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Physical Work Load Evaluation and Optimization

Dr. Dhurjati Majumdar

Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, DRDO
Lucknow Road, Delhi-110054
With the development of modern technology, the mechanization, automation
and work saving devices have eliminated the requirement much of human heavy
physical work. So, in modern armed forces many physically demanding tasks those
previously required muscle powers are now being handled by machines. Guns,
ammunitions and other supplies are being moved by heavy equipment. Instead of
marching into the battle todays soldier often rides in armoured personnel carrier or
helicopter. In spite of all of these there are many military tasks that demand high
level of physical stress. Like those of the past they must be prepared to fight any
where in the world in all types of terrain and whether conditions. In addition to
carrying weapons and rations, the soldiers must also carry many new pieces of
personnel equipment including electronic gadgets for communication and detection
of the enemy. Tanks, armoured personnel carriers, trucks and other heavy equipment
used in the battle field may break down and require repairs that may involve the
lifting and fitting heavy parts. With this, as in the modern warfare 24 h battle day
has become a reality. So, the soldiers should have stamina to fight for longer period
without proper rest and sleep. In this back ground, the need to give attention to the
physical load to the soldier with its identifications in various situations, its proper
quantification by work load evaluation and suggesting optimum load to carry out a
task without undue fatigue is of great importance today than even before. This
article will focus mainly on the various parameters to evaluate physical work load,
there measurements, limitations and applications in different work situations along
with the crucial approaches for optimization of work load based on the principles of
work physiology.
Evaluation of work load in relation to work capacity
Work capacity of an individual may be grossly categorized in 2-3 types. Firstly,
it is the physical work capacity of an individual by which he can perform a work for
longer duration or endurance. It depends on persons maximal aerobic power or his
maximal oxygen uptake capacity or VO 2Max.This varies greatly from person to person.
A workload that is easy for an individual may be exhausting for another. Suppose 2
men are to perform a particular task, such as carrying heavy load uphill that requires
oxygen consumption (energy expenditure) of about 1.5 litters/minute. One of the
individual has VO2Max of 5.0 litter/minute and the other has 2.0 litter/ minute. In the
first case, the individual is taxing 30% of his aerobic power. So, he can continue to
cover more than half of his energy expenditure from oxidation of fat. This saves his
reserve substrate in the form of glycogen for greater exigencies. The second man on
the other hand is taxing his aerobic power (only 2 litter/minute) which is closer to the
maximal and can carry on only for few minutes. During this time he is also
compelled to rely on carbohydrate source (glycogen) as source of metabolic fuel.
Physical work load: In view of the above, the expression of work load in terms of
absolute values i. e. liter oxygen uptake/ minute is meaningless, rather it should be

expressed in % of the persons maximal aerobic power. This means that the ratio
between load and power should be assessed individually, that is the persons
maximal oxygen uptake has to be determined and his rate of work has to be
Expression of workload for specific / local muscle groups: The same principle of
assessing may be applied to the muscle groups, which are engaged in performing a
particular work. This is because of the fact that only a certain percentage of the
maximal muscle strength can be used without developing muscular fatigue.
Aerobic power / aerobic capacity: It refers to the maximal volume of oxygen, which is
consumed per minute during progressive load exercise test at sea level. This also
refers to an individuals capability to diffuse oxygen across alveolar tissue, transport
it in the blood and utilize in the working tissues in order to perform maximum work.
Maximal oxygen intake is best expressed in milliliter per kilogram of body weight per
minute for weight bearing activities such as running (aerobic power). For non weight
bearing activities the results are best expressed in liters per minute (aerobic
It is perhaps the most studied component of fitness and readily
associated with many tasks and also important for health maintenance and body
weight control. It is relatively easy to measure with test batteries that range from
those which require little or no equipment to sophisticated laboratory measures. The
aerobic power as an important physical component has been given emphasis within
the military units around the world for a long time and is still considered very
important. The capacity to generate energy through the aerobic pathway is a
function of the various components of the oxygen transport system. It begins with
pulmonary ventilation and ends with oxidation of substrates in the mitochondria. The
rate-limiting component along this chain may vary depending upon the existing
conditions but the hearts pumping capacity or cardiac output is of great importance.
Measurement of aerobic power and performance
For measurement of aerobic power generally a progressive load exercise is
administered and the point at which oxygen uptake no longer increases despite
increases in exercise intensity is considered as the point for attainment of maximum
aerobic power of an individual. A common criterion of not more than 1.5 2.0
ml/kg/min per incremental increase in exercise intensity (such as a 2% treadmill
grade increase is used). The use of treadmill or bicycle ergometer is one of the
choice and equipment availability. The treadmill produces higher maximal oxygen
consumption values and minimizes the possibility of limiting local muscle fatigue
than cycle ergometer protocols. Perhaps most importantly it is a mode of exercise
more common to the military than is cycling. The cycle offers the advantage of being
safe and providing exact information concerning the load being applied but that
information is not essential in the determination of maximal oxygen uptake. Another
variation in procedure is the use of progressive loads, which are applied, in a
continuous steps or ramp scheme. The separate or interrupted procedure is of value
as it yields slightly higher values, is more comfortable for the subject, easier to gain
subject cooperation and minimizes complications from other factors, such as local
muscular fatigue.
Estimating aerobic power without administration of all out exercise.

