Running is challenging, but what happens when it starts to feel too easy to you?
You can choose to run on more difficult terrain, increase your distance, or add an incline on the treadmill.
Or, some people carry weights while running to add an extra challenge.
But is it ok to go running with weights? Does more harm than good?
Let’s have a look at the idea behind it and whether or not it can be done safely, so you know how to use weights to boost your workout without injuring yourself.
The Idea Behind Running With Weights
Running with weights is thought to be an easy way of adding an extra challenge to your run. Weights add more resistance, effectively increasing the pull of gravity and making you work harder while you run.
This should mean you burn more calories, build muscle, improve cardiovascular endurance, and get stronger when you run with weights. And when you take the weights off, it feels easier. You might even run a little faster!
Is It Ok to Go Running With Weights?
As you can tell, the idea of running with weights sounds great! But does it truly work?
The answer is yes… If you do it the right way. Doing it wrong can lead to injury, joint strain, and fatigue.
Before we get into running with weights, know that you can get similar benefits from doing standard strength training, instead of adding weight to your running. If possible, it’s advisable to split your strength workouts and running, as you’ll get the best benefits from both.
However, if you do want to run with weights, it’s okay to do so. But the key is doing it properly and safely.
Ankle and wrist weights should be avoided. A weight vest will be your best choice. We’ll go into more detail later on in the article!
What Are the Benefits of Running With Weights?
There definitely are benefits to running with weights if you do it right. Here are some of the benefits you can expect to achieve when using weights while running.
Build Strength & Endurance
It’s important to note that you won’t necessarily be able to run faster when you run with weights. However, you will build strength and increase your endurance.
So when you end up running without weight next time, you’ll most likely be able to run faster and longer.
More weight when you run means your muscles have to work harder to move. As they work harder, they use more muscle fibers to get the job done. Plus your heart has to work harder to get blood to the muscles.
This makes your muscles grow during recovery, and the cardiovascular system develops better endurance.
In turn, this leads to increased strength and stamina on future runs. When you run without the weight, your run feels easier not because you don’t have weight, but because your strength and endurance have improved.
Increased Weight Loss
Adding weight to your runs can help to increase calorie burn, which may help you to lose weight faster. Carrying more weight means you expend more energy in order to move, and more energy expended equals more calories burned.
It’s important to note that the increase in calorie burn can be as little as 3 to 4 percent, so it’s not a huge number. But it will help you reach your goals faster, if you do it safely and don’t get injured.
Don’t forget that if you’re truly dedicated to losing weight, you will need to consume fewer calories than you’re burning on a daily basis.
If you’re eating too much, no amount of running—with or without weights—will help you to lose weight. It needs to be a careful combination of exercise and diet!
Added Cardiovascular Benefits
The harder your muscles work during a workout, the more oxygen they need to keep going. This means your heart has to work harder to get blood to the muscles so they can use oxygen. At the same time, your lungs need to work harder to take in oxygen.
So while your muscles are growing, your cardiovascular system will also be getting stronger. You’ll be able to run for longer before becoming fatigued, which can improve your performance quite significantly.
Overall Improved Performance
An old study showed evidence that weighted running can improve overall performance.
The research, originally done in the 1980s, had the participants using a weighted vest all day for four weeks, and the results showed improved endurance, faster incline running, and even a lower lactate threshold than before.
Even though this study is old, the evidence is clear. Given the fact that runners train similarly today, the addition of a weighted vest can have noticeable positive consequences for performance.
What Is the Best Type of Weight to Use?
The best type of weight, by far, is a weighted vest. However, we’ll quickly run through the various types of weights you can find to explain why a weighted vest is the best option and why the others aren’t.
These are small bands, usually filled with sand, that you strap around your wrist or ankle. They may sound easy and convenient, but the truth is that they tend to place extra strain on the joint and also have a high chance of altering your running form.
Considering how little these kinds of weights contribute to calorie burn or muscle gain and how much higher the chance of changing your gait and causing injury, they’re not recommended for use when running.
Dumbbells have an even higher chance of causing injury, as they’re not attached to you. You need to actively grip them as you run, which causes your hands to fatigue, may cause cramping, and can place excessive stress on your wrists.
As you run, the weights drag down on your wrist. This forces the wrist into an unnatural position as they fatigue, putting stress on the joint, ligaments, and tendons and all the way up the arms. Definitely not recommended.
Weights In a Backpack
If you don’t have a weighted vest, placing weights in a backpack and wearing it on your back as you run may seem like a good alternative. While this is safer than ankle or wrist weights and more effective than dumbbells, there’s also a high potential for injury.
