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Effect of a load distribution system on mobility and performance during simulated and field hiking while under load

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This study was conducted to test a modular scalable vest–load distribution system (MSV-LDS) against the plate carrier system (PC) currently used by the United States Marine Corps. Ten Marines engaged in 1.6 km load carriage trials in seven experimental conditions in a laboratory study. Kinematic, kinetic, and spatiotemporal gait parameters, muscle activity (electromyography), heart rate, caloric expenditure, shooting reaction times, and subjective responses were recorded. There was lower mean trapezius recruitment for the PC compared with the MSV-LDS for all conditions, and muscle activity was similar to baseline for the MSV-LDS. Twenty-seven Marines carrying the highest load were evaluated in the field, which measured an increase in energy expenditure with MSV-LDS; however, back discomfort was reduced. The field evaluation showed significantly reduced estimated ground reaction force on flat-ground segments with the MSV-LDS, and the data suggest both systems were comparable with respect to mobility and energy cost.

Practitioner summary: This study found that a novel load distribution system appears to redistribute load for improved comfort as well as reduce estimated ground reaction force when engaged in hiking activities. Further, hiking with a load distribution system enables more neutral walking posture. Implications of load differences in loads carried are examined.

Abbreviations: AGRF: anterior-posterior ground reaction forces; CAREN: Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment; GRF: ground reaction forces; HR: heart rate; ML-GRF: mediolateral ground reaction forces; MOLLE: Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment; MSV-LDS: modular scalable vest–load distribution system; NHRC: Naval Health Research Center; PC: plate carrier; PPE: personal protective equipment; RPE: rating of perceived exertion; SAPI: small arms protective insert; sEMG: surface electromyography; USMC: United States Marine Corps; VGRF: Ground reaction forces in the vertical.
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Keywords: Load carriage; back pain; body armour; gait; virtual environments

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Warfighter Performance Department, Naval Health Research Center, San Diego, CA, USA; 2: School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, USA; 3: Leidos, San Diego, CA, USA

Publication date: February 1, 2020

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