Push for victory

Wheelchair athletes in the ParalymicsGB team may show improved performance over previous tournaments, thanks to a new training technology.

Systems and engineering technology consultant Frazer-Nash worked with UK Sport and Angle Consulting to develop an instrumented wheel for measuring the power an athlete exerts when he or she pushes the wheels on their racing wheelchair.

Named the Powerwheel, the instrument measures the driving force put into the push rim by the athlete. Strain gauges on the wheel measure the force and pressure, and the information is transmitted wirelessly to a computer so that it can be interpreted and displayed. The technology enables coaches to analyse an athlete’s performance in real-time.

According to Alasdair Wylie, project manager at Frazer-Nash, previous training monitoring technologies involved storing all the performance information on the wheelchair itself.

‘All the information was stored in a heavy data logging box on the wheel, which was spinning around so you couldn’t actually find out how the session went until you plugged it in,’ he said.

Athletes and coaches were able to review videos of a training performance and determine variables, such as how many pushes/min they did, said Wylie, but they weren’t able to measure power. Athletes were forced to remember ‘how they felt’ during a push, he added, and that is difficult for a person to judge objectively.

‘This technology enables them to work out how much power goes into each individual push so they can look at their technique within their push in an objective way,’ he said.

‘Elite level cyclists have been training using power information for some time now, and Powerwheel brings these benefits to wheelchair racers,’ he said.

Siobhan Wagner