If you’re a hardcore runner who’s been training and racing for years, you might find yourself scratching your head at the relatively recent influx of people running in a weight vest.
Running is already difficult with just your own body weight, and purists of the sport often feel that if you want to make running harder, you should run faster or longer, not add resistance.
However, whether you credit the training regimens of the likes of military personnel or first responders like firemen, running in a weight vest has become an increasingly popular way to challenge the body and make running that much more intense.
But, is running in a weight vest safe? Will running in a weight vest help you get faster? Does it help you lose weight?
In this article, we will look at the benefits of running in a weight vest, the potential risks, and the best weight vests for runners.
We will discuss:
- What Is a Weight Vest for Running?
- Why Run In a Weight Vest?
- 6 Benefits of Running In a Weight Vest
- