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ARTICLE IN PRESS

Applied Ergonomics 39 (2008) 144–149
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Ergonomic effects of load carriage on energy cost of gradient walking
Daijiro Abea,, Satoshi Murakib, Akira Yasukouchib
a

b

Faculty of Human Sciences, University of East Asia, 2-1 Ichinomiya Gakuen-cho, Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi 751-8503, Japan
Department of Human Living System Design, Faculty of Design, Kyushu University,4-9-1 Shiobaru, Minami-ku, Fukuoka 815-8540, Japan
Received 1 March 2006; accepted 29 June 2007

Abstract
We examined the effects of load on the energy cost of walking (Cw), being defined as the ratio of the 2-min steady-state oxygen
consumption to the speed, and economical speed (ES) during level and gradient walking. Ten men walked on a treadmill at various
speeds with and without a load on their back at 0% and 75% gradients. Significantly lower Cw values were observed only when the load
was carried on the back during level walking at slower speeds. The ES was significantly decreased by less than 5% when the load was
carried on the back. Significant gradient differences were also observed in the ES in the load and no load conditions. These results would
be applicable to a wider range of occupational and leisure tasks.
r 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Optimal speed; Free-ride; Locomotion

1. Introduction
Recent studies revealed that the energy expenditure
during walking with load does not always increase linearly
as a function of the carrying weight (Abe et al., 2004;
Stuempfle et al., 2004). Charteris et al. (1989a, b) and
Maloiy et al. (1986) have proposed a ‘free-ride’ hypothesis
that the energy expenditure during walking with load
carried on the head does not necessarily increase in African
women if the load is less than 20% of their body mass.
Recently, a similar phenomenon to the free-ride was also
found in Nepalese porters (Bastien et al., 2005a, b).
In relation to such an energy-saving phenomenon during
walking with load, it was worth noting that the load was
always carried on the upper part of the body, such as on the
head (Bastien et al., 2005a; Charteris et al., 1989a, b; Maloiy
et al., 1986) and on the back (Abe et al., 2004; Stuempfle et
al., 2004). Another point in common in previous studies was
the fact that such a phenomenon was observed at slower
walking speeds only. Thus, Abe et al. (2004) pointed out that
a similar phenomenon to the free-ride could be found only
when the load was carried on the back at slower walking 
Corresponding author. Tel.: +81 832 57 5166; fax: +81 832 56 1485.

E-mail address: daijiro@toua-u.ac.jp (D. Abe).
0003-6870/$ - see front matter r 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.apergo.2007.06.001

speeds, and further suggested that an interaction between the
rotative torque functioning around the center of body mass
and an excessive burden on the lower leg muscles
comprehensively affected the energetics of walking (Fig. 1).
If a similar phenomenon to the free-ride can be found not
only during level walking but also during gradient walking,
then the practical benefit will be applicable to a wider range
of occupational and leisure tasks. Indeed, as recently
discussed by Bastien et al. (2005b), the argument with regard
to the energetics of gradient walking with load is still open.
We hereby hypothesized that a phenomenon similar to the
free-ride could be found not only during level walking but
also during gradient walking, because the possible explanation for a similar phenomenon to the free-ride proposed by
Abe et al. (2004) appeared to be independent of the gradient
of the terrain. The first purpose of this study was to examine
whether a similar phenomenon to the free-ride would be
found not only during level walking but also during gradient
walking.
It has been reported that there exists a specific walking
speed that can minimize the metabolic energy cost of
walking per unit distance (Cw: ml/kg/m) in each person
(Saibene and Minetti, 2003). The walking speed corresponding to the minimum energy cost per unit distance has
been called the economical speed (ES) or optimal speed

