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MILITARY MEDICINE, 176, 9:1027, 2011

Effect of Load Carriage on Performance of an Explosive,


Anaerobic Military Task
Alison K, Laing Treloar, BAppSci (Ex & Sp Sc) (Hons); Daniel C. Billing, PhD

ABSTRACT This study examined tbe effects of load carriage on performance of an explosive, anaerobic tnilitary
task. A task-specific assessment requiring five 30-m timed sprints was developed to address this question. Seventeen
soldiers (female = 5, male = 12) volunteered to undergo the test under two experimental conditions; unloaded (cotnbat
uniform and boots) and loaded (unloaded plus 21.6 kg fighting load, comprising webbing, weapon, helmet, and combat
body armor). When loaded, there was a significant increase in tbe mean 30-m sprint time compared to unloaded (8.2
1.4 seconds vs. 6.2 0.8 seconds; p < 0.01). Of the total increase in mean sprint time, 51.7% occurred within the first
5 m. Fetnale sprint times were affected to a larger extent than male (36% vs. 29%, respectively) as a result of the increased
load. Fighting load significantly affected soldier mobility when conducting explosive, anaerobic military tasks, particularly among females, and specific physical conditioning should be considered to minimize this effect.

INTRODUCTION
Historically, the wearing of combat body armor (CBA) has
been restricted to combat soldiers. However, current operations involve complex omnipresent threats, resulting in the
need for all soldiers, regardless of occupational specialty, to
wear CBA during operational deployment. Some Australian
soldiers, particularly those in combat service support roles,
may rarely wear CBA before predeployment training, allowing limited opportunity for specific and functional physical conditioning. In general, the CBA and helmet worn by
Australian soldiers can weigh between 10 and 15 kg. In addition, a soldier in "fighting load" is required to carry a weapon,
ammunition, and other personal supplies resulting in a minimum external load of 21.6 kg.
The effects of load carriage on the performance of explosive, high-intensity military tasks have previously been evaluated. A negative impact on performance is clear across all
research; however, methodologies have been varied. Tasks
assessed have ranged from single and repeated sprints, to
physical mobility assessments, obstacle courses, and battlefield simulations.'-* Such a wide range of tasks makes it difficult to draw definitive conclusions relevant to today's soldier.
Furthermore, individual sprints and battlefield simulations
may not represent tasks expected of combat service support
soldiers. Research gaps also exist when addressing differences
between the abilities of males and females to cope with extra
load while performing explosive, anaerobic military tasks.'
Consequently, there is a clear need to directly measure the
effect of load on the performance of critical defensive military
tasks that are performed at a high intensity, including sex-based
differences. A valid and controlled test to represent such tasks is
necessary to assess the impact of load under these conditions.
The only formal test within the Australian Army to assess
explosive, anaerobic task performance is the Run-DodgeDefence Science and Technology Organisation, 506 Loritner Street,
Fishermans Bend, Victoria 3207, Australia.

MILITARY MEDICINE, Vol. 176, September 2011

Jump (RDJ). This requires negotiation of a series of obstacles within a set time frame. As with the tasks highlighted
above, the similarity between this obstacle course and critical
defensive military tasks is unknown. Further, successful performance is dictated to a large extent by skill' and anthropomtrie characteristics.* Considerable attention has been given
to the development of obstacle courses in the past*^''" however
these pose the same problems as the RDJ.
A review of the training processes within the Australian
Army and consultation with military staff indicated that the
minimum anaerobic requirement for a soldier, irrespective of
age, sex, or occupational specialty, was the successful performance of a defensive withdrawal under fire. This task is typically achieved using a break contact drill (BCD), a maneuver
recommended for withdrawing frotn an enetny when engagement is not desired. Soldiers conducting a BCD alternate
between providing covering fire and sprinting down a corridor
of section members, allowing a distinct separation of physical
and skill components. Furthermore, the BCD forms the basis
of other repeat sprint, fire-and-movement activities that may
be encountered by soldiers, such as during a vehicle atnbush
or urban-based operations.
This article aims to determine the impact of load carriage
on performance of explosive, anaerobic tnilitary tasks and to
identify any sex-based differences. The first part of this article
is concerned with the development of a valid assessment of
the performance of a high intensity, explosive military task.
A test based on the BCD would ensure the minimum physical
capacity commensurate with the performance of critical etnergency/defensive duties is assessed. This test is then implemented in the second part of the article to answer the primaty
research question.
METHOD
Experimental procedures were approved by the Australian
Defence Human Research Ethics Comtnittee. All participants

