Impact of Body Armor on Physical Work Performance


Name: Richard Ricciardi

Rank: COL, USA

Organization: The Henry Jackson Foundation

Performance Site: The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

Year Published: 2005

Abstract Status: Final


Introduction: Body armor is widely used by military, police, security and first responder personnel for protection against fragmentation, handgun, and rifle projectile injuries. Purpose: The purpose of this study is to identify the physiologic impact and health risks associated with wearing body armor and to develop strategies to prevent or mitigate negative health effects. Methods: A within-subject, repeated-measures design was used. Thirty-four participants volunteered to undergo two experimental conditions while wearing or not wearing body armor. Subjects walked on a treadmill for 30 minutes at a slow and moderate pace and also completed a physical performance battery. Results: Subjects wearing body armor, compared to not wearing it, had significantly greater increases in oxygen uptake at a slow and moderate pace; blood lactate at a moderate pace; heart rate at slow and moderate pace; and rating of perceived physical exertion at slow and moderate pace. Body armor significantly affected physical tasks: Under the body armor condition, men performed 61% fewer pull-ups, and body armor reduced women's hang time by 63%; stair stepping in men and women decreased by 16%. When examining sex differences, female and male subjects with body armor, as compared to those without body armor, had no significant differences in percent increase in VO2, heart rate, or respiratory rate at slow or moderate pace while walking and wearing body armor. However, women, as compared to men, had a significantly increased difference in the rating of perceived physical exertion between wearing and not wearing body armor at slow pace. Body fat, heart rate, and blood lactate were the best predictors of treadmill test completion while wearing body armor. Conclusions: Wearing body armor imposes a sizeable impact on physical performance and increases heath risks. The potential for physical exhaustion is high, and performance of physical tasks is markedly impaired when wearing body armor.


Final report is available on NTRL: