There have been countless studies on how heavy loads affect the soldiers carrying them. Most have dealt with the lower body, gait and stamina.
Kinesiology researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have received a Navy Health Research Center grant to look at the upper half the body.
Biomechanics studies have taught scientists plenty about loads from the perspective of locomotion, stamina and oxygen use. The UMass Amherst team wants to determine how the weight a soldier carries can affect reaction time, visual attention to critical details and the ability to tell the difference between friend and foe.
“Load is not a new issue for field commanders to consider,” said Richard Van Emmerik, lead researcher and director of the university’s sensory-motor control laboratory. Plenty of studies have dealt with affects on gait. But “we will for the first time look at how the upper body, trunk and head coordinate in a soldier who is burdened by a heavy load, which is a fundamentally different and a more complex situation.”
The team plans to recruit highly trained infantrymen as lab subjects. They will be tested carrying no weight as well as loads between 70 and 120 pounds. They will perform realistic tasks, such as having to jump off the back of a truck, scan an area and then immediately hit targets in a marksmanship test.
The goal is to give commanders more information about the physical and mental trade-offs that come with heavy protective gear and equipment.