Perceived exertion responses to wheelchair propulsion differ between novice able-bodied and trained wheelchair sportspeople

Objectives: To investigate peripheral (RPEP) and central (RPEC) rating of perceived exertion during wheelchair propulsion in untrained able-bodied (AB) participants, and trained wheelchair rugby athletes with and without cervical spinal cord injury (CSCI).
Design: Cross-sectional study.
Methods: 38 participants (AB: n = 20; wheelchair rugby athletes with CSCI: n = 9; without CSCI: n = 9) completed an incremental wheelchair propulsion test to exhaustion on a motorised treadmill. Gas exchange measures and heart rate (HR) were collected throughout. RPEP and RPEC on the Category Ratio-10 were verbally recorded each minute. Blood lactate concentration ([BLa]) was determined post-test.
Results: Between 50-100% peak oxygen uptake (V̇O2peak), RPEP was greater than RPEC in AB (p < 0.05), but not in athletes with (p = 0.07) or without (p = 0.16) CSCI. RPEP was greater in AB compared to players with CSCI (Effect sizes: 1.24-1.62), as were respiratory exchange ratio (1.02 ± 0.10 vs. 0.82 ± 0.11, p < 0.05) and [BLa]peak (7.98 ± 2.53 vs 4.66 ± 1.57 mmol·L-1). RPEC was greater in athletes without CSCI compared to those with CSCI (Effect sizes: 0.70-1.38), as were HR (166 ± 20 vs. 104 ± 15 beats·min-1, p < 0.05) and ventilation (59.2 ± 28.8 vs. 35.1 ± 16.6 L·min-1, p = 0.01).
Conclusion: RPEP was dominant over RPEC during wheelchair propulsion for untrained AB participants. For athletes with CSCI, lower RPEP and RPEC were reported at the same %V̇O2peak compared to those without CSCI. The mechanism for this remains to be fully elucidated.