European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 119, Issue 2, pp 441–453 | Cite as

Ventilatory responses in males and females during graded exercise with and without thoracic load carriage

  • Devin B. PhillipsEmail author
  • Cameron M. Ehnes
  • Michael K. Stickland
  • Stewart R. Petersen
Original Article


Purpose and methods

To compare the effects of thoracic load carriage on the ventilatory and perceptual responses to graded exercise, 14 pairs of height-matched, physically active males and females completed randomly ordered modified Balke treadmill exercise tests with and without a correctly sized and fitted 20.4 kg backpack and work clothing. Subjects walked at 1.56 m.s− 1 while grade was increased by 2% every 2 min until exhaustion. Ventilatory responses were measured with open circuit spirometry and perceptual responses were evaluated using the modified Borg scale. Inspiratory capacity maneuvers were performed to calculate operating lung volumes.


Despite height matching, males had significantly greater lung volumes and peak oxygen uptake (\(\dot {V}\)O2peak). Peak \(\dot {V}\)O2 and ventilation (\(\dot {V}\)E) were lower (p < 0.05) for all subjects under load. Throughout exercise, the ventilatory equivalents for \(\dot {V}\)O2 and carbon dioxide production were significantly higher in females, independent of condition. At similar relative submaximal intensities (%\(\dot {V}\)O2peak), there was no difference in \(\dot {V}\)E between conditions in either group, however, all subjects adopted a rapid and shallow breathing pattern under load with decreased tidal volume secondary to lower end-inspiratory lung volume. The relative changes in breathing pattern and operating lung volume between unloaded and loaded conditions were similar between males and females. Females reported significantly higher dyspnea ratings for a given \(\dot {V}\)E compared to males; however, the relationship between dyspnea and \(\dot {V}\)E was unaffected by load carriage.


The relative response patterns for ventilatory and perceptual responses to graded exercise with thoracic loading were similar in males and females.


Thoracic load carriage Occupational physiology Sex differences Ventilation Operating lung volume Oxygen uptake 



Analysis of variance


Breathing frequency


End-expiratory lung volume


End-inspiratory lung volume


Forced expired volume in 1 s


Forced vital capacity


Inspiratory capacity


Metabolic equivalent


Partial pressure of arterial carbon dioxide


Peak expiratory flow rate


Partial pressure of end-tidal carbon dioxide


Respiratory exchange ratio

\(\dot {V}\)CO2

Carbon dioxide production

\(\dot {V}\)E

Minute ventilation

\(\dot {V}\)O2

Oxygen consumption


Tidal volume



Technical assistance from Bradley Welch is acknowledged.

Author contributions

DBP, MKS and SRP conceived and designed the experiment. DBP, CME and SRP conducted experiments. DBP, CME, MKS and SRP analyzed and interpreted data. DBP and SRP wrote the manuscript. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Devin B. Phillips
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Cameron M. Ehnes
    • 1
  • Michael K. Stickland
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Stewart R. Petersen
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and RecreationUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Division of Pulmonary Medicine, Department of MedicineUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  3. 3.G. F. MacDonald Centre for Lung HealthCovenant HealthEdmontonCanada

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