In this case, all the weight is placed on your back. This means you’re fighting against the weight in order to stay upright, which can change your running form. It may be helpful for certain situations, like military training, but it’s not a great choice for running.
The weights are also likely to shift around in the backpack, plus if the fabric of the pack splits and the weights tumble out, there’s a chance that your feet may get hurt.
If you’re serious about weighted running, this is it. A weighted vest is safe, effective, and versatile. Thanks to the way they’re designed, the weight is distributed equally on the front and back of your torso, reducing any uneven weight that could cause extra strain.
For best results, the weight of your vest should be between 5 and 10 percent of your body weight. It will lower the risk of injury and yet provide enough challenge for you to see results.
Take note that you can get vests designed specifically for women, so ladies don’t have to try to fit into a vest designed for a man’s torso.
What Are the Dangers?
There’s very little danger to running with a weighted vest, as long as you’re using the right amount of weight. If you exceed the recommended weight, you’ll be at risk of straining your back and shoulders, which could throw off your running form.
Also, if you load the weighted vest unevenly, it could place stress on certain parts of your body. However, as long as you stick to 5 to 10 percent of your body weight and load it evenly, there’s little chance of injury.
When using ankle weights, wrist weights, or dumbbells, problems can occur. As mentioned above, these place stress on the joints and have a high chance of disrupting your running form, both of which can lead to injury much more easily.
The stress on the ankle joints may lead to tendonitis in the knee and hip. In the same way, wrist weights can lead to tendonitis in the shoulders and elbow.
Weights on your wrists can also lead to overbalancing, which can have a profound effect on the form of your lower body when running, causing you to use the wrong muscles in order to stay upright and moving forward at a manageable pace without falling over.
Holding dumbbells can also affect the circulation in your arms and hands, which in turn can end up raising your blood pressure. Also, if you drop a dumbbell mid-run, your feet are in the direct line of fire!
How to Start Running With Weights
If you’re considering starting to run with weights, here’s our advice for doing it safely.
Follow these tips, and you’ll find it’s completely ok to go running with weights!
Choose the Right Weighted Vest
Make sure you choose a vest that can hold enough weight for 5 to 10 percent of your body weight. It should also be able to distribute that weight evenly on both sides and front and back of the vest.
It should fit snugly around you, without bouncing while you run. You may need to test this before buying, and also make sure you can tighten the straps comfortably.
Women should choose a weighted vest specifically designed for ladies. Wearing a man’s vest will make it difficult to tighten properly, which can have negative effects.
It’s always a good idea to start with lighter weight than you think you’ll need. If you find that it’s too easy, you can increase the weight slightly for your next workout.
Start by adding weight as close as you can to 5 percent of your body weight. If you struggle with your form when wearing the vest, then it’s too heavy.
Make sure you distribute the weights evenly across both sides of the vest, and if you remove weights, make sure you take one off each side to stay balanced.
Don’t be tempted to go too heavy. You may feel like you’re getting a heck of a workout, but the recovery will be longer and the chance of injury much higher.
Don’t Use It Every Workout
While it’s tempting to use it every time you run, it’s a good idea to ease yourself into it. Start by using it once a week. When you’re used to that, you can slowly increase it to two to three times a week, depending on what your goals are.
It’s also a good idea to start using a weighted vest in the off-season, rather than adding it to your routine halfway through a season.
Warm Up With Your Vest
Although we recommend not wearing a vest for every run, a study from 2015 discovered that warming up with a weighted vest can improve your performance during the workout.
Even if you’re running without your vest, it’s a good idea to do your 5 or 10-minute warm-up while wearing it. This should give you a performance boost and keep your body used to the feeling of wearing that vest.
Stop If You Feel Pain
If you feel any pain while wearing the vest, remove it. If you have pain while not wearing the vest, it’s a good idea to get it checked out by a doctor. However, if it only appears when wearing the vest, you may need to investigate a little.
Is the weight vest placing extra stress on a particular joint? Are you wearing supportive enough shoes? Is the weight of the vest too heavy?
If you only have pain when using the vest, it’s highly advisable to either lower the weight, find a differently-designed vest, or stop using it altogether for the present time.
Leave the Ankle Weights for Leg Day
We’ve spoken about how ankle weights are NOT a great choice to wear while running. But it’s important to note that they’re not entirely useless—they’re great to wear while you’re training legs in the gym.
The added weight can benefit things like standing hamstring curls, lying leg raises, walking lunges, and other leg or core exercises. Be careful, though, and stick to light ankle weights! Increased leg strength can add to your performance on the road or trail.