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Original Research

Relationship Between the Range of Motion and Isometric Strength of Elbow and Shoulder Joints and Ball Velocity in Women Team Handball Players

Schwesig, René1; Hermassi, Souhail2; Wagner, Herbert3; Fischer, David1; Fieseler, Georg4,5; Molitor, Thomas1; Delank, Karl-Stefan1

Author Information
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: December 2016 - Volume 30 - Issue 12 - p 3428-3435
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001450
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Abstract

Introduction

Team handball is a complex Olympic sport game that is determined by the individual performance of each player and the overall team performance. The individual throwing performance of each player is essential to score goals in team handball offense, whereas ball velocity is the dominant performance determining factor in different throwing techniques (34). But these different throwing techniques are categorized by throws with or without jumps and run-up as well as different arm positions at ball release (32,33,36).

Kinematic analyses in team handball throwing have shown that ball velocity is highest in the standing throw with run-up compared with the standing throw without run-up and jump throw (1,36). Regarding the throwing direction, the position of the throwing arm and rival players, it was found that ball velocity is higher when throwing to the lower area of the goal (longer arm acceleration), throwing with the throwing arm above the head (32), and throwing without the opposition of a goalkeeper and/or defensive player (12,13,21). Mostly, ball velocity in team handball throwing is strongly influenced by the maximal pelvis, trunk, and shoulder internal rotation velocity (27,29,33,35,36,38) and an optimal proximal-to-distal sequencing (27,30,33,37). Thereby, van den Tillaar and Ettema (27) suggested that 73% of the contribution to the ball velocity was explained by the maximal internal rotation velocity of the shoulder and the maximal elbow extension velocity during the throw. Comparing men and women team handball players of different performance levels, it was found that higher values of maximal strength and muscle power have a positive influence on the ball velocity in team handball throwing (1,4,8,9,17). In summary, the optimal intermuscular coordinated muscles with high levels of strength and power determine high throwing performance in men and women team handball players.

However, there is a high overbalance of scientific studies on men compared with women team handball players (16,27). Men handball players perform more high-intense, strength-related playing actions, have a higher body mass and body weight (17,29), a higher maximal strength and muscle power, as well as higher ball velocity in throwing (8,9). Although, to know the differences between men and women team handball players, the results of studies on men players have been used for training in women team handball because comprehensive studies on women team handball are lacking. To increase the performance, especially in women team handball, the relationship between muscle and throwing performance has to research, whereas muscle performance was defined by the isometric strength and range of motion (ROM) of shoulder and elbow joints (27,29,30,33,36,37).

Based on the technical limitations and inconclusive nature of the aforementioned studies, our aims of this study were (a) to evaluate the relationships between the isometric strength and ROM of shoulder and elbow joints concerning ball velocity; and (b) to compare the ball velocity of 2 different team handball throwing techniques (standing throw with run-up vs. jump throw). We hypothesized to find a relevant correlation between isometric strength, ROM, ball velocities, and significant differences in the ball velocity between the standing throw with run-up and jump throw.

Methods

Experimental Approach to the Problem

This study was designed to investigate relationships between isometric strength and ROM of shoulder and elbow joints and also to compare 2 different team handball throwing techniques in competitive women team handball players. All tests were conducted on an indoor team handball court (10–12° C) at the same time of the day (6–9 pm) and took place during the preparation to the back season (December 2014/season 2014/2015). To reduce the interference of uncontrolled variables, all subjects were instructed to maintain their habitual lifestyle and normal dietary intake before and during the study. The subjects were told not to exercise on the day before a test and on the test day to avoid fatigue effects. They were instructed to consume their last (caffeine free) meal at least 3 hours before the scheduled test time. Additionally, the athletes should drink 2 liters of water (only water) during the last 2 hours before the test.

In detail, the examination proceeded on the test day as follows:

  • Presentation of the study design and the study objectives
  • Clinical examination (elbow and shoulder)
  • 20-minute team handball–specific warm-up
  • One sample test and 3 standing throws with run-up (preferred throwing arm)
  • One sample test and 3 vertical jump throws (preferred throwing arm).

Thus, the duration of investigation per athlete was approximately 50 minutes.

Subjects

Twenty highly experienced women team handball players were recruited (age: 20.7 ± 2.9 years; range: 16–25 years; and training experience: 7.2 ± 4.4 years). All participants provided their written consent to participate in this study after being informed of all procedures and risks. A parental or guardian consent for all young players (age under eighteen years; n = 4) involved in this investigation was obtained. All subjects were physically healthy, in good physical condition, and reported no injuries, infections, and cardiopulmonary risk factors during the time of the study. All women team handball players (body mass: 68.4 ± 6.0 kg and body height: 1.74 ± 0.06 m) participate in the German Second National League (goalkeepers n = 2, pivots n = 3, backcourt players n = 9, and wings n = 6). Four athletes (20%) were left handed.

