Does load position affect gait and subjective responses of females during load carriage?
Recreational hikers carry heavy loads while often walking long distances over uneven terrain. Previous studies have suggested that not only the load mass but also the position of the load may influence load carriage. The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of vertical load position on gait and subjective responses of female recreational hikers. Fifteen experienced female hikers walked for 2 km over a simulated hiking trail carrying 30% BW in three vertical load positions (high, medium and low). Lower limb and trunk kinematic, electromyography (EMG) and ground reaction force (GRF) data were collected together with heart rate (HR), ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) and discomfort measures. Although HR, RPE and discomfort measures were not able to discern statistical differences between load positions, the high load position was the most preferred by participants. The high load position also resulted in a more upright posture (p < 0.001), decreased gastrocnemius integrated EMG compared to the medium (p 1/4 0.005) and low load positions (p 1/4 0.02) and a higher first peak deceleration vertical GRF compared to the low load position (p 1/4 0.011). However, the absolute differences were small and unlikely to be functionally relevant in load carriage studies. Based on the findings of this study, a high, medium or low load position cannot be preferentially recommended for healthy, experienced, female hikers carrying 30% BW.