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Effect of Load Carriage on Mobility

were fully briefed and provided written and informed


eonsent.
Part 1: Development of a Valid Test for the BCD
Development of an anaerobie test based on the BCD occurred
over multiple stages. First, subject matter experts of various
ranks were consulted to determine the tactical requirements of
the task aceording to standard operating proeedures to define
a realistic operational scenario under which the task would
be performed. Second, a series of staged observations of the
BCD were conducted. Sixteen infantrymen, whose mean age
and infantry experience (range) was 24.5 (19-35) years and
2.3 (0.1-8) years, respectively, performed the maneuvers.
Under instruction from their Commanding Officer (CO), the
soldiers performed, as part of two 8-man sections, three simulated secure withdrawals each using a BCD. The BCDs were
simulated by the CO to accurately refleet typieal conditions
and movements.
The BCDs were completed in fighting load, with soldiers
instrueted to present with 21.6 kg of equipment. After an activity briefing was given by the CO, body mass and the weight
of soldiers' equipment were collected to eonfirm fighting load
weight. Each BCD was separated by approximately 7-minute
rest. Each soldier carried a global positioning system (GPS)
(FRWD B-series; FRWD Technologies, Oulu, Finland), whieh
logged eoordinates every second, and the activity was videotaped (Hard Dise Camcorder GZ-MG50AA; JVC, Yokohama,
Japan).
Data colleeted by GPS was analyzed using FRWD proprietary software (FRWD Pro Replayer 2.5; FRWD Technologies). It was possible to quantify the total time taken and
distance eovered in each BCD, as well as the number of
eomponent sprint bouts. Beeause of the GPS resolution, it
was not possible to determine distance of individual sprint
bouts. Instead, video data was used to calculate the typical
work-to-rest ratio. Time spent sprinting and resting (firing
down range) for each bout was then calculated by applying
the work-to-rest ratio and the number of sprint bouts to the
BCD duration. Distance of each sprint bout was calculated
by dividing total distance covered by the number of sprint
bouts. The resulting test was a praetieal simulation based on
these parameters.
Part 2: Effect of Load on the Performance of the
BCD Simulation Assessment
Seventeen soldiers (female = 5, male = 12) from a broad crosssection of oeeupational speeialties, including cooks, drivers,
medics, and clerks, participated in this part of the study. All
soldiers were qualified in their respective trades, with a mean
of 3.0 (0.25-18) years experienee since completing tradetraining; however, no soldier had specific combat experienee
nor experience wearing CBA. The mean age, body mass, and
height were, respectively, 23.1 (18-40) years, 78.2 13.0 kg,
and 178.6 + 7.1 cm (SD).

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On day 1, the soldiers were briefed and weighed before


undertaking the counter movetnent vertical jump test" wearing combat uniform and boots to assess lower limb power.
Soldiers returned 2 to 3 days later to undertake the BCD assessment. The assessment was eonducted in unloaded and loaded
conditions across 2 days, with 5 days rest between each test.
In both conditions, soldiers wore combat uniform and boots,
with an additional 21.6 kg (webbing, weapon, CBA, and helmet) when loaded.
Eaeh testing day began with a standardized warm-up incorporating the eonstruct and movement patterns of the assessment for familiarization purposes. Equipment weight was
cheeked and adjusted for accuracy eaeh morning. Soldiers then
completed the BCD test, whieh eonsisted of 5 x 30-m sprints
at 44-second intervals (Fig. 1), on a grass surface. The intervals were timed by a custom digital audio track, and soldiers
were required to start from the prone firing position. Soldiers
adopted the prone position when the audio track indicated
10 seeonds before sprint start. A verbal eountdown from 3, to
minimize the effeets of reaction time, preeeded a starting signal. Soldiers were instrueted to complete eaeh sprint at their
maximum speed. Split times were measured at 5-, 10-, 15-,
20-, and 30-m intervals with timing gates accurate to 0.01 seeonds (G-Speed 100; Onspot, Barrack Heights, Australia). The
prone starting position made it necessary for the timing gates
to be manually started by a member of the research team, in
line with the audio track.
The performance time for each condition was taken as the
mean of the five 30-m sprint times. Split times were calculated
in a similar manner. Mean perfonnance time was used to minimize the effeets of both the soldiers and the timing system
operator from starting before or after the "beep."
A two-way repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA)
(order x condition) was used to detect any order effects
across sprints 1 to 5, in both unloaded and loaded conditions,
A two-way ANOVA (load x sex) was then used to evaluate
the effeets of an additional 21.6-kg load on mean sprint time
and to identify any signifieant sex-based interactions. All
individual comparisons were isolated using Tukey's honestly
significant difference (HSD) post hoc comparisons. Relationships between mean sprint time and body mass, and mean
sprint time and vertical jump performance were indicated by
Pearson's correlation coefficient for both unloaded and loaded
eonditions.

