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Running athletes should always strive towards improvement. For this reason, we employ different methods and techniques just to elevate our game to whole new levels. One of these is running with weights. However, there is an ongoing argument about whether this endeavor is beneficial or not.
Running with weights increases calorie expenditure, improves bone density, and is a time-efficient way to increase training intensity. But it can lead to overuse injuries and mess up running form. That said, running with weights should only be used carefully as a part of a properly programmed training regimen.
In this article, we will take a look at the pros and cons of running with weights. We’ll also look at how you can benefit from running with weights and find out if this training method is worth it or if you are better off dropping the weights.
Different Ways to Run With Weights
There are many methods of running with weights. They vary based on where they are worn but all accomplish the same goal of adding weight to increase the difficulty of a run. The main ones that runners use intentionally are weighted vests, ankle weights, wrist weights, dumbells, and backpacks.
Other times, runners unconsciously run with added weights through their running vests, waist vests, and handheld water bottles.
As the name suggests, weighted vests are attached to the back and torso. These offer a proportional distribution of weight in the upper body. The weights range from 5 to 45 pounds, most of which can be adjusted depending on your preference.
Ankle weights are worn in the ankle and calf making your strides harder. However, they are not preferred as they are more likely to mess up your running technique compared to the other types of weights.
Wrist weights function similarly to normal dumbbells without having to grip the weights as they are strapped into your wrist.
Lastly, are backpack weights. Many people think of this type of training as a simulation of military-style exercises. Backpack weights tend to displace your center of gravity backward which, in turn, forces you to lean forward.
When it comes to which type of weight is more beneficial, a 2020 study examined the physiological effects of different types of weight carriage systems for running and found no significant difference among the different types of carriage systems below 1kg. That said, runners can pick their weight according to their preference.
Pros of Running with Weights
Increases Calorie Expenditure
As a general rule, the harder we work, the more calories we burn. When we use artificial weights during our run, we purposely increase the difficulty of our exercises, therefore, increasing our calorie expenditure.
Increases Training Intensity
One of the greatest benefits of running with weights is that it increases intensity. In a research conducted by Puthoff, they found that using a weighted vest increases oxygen consumption by 10-20%, therefore, increasing the overall intensity of the workout.
Thus, training with weights can be a time-efficient way to squeeze in intense training during busy days.
Improve Bone Density
Apart from improving heart health and burning calories faster, exercise with weighted vests is known to improve bone density.
This was studied by Klentrou as she employed progressive loading in postmenopausal women through vests and exercise. The results showed great improvements in bone and isokinetic strength, which supports that weighted vests are effective in enhancing bone density.
Subsequently, such positive changes in the body are also helpful in combatting the symptoms of osteoporosis and other bone-related deteriorating conditions.
Running with weights provides an overload to the key muscles involved in running such as the calves, glutes, and quads. It also improves your core stability which makes you stronger overall.
However, running with weights does not substitute strength training for runners. If you want to find out why, I made an article that explains why running with weights won’t build muscles.
Cons of Running with Weights
Increases Risk of Injury
Perhaps the greatest disadvantage of running with weights is an increased risk of injury. Running without weights is already enough to cause overuse injuries. Adding weights to your runs can speed up overuse injuries unnecessarily.
Mess up Your Running Form
When you run with weights, your body may be forced to have compensatory movements in order to adapt to the added weight which may mess up your running form.
Decrease your Training Time
Since you’re increasing the difficulty of your runs and burning extra calories when running with weights, your training time will naturally decrease. If your goal is to increase your endurance, running with weights might not be the best way to train.
How to Benefit From Running With Weights
Despite the cons, using running weights in your training can still have benefits when used the right way. Here are some ways to benefit from running with weights.
Train with weights when time-constrained – You won’t be available to train for multiple hours every day. Thus, you can use weights to increase your training intensity on days when you are short on time.
Only use it as a supplementary exercise – Don’t build up your weekly mileage while running with weights. Instead, use it as a “finisher” or a supplement to your exercise.
Don’t overdo it – If you really want to employ weighted running in your program, only do it once a week at most.
Use it on uphills – One great way of strengthening your glutes is to run with weights uphill. Having strong glutes is important for your running form and injury prevention.
Is Running With Weights Worth It?
If you’re training for an endurance event, running with weights is not worth it as it can lead to injuries. Plus, you’d be better off adding mileage to your training program while doing a runner-specific strength program to increase your overall strength and reduce the risk of injuries.
However, running with weights can benefit runners who don’t have enough time to train as it increases the overall intensity. It’s also helpful in burning calories as it increases caloric expenditure per minute.
Running with weights has some benefits, but it does not mean that it is better than normal running paired together with some strength training. If you decide to go for this type of exercise, start with light weights and don’t overdo it.