Medieval Armor: Hindrance as Well as Help

That medieval armor was heavy (averaging 66-88lb) goes without saying.  But what effects did it have on a warrior's energy expenditure?  It LOOKS like it would be exhausting to move in, but just how exhausting was it, and how would carrying that weight in that distribution affect movement?

A recent publication out of the Universities of Leeds, Milan, and Auckland asked just this question.  They dressed volunteers in 4 different types of medieval armor and tested their energy expenditure, breathing, and other reactions while they ran and walked.  Essentially, they found exactly what common sense would predict:  carrying 80lbs of metal makes it harder for you to move.  

We found that the net cost of locomotion (C(met)) during armoured walking and running is much more energetically expensive than unloaded locomotion. C(met) for locomotion in armour was 2.1-2.3 times higher for walking, and 1.9 times higher for running when compared with C(met) for unloaded locomotion at the same speed. [abstract]

When the scientists gave the volunteers an equivalent weight to wear in a backpack, energy expenditure was much lower than when they were wearing the distributed weight of the armor.  The key to this, says the lead researcher, is distribution.

“This is because, in a suit of armor, the limbs are loaded with weight, which means it takes more effort to swing them with each stride. If you’re wearing a backpack, the weight is all in one place and swinging the limbs is easier,” explains Graham. []

You can actually SEE how hard it is to move the limbs by watching the volunteer's arm movements in the treadmill video above.  He hardly moves his arms at all.

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