5m
FIGURE 1.

10 m

15 m

20 m

30 m

Illustration of BCD assessment and split time intervals.

MILITARY MEDICINE, Vol. 176, September 201 :

Effect of Load Carriage on Mobility

RESULTS
Part One: Development of a Valid Test for the BCD
The actual fighting load weight carried by infantrymen during the BCD was 22.4 2.5 kg. Table I details mean values
for key task parameters. From the GPS data, total task duration and distance covered for each BCD was determined, as
well as the number of component sprint bouts performed by
each individual. Because of the limited sampling rate of GPS
equipment, video data was relied upon to determine work-torest ratios and thus calculate time spent sprinting and resting
(firing down range). The activity was conducted in light scrub
to ensure an accurate simulation, and subsequently not all
participants were visible at ail times. Therefore, the work-torest ratios were based upon movements for which a complete
cycle of sprint and rest was visible. Considering the variables
surrounding the task in an operational setting, it was felt that
this analysis appropriately indicated the work-to-rest requirements. Changing the environmental profile to allow better
soldier visibility would have changed the nature of the fireand-movement activity.
Parameters presented in Table I were used to form the basis
of a BCD assessment. Minor adjustments ensured the test was
praetical and easily implemented. It was assumed participants
would travel faster aeross an oval than light scrub, so adjustments leaned toward making the test more difficult. The number of sprint bouts was rounded up to 5, although the distanee
was kept constant at 30 m. The estimated speed that participants would travel was also increased from 3.1 to 3.3 m s"',
using previous rushing assessments developed'^ as a guideline.
According to this speed, participants should complete each
sprint in no more than 9 seeonds to ensure the operational scenario is refieeted. Therefore, a minimum of 35 seconds rest
was calculated to maintain the approximate work-to-rest ratio.
Thus, participants were required to complete their five 30-m
sprints at a rate of one every 44 seconds.
TABLE I.
a
b
c
d
e
f
g

BCD Duration (Seconds)


BCD Distance (m)
No. of Sprint Bouts BCD
Work-to-Rest Ratio
Sprint Bout Distance (m) (b/c)
Sprint Bout Duration (Seconds) ([a x d]/c)
Sprinting Speed (m s"') (e/0

TABLE II.

Males
Females
Overall

BCD Parameters
174 38
129,6 21,80
4,3 1,0
l;4
30,8
10,1
3,1

Soldiers completing the BCDs varied between firing from


the kneeling position and firing from the prone position.
Consultation with the CO indicated that all soldiers should be
capable of going to ground, and thus it was determined that
all sprints within the BCD assessment would begin from the
prone position. For safety reasons, soldiers were not expected
to go to ground at the completion of each 30-m sprint, instead
they were to decelerate gradually and return to the starting
position.
Part Two: Effect of Load on the Performance of the
BCD Assessment
A repeated measures ANOVA found significant order effects
across sprint repetitions 1 to 5 in the unloaded condition (p
< 0.05); however, Tukey's HSD did not identify significant
differences between any of the sprint repetitions (Table II).
A significant order effect was also present in the loaded eondition (p < 0.01). According to Tukey's HSD, sprint repetition
1 (8.0 1.3 seeonds) was statistically faster than sprint repetitions 3 (8.3 1.5 seconds), 4 (8.4 1.4 seeonds), and 5 (8.3
1.4 seconds) and sprint repetition 2 (8.1 1.4 seconds) was
statistically faster than sprint repetition 4. Mean performance
time of the 5 sprints will be used for subsequent analysis of
the main effect of 21.6 kg on BCD performance.
Overall, the additional load increased the mean 30-m-sprint
performance time by 2.0 0.6 seconds (31.5%; p < 0.01) per
sprint bout (Table II). With a mean sprint time of 8.19 seconds
in the loaded condition, 14 of 17 soldiers met the performanee
criteria of 9 seeonds or less. The implications of heavy fighting loads on an explosive anaerobic task could substantially
affect a soldier's survivability.
Females were slower in both unloaded and loaded conditions compared to males, and there was a significant sex by
condition interaction (p < 0.01). Males and females had a
1.7 0.4 seconds and 2.5 0.7 seeonds inerease in mean
sprint time, respectively, which translates to a 36% increase in
mean sprint time for females, compared with 29% for males.
Time to completion was further analyzed by investigating split times across eomponents of the sprint (Table III).
The increase in sprint time is evident at all splits; however,
51.7% of the total performance loss is attributable to the first
5 m, indicating a slower starting momentum when raising the
heavy load from the ground and initiating the sprint.
Body mass was not eorrelated with BCD performance
(
"O" ^ ^ 'loaded = "0-1 ); however, a significant eon-elation