The normal weekly training routine of the players consisted of 5 training sessions (∼90 minutes for each session) and 1 competitive match per week. The training background of the players was focused on handball-specific training (e.g., technical and tactical skills), aerobic and anaerobic training (e.g., on- and off-court exercises), and strength training. They emphasized skilled activities at various intensities, offensive and defensive strategies, and some 30 minutes of continuous play.

None of the subjects reported any current or ongoing neuromuscular diseases or musculoskeletal injuries specific to the ankle, knee, or hip joints, and none of them were taking any dietary or performance supplements that might be expected to affect performance during the study. All players were in the competitive phase of their periodization. Two weeks before the pretest, 2 familiarization sessions were undertaken with the purpose of emphasizing proper execution techniques in the different tests. Before any participation, the experimental procedures, potential risks, and benefits of the project were fully explained to the subjects, and they all provided written informed consent before entering the study. The study was approved by the local research ethics committee and conformed to the recommendations of the Declaration of Helsinki.

Procedures

A standardized battery of warm-up exercises was performed before the tests by the primary researcher along with the coach. During the execution of these tests, the players were verbally encouraged to give their maximal effort. The tests executed for the measurement of performance are explained in detail in the following sections.

Test Protocol

Clinical Examinations of the Elbow and Shoulder

The ROM and isometric strength parameters of the elbow (flexion and extension) and shoulder (internal rotation, external rotation, abduction, adduction, anteversion, and retroversion) were determined actively with the athlete (Figures 1A,B and 2A,B).

F1
Figure 1.:
Clinical examination of the ROM in elbow flexion (A) and isometric strength in elbow flexion with the elbow stabilized by a second examiner (B).
F2
Figure 2.:
Clinical examination of ROM in shoulder retroversion (A) and isometric strength in shoulder retroversion (B).

While the elbow joint and shoulder were stabilized anteriorly by a second examiner, the first examiner used a goniometer for measurements (Figures 1A and 2A).

The clinical examination of the shoulder is based on the standardized protocol of Fieseler et al. (6). To ensure reproducibility and reliability, the same 2 examiners performed each measurement. The evaluation of isometric strength was made standardized with the IsoForceControl EVO2 hand-held dynamometer (Medical Device Solutions AG, Oberburg, Switzerland).

Both examiners were long familiar with the measurement technique because they had conducted an intraobserver and interobserver reliability study before this investigation. This study showed high intraobserver reliability (mean intraclass correlation coefficient = 0.85; mean Standard Error of Measurement [SEM] = 6.5° and 6.4 N) using the same hand-held dynamometer and goniometer on the shoulder joint in men (n = 26) team handball players (5,6).

Mean values were calculated based on 3 measurements. The ROM (sum of internal and external rotation), the glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD = difference between the internal rotation of the throwing and nonthrowing arm shoulder as a comparable reduction in ROM, described in a negative value), and the external rotation gain (difference in external rotation between limbs, described in a positive value) were calculated. All measurements were performed before training sessions or warm-ups.

Differentiation of the throwing and nonthrowing arm shoulder was determined by actual real use in sports, not according to “right” or “left.” In detail, the clinical examination proceeded on the test day as follows:

  • Range of motion measurements: Shoulder internal and external rotation, abduction and adduction, retroversion and anteversion, and elbow flexion and extension.
  • Isometric strength measurements: Shoulder internal and external rotation, abduction and adduction, retroversion and anteversion, and elbow flexion and extension.

Between trials (only strength measurements), subjects rested for 1 minute or longer to avoid fatigue effects.

Test Protocol of Throwing Velocity Measurements

After a general and a team handball–specific warm-up of 20 minutes, the participants were asked to perform 3 valid standing throws with run-up and 3 vertical jump throws (hurdle height: 0.20 m) with their preferred throwing arm. The distance to the goal was at least 9 m and differed between 9 and 11 m.

In detail, the subjects started approximately 15 m in front of the goal, passed the ball to a setter, caught the ball, and made 3 steps before the throw. The instruction for each trial was to throw the ball with maximum ball velocity to the entire goal in compliance with the team handball rules (e.g., 3 steps were defaulted). Between trials, players rested for 3 minutes to avoid fatigue effects. Validation criteria were the correct and rule compliant execution of the 2 throwing techniques and to score a goal (entire goal without goalkeeper). The criteria were controlled by an elite team handball coach and the head of the investigation, whereas all players were able to comply with the validation criteria for all throws.

The maximum throwing velocity was determined by a Speed Check Radar (Stalker Solo 2; Stalker, Plano, TX, USA) and averaged over 3 trials. The reliability of the radar system was checked by measuring rolling balls with the radar and checking them over a given distance using photoelectric cells. The intraclass correlation coefficient and coefficient of variation (CV) for the test were 0.92 and 3%, respectively (10).