as far as we know. 90. 2004). each subject walked on the treadmill for 5-min with a freely chosen step frequency at each walking speed with and without load. / Applied Ergonomics 39 (2008) 144–149 145 gradient (Margaria. 1938). (D) rotation arc. (B) center of mass of load. Osaka) with and without load. (2003) indicated that the ES decreased as a function of positive gradient. 40. It was assumed that either the positive or negative work was no longer functional at more than 710% gradient. (E) excessive burden on the leg muscles. if a similar phenomenon to the free-ride appeared not only during level walking but also during gradient walking with load. respectively. however.1 years old. Minetti et al. S & ME. but was not decreased in another study (Bastien et al.. With reference to the ergonomic implications.973.1. the treadmill gradient was set at 0% (level). Methods 2. In all conditions. +5% (uphill) and 5% (downhill) due to a consideration of the practical application for daily activities in this study. the mechanical work done by the leg muscles consisted of both positive and negative muscular work up to a 15% gradient... it was assumed that the percentage decrease in the ES during level and gradient walking with load would not be great so much when compared to the ‘15%’ load of the subjects’ body mass. (1993).0 kg for body height and body mass. To become accustomed to the treadmill walking wearing a gas collection mask (AMA-102. 60.. However. In a previous study the energy cost of walking reached minimum at a 10% All exercise tests were performed on a motor-driven treadmill (Biomill BL-1000. Abe et al. Subjects Ten healthy male subjects participated in this study.9 cm and 60. Minato Medical Science Co. 2. 2000). it was also hypothesized that the ES obtained from each gradient would be slower in the load condition than in the no load condition. socks. As suggested by Minetti et al.871. The measurements were performed once a day on each subject. 1. 2005b). The average age of the subjects was 20. A schematic description of an interaction between the rotative torque functioning around the center of the body mass (BM) and the excessive burden on the leg muscles during level walking with load on the back. It was interesting to note that the ES was significantly decreased if the load was carried on the back on a flat terrain (Falola et al. (F) rotative torque functioning around the center of BM. Thus.. 110 and 120 m/min. After being informed of the purpose and possible risks of this study. considerations of ES seems to be significant for an establishment of workers’ safety and for a reduction of workers’ physical stress. (A) center of BM.ARTICLE IN PRESS D. (Falola et al. a written informed consent was obtained from each subject. 80. 2000). the Cw expressed per unit of vertical distance seemed to be non-linear in the 5–15% gradient zone. The load consisted of a sand bag on a . the second purpose of this study was to examine the effects of load carriage on the ES during level and gradient walking. 100. 70. Therefore. meaning that the employed walking speeds covered with those of the previous studies (Abe et al. An approval from the ethical review committee was also obtained for all procedures. Ltd.2. each subject performed at least two preliminary trials on the same treadmill at several speeds. (C) radius of rotation. shirts. but the load was not carried in those previous studies. The walking speeds were set at 30. no information has been available with respect to the alteration of the ES between level and gradient walking with load. The physical characteristics of those subjects were 169. The subjects wore underwear. 50. however. 2.573. Here. gym shorts and lightweight training shoes. Experimental set-up and measurements Fig. Tokyo).

but not during gradient walking (Fig. That is. condition was found for Cw values at 40. The relationship between walking speed and Cw can be approximated with a U-shaped quadratic equation (Abe et al.. 4.1.3.0 m/min for level. A differential equation of the original quadratic equation of each experimental condition could be described as follows: C 0w ðvÞ ¼ 2av þ b. Fig. Fig.0 kg. Effects of load and gradient on Cw This study was particularly characterized by the fact that a similar phenomenon to the free-ride could be observed during level walking at slower speeds only. Values are mean and standard deviation of error.373. Such a trend was also found at 70 m/min (p ¼ 0. Osaka). Effects of load and gradient on ES ES ¼ b=2a. 2 shows a quadratic relationship between the walking speed and Cw values obtained on each terrain. Zamparo et al. respectively. A post hoc test also revealed that significant differences were observed between load and no load conditions in each gradient. A post-hoc test revealed that the Cw values were significantly lower when the load was carried on the back only at slower walking speeds during level walking (Table 1.ARTICLE IN PRESS 146 D. 1). / Applied Ergonomics 39 (2008) 144–149 lightweight aluminum frame (Carry Bone BB-003. Abe et al. Results 4. Thus.7.05 probability level. m/min): C w ¼ V O2 =v.9 m/min for level. That is. Statistically significant results are summarized in Table 1. which was calibrated before each measurement with room air and reference gases of known concentrations. ml/BM+Load/m).8 and 84. Minato Medical Science Co. uphill and downhill walking. the ES could be observed as follows: 3. Fig.1. 2 and Table 1).174. Evernew. The ESs without load were 82. A non-significant interaction effect between load and gradient condition was found for Cw values at 30 m/min only. A single sample with an average final 2-min V O2 value at each speed was calculated to obtain the values of energy cost of walking per unit distance (Cw. (2) Fig. 78. The total weight of the load was set at 15% of each subject’s body mass. uphill and downhill walking.. The ES was then determined at the speed when C 0w (v) equals zero. 2004. (1) where a. ml/kg/ min) was measured with a gas analyzer (AE-300S. p40. our first hypothesis was rejected. 1992). Discussion 3. Breath-by-breath oxygen consumption (V O2 . 3). 2. 75. 50 and 60 m/min. The statistical significance was established at the 0. A significant interaction effect between load and gradient .372. Ltd.2. Significant gradient differences were also observed in the load and no load conditions (po0. 1996).05.05). A Ryan’s multiple comparison as a post-hoc test was applied to the appropriate data set to establish the significant mean differences (Hsu. The ESs with load were 78. respectively. b and c are the constants of each equation determined by the least squares with the actually observed Cw values at each walking speed. Statistical analysis A 2  3 repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) with two within-subject effects was used to test for the main effects of load (two levels) and gradient (three levels) condition on the dependent variables. The relationship between v and Cw can be mathematically described as the following equation: C w ðvÞ ¼ av2 þ bv þ c.772.7 and 83. but it was not significant. The sand bag was placed on the upper part of the frame (Fig. The net weight of the aluminum frame was 2. Non-significant interaction effect between load and gradient was observed in a multiple comparison of the ES (F ¼ 3. Effects of load carriage on Cw 3. The Cw was determined from the ratio of the steady-state V O2 to the walking speed (v.. Energy cost of walking (Cw) as a function of walking speed. 2).773.084).19.172. Tokyo) with an elastic belt located around the waist. it was apparent that there existed a specific walking speed corresponding to the minimum energy cost per unit distance.6. (3) 2.