Mean BCD Sprint Times (Seconds SD) for Males and Females in the Unloaded (UNL) and Loaded (LD) Conditions

UNL
LD
UNL
LD
UNL
LD

Sprint 1

Sprint 2

Sprint 3

Sprint 4

Sprint 5

Average

5,8 0,5
7,4 0,8
7,1 1,0
9,3 1,5
6,2 0,8
8,0 1,3

5,8 0,5
7,5 0,8
7,0 1,0
9,5 1,5
6,2 0,8
8,1 1,4

5,9 0,4
7,6 0,7
7,1 1,0
9,8 1,9
6,2 0,8
8,3 1,5

5,9 0,4
7,8 0,8
7,1 1,0
9,8 1,4
6,3 0,8
8,4 1,4

5,9 0,4
7,6 0,7
7,2 1,0
9,7 1,7
6,3 0,8
8,2 1,4

5,9
7,6
7,1
9,6
6,2
8,2

MILITARY MEDICINE, Vol, 176, September 2011

0,4
0,7
1,0
1,6
0,8
1,4

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Effect of Load Carriage on Mobility


TABLE III.

Split (m)
0-5

5-10
10-15
15-20
20-30
0-30

Mean BCD Split Titnes (Seconds SD) for the


Unloaded and Loaded Conditions
UNL

LD

(Seconds SD)
2.2 0.4
0.9 0.1
0.8 0.1
0.8 0.1
1.6 0.2
6,2 0,8

(Seconds SD)
3.2 0.8
1.1 0.1
2.0 0.1
2.0 0.1
1.9 0.3
8,2 1.4

Difference
(Seconds SD)
1.0 1.0 45.5%
0.2 0.1 21.04%
0.2 0.1 22.93%
0.2 0.1 24.61%
0.4 0.1 25.03%
2,0 0,6

31,47%

was found between vertical jump and BCD performance


(r - -0.8; p < 0,01 for both loaded and unloaded conditions).
DISCUSSION
Although the effects of load carriage on military endurance
tasks such as marching have been extensively evaluated,
there is limited research investigating the effects of a fighting load on the performance of a simulated high intensity,
short duration military task, A face-valid assessment, based
directly on the performance of a defensive withdrawal under
fire, was developed to address this question," When performing
this BCD assessment, the addition of a 21,6 kg fighting load
increases average sprint bout time in the BCD assessment by
31,5%. This is a substantial decrement in performance, particularly when considering soldiers may perform 4 to 5 sprint
bouts per BCD,
It is evident that all sprint split times, from 0 to 30 m, were
impacted upon when comparing the loaded and unloaded conditions; however, the greatest decrement in performance was
observed when soldiers are expected to rise from the prone
position and begin sprinting (0-5 m). This is not surprising
given fire-and-movement activities conducted in a loaded
state have previously been correlated with measurements of
both leg power (vertical and horizontal jumps) and push-up
ability,'^
The slower average times of females compared to males
in both conditions is consistent with studies of similar activities,^''" The greater decrement in performance experienced by
females when carrying a load compared to that of males is
reflective of the work by Nelson and Martin,^ who showed a
consistent increase in performance for 9,1 and 22,9 m sprints,
long jump, and agility run. The current findings do not provide
sufficient data to identify the mechanisms behind decreased
load carriage ability of women. Nevertheless, the lack of significant correlation between loaded sprint performance and
body mass suggests that sex-based effects cannot be explained
by the differences in average body mass between males and
females, Wben comparing body mass-matched males and
females, females had a slower average sprint time than their
male counterparts. Sprinting 9,1 and 22,9 m with both 17 and
29 kg loads was also shown to be poorly correlated with body
mass in the study completed by Nelson and Martin,' Despite
this absence of significant correlations, these researchers