The majority of current methods used to estimate or predict maximal oxygen

consumption are based on heart rate response to submaximal work load. It is well
established that heart rate increases in a relatively linear fashion with increasing
exercise intensity until the individuals maximum rate is reached. Since maximum
rate is closely related to age and oxygen uptake, the exercise intensity and heart rate
relationship is consistent so that the determination of submaximal heart rate can be
used to estimate by extrapolation the oxygen uptake that would occur at maximal
heart rate. A common alternative is the determination of PWC 170 or the exercise load
that is achieved at a heart rate of 170 beats per minute. There are many variations
of these two common procedures. Tests may be carried out on treadmill, cycles or
using graded step test. Cycle test is advantageous due to a greater ability to
establish and control the exercise intensity. Step tests by jumping on and off a stool
of standard height may be used where heart rate measured during submaximal
exercise is used in regression equations incorporating lean body mass and has been
shown to produce a good correlation with measured maximum oxygen uptake.
Aerobic requirements and physiological basis for optimisation of work load
in work situations.
Aerobic fitness is a function of 3 primary factors: genetic potential,
environment and health. Generally the current belief is that approximately 80% of
ones aerobic potential is genetically determined and the remaining 20% can be
modified by training.
The intensity and duration of the task can be used to determine its metabolic cost.
The % of maximum work capacity that is available to complete physical work will
depend upon work duration and intensity of the task. If it continues beyond an
indicated time (without recovery) then the amount of energy out put will decline as a
result of fatigue. If the effort (intensity) exceeds 60% of an individuals maximum
capability the time to recover from the task will exceed the time of doing it. It has
been shown by various workers that an individual could work at 50% of his VO 2Max for
up to 8 hours.
This would appear to be the upper limit for the average fit
individual. Therefore it would be inappropriate to actually expect any one top work at
50% of their VO2Max for 8 hours on a routine basis. So, it has been recommended by
various experts that the average energy expenditure rates for an 8 hour work day
should not exceed 35 to 50% of ones aerobic capacity in order to prevent excessive
fatigue, from which one could not recover overnight. If the rate of work is to be
sustained for a relatively long period of time (e.g. 2 h) then it would not be
unreasonable to expect individuals to be performing the task at no more than 60% of
their maximal oxygen consumption. If the length of task were 30 minutes then it
would be reasonable to expect individuals to work as high as 75% of their VO 2Max . To
apply these principles in consideration of the duration and intensity of the tasks to
successfully perform duties through 5 days of continuous close combat operations, a
VO2Max of 45 ml/kg/min would be the minimum necessity..
Concept of anaerobic capacity or lactate threshold
It is well known that the performance of aerobic type tasks, such as long-term
marches is not solely a function of aerobic power but also includes other physiological
factors that relate to the utilisation of energy substrates. This is considered to be
related to the ability of the exercising muscles to aerobically utilize lipids and

