair acceleration.
Methods: Participants were 10 male and 3 female international wheelchair track athletes with normal arm strength. Six were clinically assessed as having normal trunk strength, and seven had impaired trunk strength. Measures included isometric arm and trunk strength and distance covered at 1, 2, and 3 s in an explosive start from standstill on a regulation track, as well as on a custom-built ergometer with four times normal rolling resistance.
Results: No significant differences were observed between male athletes with and without full trunk strength in distance covered after 1, 2, and 3 s. Correlations between isometric trunk strength and wheelchair track acceleration were nonsignificant and low (0.27–0.32), accounting for only 7%–10% of variance in performance. Correlations between trunk strength and distance pushed under high resistance were also nonsignificant, although values were almost double (r = 0.41–0.54), accounting for 18%–28% of the variance in performance.
Conclusions: These results provide evidence that impairment of trunk strength has minimal effect on wheelchair acceleration and indicate the T54 class is valid. Results do not infer that athletes with no trunk strength should compete with those who have partial or full trunk strength.