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hypothesized that the different body compositions of males


and females may still be contributing factors to the sex-based
effect,'^ Although absolute loads carried were identical, there
was a great difference in load carried relative to lean body
mass. However, when relative load was graphically analyzed
against sprint performance, there was still a clear distinction
between the sexes, suggesting body composition is not the
only factor at play. Despite known differences in muscle force
producing capacity of males and females, a recent review'*
has highlighted the need for further investigation into differences between males and females performing multiple-sprint
exercise to answer these basic physiological questions.
The observed performance decrement in this study may
have been attenuated had our subjects, both male and female,
been conditioned to wearing CBA; however, this would
have decreased the applicability of the findings to noncombat soldiers within the Australian Army. Noncombat soldiers
on their first operational deployment may have little opportunity for such familiarization, and the performance decrements shown in this study warrant further investigation into
the issue. Familiarization issues can include both equipment
integration, such as CBA and webbing fit, and physical conditioning. It is unknown whether specific physical conditioning
in CBA would decrease the performance difference between
loaded and unloaded, or simply enhance the performance of
both conditions to the same extent. However, either scenario
would provide practical and meaningful benefit to the soldier.
To the authors' knowledge, no research has been conducted
surrounding conditioning for load carriage during sprinting;
however, load-specific task performance'^ and strength training'^ have both led to improvements in loaded marching performance. Strength and power training eould be particularly
beneficial given the prone starting requirement and the correlation between vertical jump and average sprint performance
found in this study. Furthermore, anaerobic capacity can be
significantly improved by intermittent, high intensity training,"'^" which would be highly specific to the BCD's repeated
sprint requirement. Further studies into physical conditioning and load carriage familiarization would help to indicate
whether load tolerance during sprinting can be improved or
benefits are confined to overall performance improvement.
The increased sprint time reported in this study is far greater
than that previously reported. Specifically, a 13% increase in
80-m sprint time was observed among infantry soldiers when
wearing a 16 kg simulated carrying harness,' whereas an
8,7% increase in time to complete 5 continuous 30-m rushes
occurred with a load increase of 14 kg,'' The load carried in the
latter study's control condition was not stated; however, the
14-kg increase was comprised of CBA, The smaller loads help
explain the reduced effects on performance; however, when
expressed in per kilogram the performance effects in this study
are still greater (0,6% per kg vs, 1,5% per kg). Subject population likely contributed to this difference, given male infantry
soldiers were used in one instance' and "Army enlisted males"
in the other,** The performance effects are not as great if only

MILITARY MEDICINE, Vol, 176, September 2011

Effect of Load Carriage on Mobility

male soldiers from this study are considered (1.3% per kg);
however, the discrepancy still exists.
Prone vs. upright starting positions may also explain some
of the differences, particularly considering the largest deerement of all sprint split times occurred from 0 to 5 m. Neither
study^'' detailed starting position; however, results are similar to a third study which saw males and females adopt an
upright, standing start position to sprint 22.9 m.^ The former two studies^'' were conducted on a hardtop road and as
continuous rushes without rest, so it would be reasonable to
assume the starts were from an upright position. Finally, it is
likely that the carriage of a weapon in the loaded condition of
this study also contributed to the magnitude of performance
changes, not only due to the added weight but also due to the
restriction of upper body movements wben sprinting.^'
Given the load carriage effeets discussed in this article, there
is scope for studies to assess the effect of load carriage on other
generic military tasks, sueh as maximal or repetitive manual
handling. The effect of the individual components of fighting load, for example, different CBA ensembles and extremity
attachments, or different webbing configurations, should also
be investigated to gain a more definitive picture of interaetion
between protective ensembles and soldier mobility.
The Australian Army's mandatory physical fitness testing suite does not currently include a measure of explosive,
repeated sprint capability. The BCD simulation test developed
in this study may be used as both an occupational physical fitness test and a valuable indication of basic dployable readiness of soldiers. Not only would soldiers then be assessed
against the performance of this critical task, but it would also
provide a valuable incentive for soldiers to train in an oceupationally specific manner.
In conclusion, this study indicates that carriage of 21.6-kg
fighting load significantly affects soldiers' mobility during
the performance of an explosive, anaerobic military task. In
response to these findings, soldier eonditioning should target these speeific occupational requirements. Future studies
should investigate the effect of fighting load on performance
of other eommon military tasks and the effect of individual
equipment components and variations of the fighting load to
inform equipment evaluation and procurement processes.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT
The authors wish to acknowledge the cooperation of Australian Army
3rd Brigade and thank the following researchers for assisting with this
study: Dr, Mark Jaffrey, Warren Roberts, Daniel Ham, Renee Attwells, and
Alison Fogarty,

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