carbohydrates and conversely the ability to buffer the products of anaerobic

metabolic pathways of glycogen utilization which results in blood lactate
accumulation and H+ ion dissociation. Thus, the higher the capacity of the body to
use aerobic pathways, the higher will be the capacity to perform aerobic tasks before
they are limited or terminated by excess muscle tissue acidity or depletion of
carbohydrate reserves. The result of research in this area has led to the search for a
measure refered to as Anaerobic Threshold or Lactate Threshold. It is defined as
the point of exercise intensity where blood lactate begins to accumulate significantly
above resting levels. Thus, higher the aerobic capacity of an individual, higher the
intensity an individual can exercise without lactate accumulation; therefore the
higher the anaerobic threshold value. Individuals who have high capacity for aerobic
work not only have high maximal oxygen uptake but they also can work at higher
intensities (utilizing greater % of lipid substrates) before accumulating blood lactate
and muscle acidosis.
A number of procedures are available to identify anaerobic threshold. A
subject performs a series of progressively increasing submaximal exercise loads with
blood lactate being measured at each step. The work rate at which blood lactate
rises in a steeper way can be used as the threshold value. Other than this it can be
measured by observing steep rise in ventilation, carbon dioxide output also.
Application of anaerobic threshold to optimize the physical work
At the work intensity below the anaerobic threshold an individual can work
prolonged period without getting undue fatigue so it can be used for the optimization
of work intensity.
Assessment off physical work load in work situation
The physical work load may be assessed either by measurement of the
oxygen uptake during the actual work operation or by indirect estimation of the
oxygen uptake on the basis of the heart rate recorded during the performance of the
Measurement of oxygen consumption: Since the validity of using oxygen uptake as a
basis for measuring energy expenditure has been established, this indirect
calorimetry has been used to determine the energy cost of a great variety of human
activities. With the development of highly portable devices for collecting expired air
under field conditions and rapid methods of analyzing the oxygen and carbon dioxide
content of the air samples a large data base of the energy cost of physical work has
accumulated. In field studies the classical method is to collect the expired air in
Douglas bags carried on the subjects back. Other methods are available in which
the volume of the expired air is measured with flow meters and aliquot samples of
the expired air is collected in small bladders. The expired air is then analyzed for
oxygen and carbon dioxide using conventional gas analysis techniques. If the
accuracy is not too critical (10%), it may be sufficient to analyze only the oxygen
content by portable oxygen analyzer. It has been observed that the measured oxygen
uptake during work performance represents the energy expenditure only at the time
when the expired air sample is collected and may not be representative for the work
performed during the whole working day. Furthermore, it is a common experience
that the test subject tends to be affected by the investigation, causing the test
situation to be typical. In contrast to this the indirect assessment of the workload on

the basis of the continuously recorded heart rate reveals a general picture of the
overall activity level during the entire working day. Moreover, on the basis of timeactivity records for each subject, collected by an observer during the whole day, it is
possible to separate the different activities with respect to heart rate. Thus the
indirect assessment of workload based on the recorded work pulse may be preferable
in many work situations.
Indirect measurement by recording the heart rate during work: There is generally a
linear relation between oxygen uptake and heart rate. Therefore, heart rate under
certain standardized conditions may be used to estimate work load, if the workloadheart rate relationship has been established for the individual, if roughly the same
large muscle groups are engaged in the work in both cases, and if environmental
temperature, emotional stress, etc., are the same. The individuals circulatory
response to work engaging large muscle groups may be measured on a cycle
ergometer. Starting at low load such as 50 watts, the load is increased stepwise
every 6 minute, usually by 50 watts, until heart rate of about 150 beats per minute is
reached. On the basis of the resulting line representing the relationship between the
individuals work load and heart rate, it is possible to estimate the workload from the
heart rate recorded during a specific work situation in the field. Recording of heart
rate in the field is most conveniently accomplished with the aid of portable
miniaturized battery operated tape recorder or heart rate monitor, which can be
down loaded to computer to have a comprehensive view heart rate pattern.
So, as a whole to optimize any dynamic physical work load in any work
situation one has to consider the maximal aerobic capacity of the individual and also
energy cost of the activity concerned. Then based on intensity and duration of work
the optimum work intensity has to be decided for safe execution of the task without
undue fatigue. At the same time attention is also given not to waste useful manhours in this process. In static work this principle can be applied by measurement of
maximum strength of the muscle group concerned and strength required to execute
a particular task.