Knights in shining armor were the worst idea in military history

To determine how much energy knights in the Middle Ages burnt merely strolling around, British researchers recruited volunteers to dress up in mock-ups of real knightly armor and — in a hilarious twist — gallivant on treadmills. Sure enough, the study found that shielding the entire body was a heavy proposition. Watch the volunteers get medieval on sedentary lifestyles.

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Donning these replica suits — which were modeled on the armor of a 15th century London sheriff named William Martyn — forced the volunteers to expend approximately twice the amount of energy when engaging in cardiovascular activity.

After physiologist Graham Askew of the University of Leeds monitored the mail-bedecked volunteers trudging and jogging on treadmills, the researchers discovered that wearing the armor resulted in volunteers using 1.9 times more energy while running and 2.3 times more while walking.

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Despite the protection and surprising mobility afforded by the armor — the volunteers could do cartwheels while wearing it — the distribution of plated weight across the volunteers' arms, feet, and legs caused them to burn energy at a greater rate than someone carrying the same amount of weight solely on their back. Additionally, the chest plate restricted the running volunteers' torsos, which limited the volume of the volunteers' oxygen intake.

Professor Askew knows that not all armors are built the same and would like to conduct similar tests with other kinds of historical body armor. Sadly, Askew has already nixed a similar test using an armored warhorse running on a treadmill, as the potential for this experiment to devolve into a Yakety Sax-scored chase scene is too great.

We'd also like to point out that the University of Leeds' team did not factor in any possible +1 speed buffs cast by friendly warlocks, the physiological affects of the Tincture of Heartiness, or the outside chance that Sheriff Martyn was the proprietor of the fabled Loafers of Alacrity.

[Proceedings of the Royal Society B (article locked) via Science. Photo and video via Graham Askew of the University of Leeds.]

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DISCUSSION

Corpore Metal

This is not merely science, this will answer some historical and anthropological questions too. For example, now we can better guess what knights in full kit would have been capable of at battles. Much of this information wasn't written down by contemporaries at the time and historians are often forced to guess or, in this case, actually go and try it learn how it was done and thus better judge the primary sources we are given.

Watching this, it's pretty clear why most of the armed solders in ancient and medieval Africa, the Zulus for example, fought only with giant shields, swords or spears—maybe very rarely light chest plates and shin guards. It was just too damn hot for anything else. You'd die of heat stroke or dehydration before the enemy even had a chance to cut you to ribbons after the first charge.

The heavy armors of Eurasia (Knights, samurai, janissaries, etc.) really could only pull this off in the weather of colder climes.