Statistical Analyses

All statistical analyses were performed using SPSS version 22.0 for Windows (SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL, USA). Pearson correlation coefficients were calculated to determine the relationship between independent variables (e.g., ROM and strength) and the throwing velocity (dependent variable).

Mean differences (standing throw with run-up vs. jump throw) were tested using a general linear model. A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used with the throwing technique (standing throw with run-up and jump throw) as the main factor. According to Cohen (2), the effect size (η2) was calculated and defined as small for (η2) >0.01, medium for (η2) >0.09, and large for (η2) >0.25. Differences between mean were considered statistically significant if p-values were less than 0.05 and partial eta-squared (η2) values were higher than 0.09. An alpha of 0.05 and a beta of 0.20 were used for all statistical tests. Descriptive statistics (mean, SD, CV, 95% CI) were ascertained for all variables.

Results

Ball Velocity in Relation to Playing Position

Mean maximum ball velocity in the standing throw with run-up was 25.5 ± 1.57 m·s−1 and ranged from 22.6 to 28.0 m·s−1 (jump throw: 23.2 ± 1.31 m·s−1, ranged from 20.4 to 25.6 m·s−1). Descriptive throwing velocity data concerning relation to playing position are summarized in Table 1.

T1
Table 1.:
Descriptive data of throwing velocity (n = 20) by position of wings, pivots, goalkeepers, and backs.*†

We found only a significant main effect for the ball velocity in the standing throw with run-up (p = 0.021; η2 = 0.445) based on the significant difference between goalkeepers and backcourt players (p = 0.018).

Comparison of Different Throwing Techniques

The one-way ANOVA (throwing technique as the main factor) revealed significant differences in the ball velocity between the 2 throwing techniques (p < 0.001; η2 = 0.825). In comparison of the 2 techniques, the throwing velocity in standing throw with run-up (25.5 ± 1.57 m·s−1) was markedly higher than in jump throw (23.2 ± 1.31 m·s−1) (Table 1).

Anthropometric Parameters

Descriptive values together with the correlations are summarized in Table 2.

T2
Table 2.:
Correlations between maximum ball velocity and general anthropometric parameters (session 1, n = 20).*

We found no relevant correlation between anthropometric parameters and throwing velocities.

Isometric Strength Tests

Descriptive data of the isometric strength parameter and statistical results of the bivariate correlation analysis are depicted in Table 3. Medium correlations were found solely in the shoulder retroversion for both throwing techniques.

T3
Table 3.:
Correlations between maximum ball velocity and isometric strength parameters of the elbow and shoulder of the throwing arm (session 1, n = 20).

Range of Motion Tests

Table 4 contains the results of the correlation analysis for ROM parameters. The correlation coefficient ranged from 0.011 (elbow flexion/vST) to −0.540 (elbow flexion/vJT).

T4
Table 4.:
Correlations between maximum throwing velocity and ROM parameter of the elbow and shoulder of the throwing arm (session 1, n = 20).*

In summary, we found only relevant correlations between the elbow flexion ROM and the ball velocity in the jump throw as well as between the GIRD and the ball velocity in the standing throw with run-up.

Discussion

The innovative aspect of this study was evaluating ball velocity as one of the most important factor in team handball throwing (8,11,13,14) under conditions similar to team handball competitions (passing, catching, and throwing with run-up). Physical attributes such as muscular power and strength, running speed, and throwing ball velocity are important factors for success in competitive women team handball (14,17). Consequently, the purpose of this study was to determine the relationship between the elbow and shoulder ROM and muscle strength regarding throwing ball velocity in women team handball standing throw with run-up and jump throw.

The main finding of this study was that the relationship between elbow and shoulder isometric strength and ROM and ball velocity is very low. This examination revealed only 3 moderately relevant parameters (isometric strength: retroversion shoulder Throwing velocity standing throw (TVS) and Throwing velocity jump throw (TVJ); ROM: flexion elbow TVJ and GIRD shoulder TVS). The isometric strength is more important than the ROM for a high Throwing velocity (TV). Furthermore, the shoulder joint has a greater influence on TV than the elbow joint. With regard to the throwing techniques, we found a significant difference (p < 0.001, η2 = 0.825) in TV between standing throws with run-up (25.5 ± 1.57 m·s−1) and jump throws (23.2 ± 1.31 m·s−1).

However, our test design was based on the current state of research. We selected the throw techniques standing throw with run-up and jump throw because jump throw is the most applied (73–75%) throwing technique in team handball (38). Moreover, standing throw with run-up is the throwing technique with the highest ball velocity, and ball velocity is the main performance variable in team handball (7,8,14,21,30,39). In contrast, the accuracy of the throw is not so important to score a goal. Therefore, the instruction for each trial was to throw the ball at the entire goal (3 × 2 m) of at a distance of 9 m with maximum ball release speed. We gave no explicit accuracy instruction.

