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Appl Ergon. 2011 Mar;42(3):403-10. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2010.08.018. Epub 2010 Sep 25.

Effect of load mass on posture, heart rate and subjective responses of recreational female hikers to prolonged load carriage.

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Biomechanics Research Laboratory, University of Wollongong, Northfields Avenue, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia.


Load carriage has been associated with a risk of upper and lower limb musculoskeletal disorders with women suffering significantly higher injury rates than their male counterparts. Despite this injury risk, there are limited evidence-based guidelines for recreational hikers, particularly female recreational hikers, regarding safe backpack loads. The purpose of the present study was to determine how variations in load mass affected the heart rate, posture and subjective responses of women during prolonged walking to provide evidence for a load mass limit for female recreational hikers. Heart rate (HR), posture and ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) and discomfort were collected for 15 female experienced recreational hikers (22.3 ± 3.9 years) while they hiked for 8 km at a self-selected pace under four different load conditions (0%, 20%, 30% and 40% of body weight (BW)). Although HR was not significantly affected by load mass or walking distance, increasing load mass and distance significantly affected posture, RPE and discomfort of the upper body. Carrying a 20% BW load induced significant changes in trunk posture, RPE and reported shoulder discomfort compared to the unloaded condition. The 20% BW load also resulted in a mean RPE rating of 'fairly light', which increased to 'hard' when carrying a 40% BW load. As load carriage distance increased participants reported significantly increased shoulder, neck and upper back discomfort. Based on the changes to posture, self-reported exertion and discomfort when carrying loads of 20%, 30% and 40% BW over 8 km, it was concluded that a backpack load limit of 30% BW should be recommended for female recreational hikers during prolonged walking.

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