Whether you’re running to get in shape, lose weight, or train for a specific race, there are many different strategies to train efficiently.
One of these tools some runners swear by is running with a weight, but is it a good idea?
That’s where today’s post comes in handy.
Here’s the truth. While the extra weight will force your body to exert more energy, it does NOT inherently mean that you’ll build muscle nor improve your endurance.
The research is also inconclusive. Some studies have reported benefits for adding resistance to a run, but only if used correctly. Other studies showed that doing so can actually be quite harmful.
In this article, I’ll cover six of the most common methods of adding weight to a run in a safe way. I’ll delve into the advantages and disadvantages of each method, as well as the proper ways to add them to a running routine.
Let’s get started.
Does Running With Weights Build Muscle?
Here’s my best recommendation: if you’re thinking about adding weights to your runs in order to improve strength, I will urge you to perform regular strength training instead.
Whether it’s in the form of bodyweight training or lifting weights in the gym, strength training will improve your overall strength as well as reduce your injury risk.
Don’t get me wrong. Running with weight may strengthen some of your muscles, but, all in all, it’s not the most efficient way to build muscle.
Simple. You might not be putting enough stress on muscle fibers to cause it to break down and cause it to repair—the process by which you build muscle.
Think about your goal for carrying weights while running. Is it to improve your endurance? Increase your strength? Build muscle?
You can achieve, and some more, by doing more targeted endurance training, such as long runs and strength training on a regular basis.
Don’t know where how to get started? Then check my beginner guide to strength training.
Examples of effective strength exercises include:
Shoot for at least eight to ten reps each on each exercise, aiming to complete up to three sets. To make the most out of these exercises, hit the weight room at least two to three times per week.
Still insist on giving weighted runs a try? Then, at the very least, let’s explain what you’re getting yourself into.
When most runners think about adding resistance to their runs, ankle weights are the first thing that comes to mind.
However, with the added weight comes many downsides. In fact, ankle weights are the most dangerous method since the added resistance could compromise your running form.
How? By putting too much strain on your lower leg muscles, joints, and tendons.
The whole ankle area is an already sensitive area, and any extra pressure can quickly cause injury.
That’s not the whole story.
Strapping on ankle weights may change your running gait, biomechanics, and form, which, overuse, will set you up for injury.
For these reasons (and some more), avoid running with ankle weights. It’s not worth the risk.
Instead, focus on ways to improve your leg strength without injury, like doing hill reps or track sprints.
Still want to do it? Then, at the very least, choose a light pair to avoid meddling with your natural running gait.
A Less common strategy of running with weights is the hand/wrist
method. Using this method, if light enough, may increase your heart rate, amp up training intensity, and burn more calories.
But is it worth it over the long haul? Again, I don’t think so.
Carrying weights on your wrists may force you to round your shoulders as well as change your arm swing. The change in running economy will set you up for pain and injury in the wrists, shoulder, elbows, neck, and upper body.
Running with wrist weights may also disrupt your stride length, causing more trouble down the road.
Looking for a method that minimally alters your running biomechanics? Weighted vests are the way to go.
Also known as military-style training, weighted vest training has risen in popularity over the past few years.
And as far as I can tell, it might be the most effective and safest method of adding resistance to a run.
That said, weighted vested is not without fault. The added stress on the muscles and joints might make some runners prone to injury, especially those who are overweight or have a history of knee or back pain.
When choosing a weighted vest, make sure the load is no more than five to ten percent of your body weight. That means if you weigh 180 pounds, your vest should be 10 to 20 pounds.
Once you get stronger, increase the load.
This should reduce your injury risk while allowing you to reap gains in both speed and agility.
Remember to keep good technique—or else you’ll set yourself up for soreness, pain, even injury.
Running With Dumbbells
Dumbbells basically work the same way as the hand/wrist method, but since they’re held, you’re still risking something going wrong, especially when it comes to your running technique.
The dumbbells may alter your running biomechanics, causes muscular imbalances, add more stress to your body.
Improper use can cause muscle soreness, spinal pain, compromised stride, exaggerated arm swing, and so on and so forth.
The safest way is to simply walk and do some exercises with dumbbells. This should help improve endurance in your upper body. But again, you’re aren’t targeting your muscles the same way you’d when strength training at the gym.
Weight In Pack
Last but not least, you can run with a backpack with added weight.
This may make a lot of sense to runners with functional goals.
However, just like other methods, if it’s too heavy, this will put extra stress on your joints, such as your hips, knees, and ankle.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but this, yet d again, sets you up for injury.
Weights in a backpack aren’t as safe as other options due to the potential bouncing and shifting.
Still, want to give it a try? Then be careful not to load the bag with too much weight.
Safety Precautions Of Running With Weights
As you can see, each method has its pros and cons, and you have to be careful which one you choose.
But all in all, there are a few universal guidelines that can help you stay safe regardless of your chosen method.
Here are a few:
Build A Base
Before you start adding resistance to your runs, establish a cardio and strength base. Once you’re ready, slowly add a light amount of resistance, preferably using a well-fitting weighted vest.
Avoid adding too much weight
This goes without saying. The weight shouldn’t initially exceed 5 percent of your body weight. As you get stronger, gradually amp up the resistance to between 10 to 20 percent of your body weight.
Have back or neck problems?
Avoid running with weights as the added load can put stress on your joints and cause further damage.
Distribute the load evenly around your body. Otherwise, you risk injury from overcompensating or favoring one side over the other. This can also knock you off balance and cause a fall.
Watch your technique
Good form is king, especially when using weights, as it helps to ease the strain on your joints and muscles. Engage your core, stand tall, keep your back flat, and land on your forefoot. Here’s the full guide.
Choose a weighted vest
Of all methods, I’d recommend running with a weighted vest. It’s the best and safest option (that’s why I’ve already shared a full guide here). Weighted vests feature a series of tiny pockets where weighted plates or bars are inserted, allowing to adjust the resistance
Pay attention to your body
If you experience any muscle or joint pain during your weighted runs, reduce the weight or stop altogether and take a few days off until you feel better. If pain persists, consult your doctor.
Is running with a weight worth the risk? You tell me. Have you tried it before?
All in all, if you want to give running with weights a try, then at the very least, avoid using ankle weight and dumbbells. These are the least effective, and their cons outweigh any pros.
Please let me know in the comment section below.