If you’ve been running for a little bit, or if you want to make your running a bit more exciting, maybe you’ve thought about running with weights. The logic is self-explanatory: work out now with a heavier weight load, and enjoy the benefits later on when running without weights.
In this article, we’ll cover the advantages (and disadvantages!) of running weights, as well as different options if you are looking to choose the weight that is right for you.
At the end of this article, you’ll have a good idea of whether running weights—and which type—is right for you!
Running with weights is a great way to bring about additional fitness benefits. You’re varying up your normal workout routine by increasing the workload, and your muscles will have to work harder. Result: you’ll increase the amount of calories burned during a specific workout.
Additionally, a study published by the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that running with weights increases “anaerobic recruitment of fast-twitch muscle fibers in the legs.”
You’ll also get a little bit of a strength workout, especially if you use hand or wrist weights, because you’ll be working your upper body (hand or wrist), core (vest), or lower body (ankles).
You need to make sure that you pick appropriately sized weights so that you don’t injure yourself. The old cliche of “Go hard or go home” does not ring true here. In fact, you’ll see benefits even with hand weights of as little as 1 pound and vests that are 5 percent of your body weight.
Some weighted run options may be better for some than others. You’ll want to make sure that whatever option you choose is not going to change your running form or lead to injury. We’ll discuss particular risks and disadvantages of each type as we go through them.
Types of Running Weights
Ankle weights will increase your heart rate by 3 to 5 beats per minute, and calories burned by 5 to 10 percent, which is smaller than other weighted running options. With any increased weight, however, there’s a trade-off: a slower pace. One study found that ankle weights could cause you to run slow enough that the decrease in pace might be enough to cancel out other fitness gains.
Additionally, because ankle weights could impact your running form and stride by placing a strain on the lower leg joints, muscles, and tendons, you’re more likely to experience injury from ankle weights in comparison to other weights.
Ankles are already a sensitive area of your body, and the added weight can put a lot of undue pressure on them, making them very dangerous. They are only truly safe during resistance training.
If you run with 1-3 pound weights, you’ll increase your heart rate by 5 to 10 beats per minute in comparison to your runs without weights. In addition, you’ll also burn 5 to 15 percent more calories.
Experts note that hand/wrist weights are beneficial because they promote increased arm muscle activity. Another alternative that could be safer for some is swinging your arms more—not side-to-side though—which may also increase running speed.
While you might strengthen your upper body muscles, be sure that carrying weights does not cause you to slump or round your shoulders, something that runners already struggle with. Running with hand or wrist weights might accentuate these form issues if you have them already.
Additionally, hand/wrist weights can disrupt stride length, so this may not be the best choice for you as a runner.
If you’re looking for an option that minimally interferes with your running mechanics, weight vests are the best option. You’ll experience the greatest fitness gains when you wear the vest and complete incline activities like stair climbs or hill sprints.
It’s also a great way to boost bone mass and reduce your risk of fractures. Plus, the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that warming up with a weighted vest can improve your performance during your actual workout.
Make sure that you get the right size vest, though. Experts suggest that you should wear a weight vest that is 5 to 10 percent of your body weight. That means if you weigh 150 pounds, your vest should be 7.5 to 15 pounds.
Newcomers to weighted running might want to start with a vest on the lower end of the range, while more experienced and stronger runners might prefer a vest that is on the higher end of the range. But, obviously, pick the option that is going to be best for you.
Disadvantages unique to weighted vests include that you’ll have extra stress on your joints and core, which might be too much for people who are already overweight, or have exacerbated knee or back pain. Finally, if the vest doesn’t fit well, you might be more likely to fall.
You need to make sure that you can keep proper running form when using a fitness vest. Otherwise, you are going to strain or potentially experience stress fractures due to poor posture.
Additionally, you’ll want a strong core and sufficient cardio in order to wear a vest because it will put a lot of stress on your cardio and core muscles. A vest can also impact your nervous system, causing your body to react differently, which may affect your balance, power, and energy.
Anything that changes up your running is going to make you a better runner, so running with weights every so often could be a great option. Your legs will have to work harder, making you run more efficiently and thus be able to run harder for longer.
Additionally, you’ll increase your muscle strength, cardio capacity, and the number of calories you burn. If you’re looking to lose weight faster, or want more of a workout in the same amount of time, you might want to try running with weights.
If you’re a beginner, you might want to wait, though, because weighted running requires excellent form and technique. It’s not a tool for sudden weight loss. Instead, weights give you the opportunity to improve already good running.
Don’t forget to slowly ease into using weights when running, increase your rest times when you use weights, and be prepared to shed the weight and finish your run without the weights if your form or technique is changing. Good luck!