How strong can a man be?

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How strong can a man be?

Postby meteorite » Sun Aug 07, 2011 9:11 pm

Discover Magazine left Walt Disney some time ago and has come to rest at Kalmbach Publishing, a midwestern outfit of quite venerable age expert in catering to a specialist readership. (I first met them when they were putting out Ships and the Sea; I ran out of newsstand sources but for all I know they may be publishing it yet). Anyway, it is in a transitional mode at the moment and trying to reinvent itself to satisfy an apparently loyal readership.

Among other things it now offers are a weekly newsletter calling attention to the current issue and blogs by some of its contributors, many of which are quite fascinating. Should anyone ask my opinion, I would offer that Discover is one of the very few magazines I still find it worthwhile to subscribe to, and I am quite impressed with their bloggers.

Take, for example, this post by Valerie Ross in Where we came from, where we're going to. It is a sidelight on the life of a knight in the middle of the Medieval period, when the first Crusaders were harassing Muslims in the Middle East. What might it have taken to fight in that armour in desert hat? Someone set out to find out...

Medieval knighthood was physically grueling work: Jousting with massive lances. Charging into battle. Jogging on a treadmill in a full suit of armor. You know how it is.

It’s no surprise that beneath their shining armor, knights shimmered with sweat. Running around in up to 110 pounds of armor, or even advancing at a stately walk, would take a whole lot of effort. But, a team of scientists wondered, just how exhausting was it?

Since the researchers had missed their chance to track exertion on the jousting pitch by several hundred years, they recruited four modern volunteers, historical re-enactors from the Royal Armories in London. These guys had ample experience wearing armor, making them better proxies for knightly exertion than volunteers who wouldn’t know a culet from a cuirass. Each man donned a replica 15th-century suit of armor and hopped on a treadmill. As the volunteers walked and ran, the researchers kept tabs on their heart rate, their respiration rate, how much oxygen they used, and how long their strides were.

Sure enough, the researchers found, armor was exhausting. The men used 2.3 times as much energy to walk while wearing the armor than without it, and 1.9 times as much to run. Being outfitted for battle turned out to be even more tiring than hauling around a backpack of the same weight would’ve been. As it turns out, covering your legs with enormous, heavy metal plates makes moving around a lot harder.

What we’re really wondering is, how many extra lamb joints (or flagons of ale) would you have to consume per day to haul this carapace around? With accurate counts of energy spent wearing armor, one could perhaps gain insight into medieval knights’ calorie counts.

>>> To me, it sounds as if despite their short stature (see armour in your local museum) and light weight, these were not guys you would want to pick a fight with in your local pub. It would be fascinating to see how they compared in strength and endurance with our contemporary open-wheel racing drivers, ballet dancers, or football linebackers. We have some dudes around now who can meet some pretty massive pysical challenges. But could we live up to our ancestors? Maybe so, maybe no, but I reckon it would be a pretty close thing either way.
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