It has been shown that in different throwing techniques, ball velocity is strongly influenced by maximal pelvis, trunk, and shoulder internal rotation angular velocity (28–30,32,33,37). Van den Tillaar and Ettema (30) found that the angular velocity of the internal shoulder rotation at ball release and the maximal elbow extension contribute greatly to the ball release speed. They suggested that 67% of the ball release speed was explained by the summation effects from the velocity of elbow extension and internal rotation of the shoulder (32). Granados et al. (9) examined amateur women handball players and found a high correlation (r = 0.81) between the 3-step running throw velocity and the individual maximal 1 repetition maximum (1-RM) bench press. We did not measure the angular velocity or 1-RM bench press; therefore, the comparability is limited. Isometric strength and ROM did not show a correlation to TV. In addition to this, it was also found out that the maximal joint velocities occurred in a specific order (34). Therefore, it is not enough to maximize the single velocities and the strength of upper extremities, but it is necessary to improve the coordination of the throwing movement.

We also found a significant difference in TV between standing throws with run-up and jump throws. Wagner et al. (37) explained this difference with the better acceleration of the pelvis and trunk over the on the floor braced leg during the standing throw with run-up. They concluded that throwing performance is determined by a high ball velocity that is influenced by upper body strength and power as well as optimal movement coordination. Movement coordination is determined by a handball-specific proximal-to-distal sequencing and an increase in maximal upper body rotation angular velocities (39).

Considering the same measurement system (radar gun) and similar sample (women handball players), there are comparable absolute values of TV in TVS (25.5 ± 1.57 m·s−1) and TVJ (23.2 ± 1.31 m·s−1) in other investigations (20,26,36,39,40). The elite players in the study of Wagner et al. (32) achieved a ball release speed of 22.3 ± 1.5 m·s−1 (TVJ) which is lower but comparable to those described by Poris et al. (20) for Slovenian National Handball Team players (24.0 ± 1.4 m·s−1) and Sibila et al. (26) for Slovenian elite team handball players (24.1 ± 1.3 m·s−1) when performing a jump throw. Vila et al. (31) examined 130 Spanish elite team handball players (first league). They observed lower TV in TVS (22.5 ± 1.74 m·s−1) and TVJ (22.0 ± 1.62 m·s−1). Zapartidis et al. (40) tested ball velocity and accuracy in simulated game activities. The subjects performed 3 shots on the spot toward a target from a distance of 7 m every 10 minutes. TV was significantly reduced but remained stable (16.6–16.9 ± 1.4–1.6 m·s−1). Obviously, ball velocity is reduced when throwing with the opposition of a goalkeeper and/or defensive player (12,21). The same is valid for accuracy requirements during the throwing movement.

These data should be interpreted with care because it is difficult to compare our findings with previous studies of handball players because of differences in study design, methods of measurement (photoelectric cells, radar, and cinematography) (11,13,32), age, body mass, skill level (amateur or professional), and throwing technique (standing, 3-step running throw, jump shot, with or without target, with or without goalkeeper, and size of target) (13,29,40), which may affect the throwing velocity.

Furthermore, we emphasize that the assessment of an isometric force has only restricted analytic significance because of the dynamics in team handball. This could be the reason for the low correlations concerning throwing velocity.

Key factors (e.g., influence of opponents, psychological distress during competition, and match ability) are also disregarded in our test set-up as they elude standardization (control).

Practical Applications

  • Within the limitations of our study, the present findings suggest that a high throwing velocity is more dependent on a specific throwing technique than on elbow and shoulder strength and flexibility.
  • Based on this study, presumably, specific throwing technique training is more important for high TV than increasing the strength and flexibility of the shoulder and elbow. Accordingly, it is recommended that handball coaches implement the focal points in training programs. Concretely, this means that resistance training is only useful in connection with specific throwing training. Otherwise (e.g., isolated resistance training), the increase in strength is not connected with an increase in TV.
  • Regarding performance diagnostics in team handball, coaches should use handball-specific tests (25,34) instead of unspecific tests (e.g., isometric strength test).
  • More studies and further investigation are needed to quantify physiological loads on women handball players. These studies should use time-motion analyses (16) and focus on specific handball actions (e.g., throwing techniques) during the match and not in artificial test situations.

Acknowledgments

The authors thank Henrike Marie Meyer for support regarding data collection. The authors thank the athletes and coaches for their enthusiastic participation in the study. The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this manuscript. The results of this study do not constitute endorsement of the product by the authors or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). No grant was provided for the implementation of this study.

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Keywords:

jump throw; standing throw with run-up; glenohumeral internal rotation deficit; external rotation gain; force; flexibility

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