The percent decrease in the ES during level and uphill walking was about 4% in a comparison between load and no load conditions. Significant gradient differences were also observed in both conditions. even though there was very little change in the function of the muscle fascicles at different gradients or speeds (Lichtwark and Wilson. (1986) reported that a nurse needed to push the wheelchair to go forward while braking against gravity with his or her hands and legs. In fact. 3). Saibene and Minetti.ARTICLE IN PRESS D. 2). 2006). a similar phenomenon to the free-ride could not be observed during gradient walking. As discussed by Bastien et al. Saibene. 2001). 1990. Judging from those considerations. (1) is the determining factor for the ES when calculating based on the net V O2 The constant ‘c’ reflects a y-intercept of the Cw–v relationship.2. 2005b). However. Brubaker et al. the fascicles and tendon of gastrocnemius medialis were fully stretched during walking even at slower walking speeds (Fukunaga et al. a similar observation to our finding can be found during pushing a wheelchair on the downhill gradient in nursing. The energy-saving mechanism during level walking has been mainly explained by the transfer efficiency between gravitational potential energy and kinetic energy (Cavagna et al. 1986). – means a non-significant difference between load and no load conditions. That is. the ES obtained in this study was dependent only on the constants ‘a’ and ‘b’ (Eqs. In contrast. indicating that the . suggesting that the Cw values obtained from downhill walking with load were expected to be less than those obtained from downhill walking without load. suggesting that the ergonomic benefit derived from the rotative torque functioning around the center of the body mass while carrying loads could be canceled by the increased excessive burden on the leg muscles during uphill walking. Comparisons of economical walking speed (ES). being consistent with a previous study (Falola et al. the positive work done by the leg muscles could be much more dominant than that during level walking (Minetti et al. Fig. The recoiled elastic energy was absolutely released during push-off. / Applied Ergonomics 39 (2008) 144–149 Table 1 Summary of statistically significant results Speed (m/min) 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 110 120 Cw Level Uphill Downhill * – – *# – – *# – – *# – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – * means a significant difference between load and no load conditions. but the biomechanical and physiological mechanisms behind the phenomenon would be different between uphill and downhill walking. meaning a subject standing on the treadmill.. For downhill walking. Little information has been available with respect to a similar phenomenon to the free-ride during gradient walking. and it was assumed that such a trend would be greater when the load was carried on the back due to the assisted torque derived from load carriage. These conflicting results could be dependent on how ES is calculated. (2) and (3)). 4. Abe et al. the constant ‘c’ in the Eq. despite an existence of the differences in the required external work. those previous studies could explain a potential mechanism of a fact that a similar phenomenon to the free-ride was observed only at slower walking speeds on a flat terrain cannot be explained by the utilization of the released elastic energy. 2003). It is assumed that such an imbalance between the positive and negative effect on the energetics of walking would be more apparent when the load was carried on the back. In fact. 1963. (2005b). the negative work done by the leg muscles could be more dominant during downhill walking than level walking (Minetti et al. all constants are obtained from least square regression analysis.. Fig. It was interesting to note that the results of the present study showed the ergonomic effects of load were not substantially identical to the energy expenditure during walking obtained from each gradient (Table 1. 1993). Values are mean and standard deviation. The energy requirement for the positive muscular work was about three-fold greater than that for the negative muscular work (Aura and Komi. # means a significant interaction effect between load and gradient. 3. the ES was significantly lower when the load was carried on the back (Fig. Effects of load carriage on ES In support of our second hypothesis.. the constant ‘c’ seemed to be independent of the ES. Significant differences between load and no load conditions were observed in each gradient. Here. 2000). 2002).. It is important to note that those previous studies revealed a similar degree of the 147 released elastic energy contributed to the energetics of walking regardless of the gradient. For the uphill walking.. while conflicting with another study (Bastien et al..

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