We investigated the cardiorespiratory responses to progressive incremental arm cranking (AC) and wheelchair ergometry (WCE) and upper limb strength in 72 elite male (N=61) and female (N=11) physically disabled athletes. Peak Vo2 in the two tests increased progressively in athletes categorized according to the international classification of disability. Mean peak VO2 (ml·min-1·kg-1 ± 1 SD) for males during AC was 13.4 ± 3.1 in classes 1A and 1B, 23.0 ± 5.9 in class 2, 28.0 ± 6.2 in class 3, 31.0 ± 6.6 in class 4, and 37.7 ± 4.5 in class 5, with similar mean peak VO2 (ml · min-1·kg-1 ± 1 SD) during WCE in each class, 14.8 ± 4.9, 22.0 ± 5.2, 27.8 ± 6.4, 31.2 ± 7.6 and 36.1 ± 4.7, respectively. The female paraplegics had significantly lower values for peak Vo2 during WCE than AC. The increments in VO2 were similar during the AC test (power increased by 100 kpm±min-1 or 17 W) and the WCE test (power increased by 30 kpm · min-1 or 5 W with an increase in wheelchair propulsion of 10 rpm at a constant braking weight on the Monark ergometer). Ventilation in maximal exercise was within the ventilatory capacity assessed by 15-s MBC and spirometry. Maximal ventilation and heart rates were higher in paraplegic than tetraplegic athletes. Tetraplegia, resulting from poliomyelitis, was associated with a significantly greater peak Vo, and heart rate (1.36 1·min-1; 169 beats·min-1) than tetraplegia following traumatic spinal cord injury (0.79 1·min-1; 132 beats-min-1). Upper limb strength, assessed by the Cybex II apparatus and grip dynamometer, was similar in male classes 2–5. We concluded that the international classification discriminates well among athletes with different degrees of impairment and provides incentive for improved performance through training. However, the greater capacity of tetraplegic athletes disabled by poliomyelitis than by trauma to the spinal cord may indicate the need for separate categories in class 1 athletes.
©1983The American College of Sports Medicine