Full metal stress test

I’ve been reading the Society of Ancients’ Yahoo group list serv lately (AncMed) and in between the debates about hypastists and chariotry and medieval Tibetan cavalry, there are always interesting links to new articles.

Here’s a recent one: researchers put some dudes in full plate armor on a treadmill and gave them a stress test!  And there is also a link to the journal article for you scholars (only the abstract is free though).

(Image from the linked BBC article)

Shocking findings:

“They found that the subjects used high levels of energy, bore immense weight on their legs and suffered from restricted breathing.”

I immediately assumed that the restricted breathing could be partly a matter of poorly fitted armor; you can’t just buy it off the rack you know.  But the volunteers for the study are re-enactors and it sounds they may have brought their own replica armor.  Perhaps most surprising to me was that although modern soldiers carry a similar total weight in thier kits, the armor was more fatiguing than a backpack because of the weight on the lower legs.  I would have guessed that being distributed around the whole body would make plate armor less fatiguing than a similar-weight pack.

But just as Roman gladiators training with double-weight weapons and shields, another Ancmed member says, at least the knights of Malta (and maybe other knights) trained with double-weight armor!  I’ve certainly read about knights being trained to scale walls and suchlike in full armor, so it could be that the knights of old (or at least the serious warriors, if not every knight) had amazing stamina and strength by modern standards.  I would think that being in the sun for any length of time in full amror would also be exhausting.  I can undetstand why the conquistadores abandoned their plate armor in Mexico, even if it was impervious to native stine-tipped weapons.

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Published in: on July 21, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I think knights and others of their age were very fit. After all they had no cars. Being very fit (not necessarly imensly strong) let them car heavy burden for a long time. But Full plate really wasn’t worn for long periods without the wearer riding a horse. Roman and viking armor did not include much leg armor. so i think it would be easier to bear. Also I always read that mail feels heavier on the shoulders then the rest of the body. That might be another reason Romans farored it. It was easier to march in

  2. Re: “… I would have guessed that being distributed around the whole body would make plate armor less fatiguing than a similar-weight pack …”

    I think the issue here is not the weight, but how the body is forced to deal with it. For example, carrying a 30kg backpack on your back is much less fatiguing than kicking that same 30kg backpack along the ground. The former is assisted by the frame of your skeletal structure, whereas the latter requires a pushing motion with your thighs.

    In the case of armor, the weight on your legs requires pushing forward with your thighs to force your feet to swing. That is an incredibly exhausting motion (like slogging through mud). It may seem like a minor weight on your legs, but it quickly drains your stamina over time.

  3. I can certainly relate to the lower-leg stress aspect of things. Even something as seemingly innocuous as which boots you picked out would make a huge difference for me as a modern soldier on missions. When they rolled out new helmets that were only a pound or two lighter, it was AMAZING how difference it felt. Really, unless the weight is on the core, you notice it so much more, even little changes.


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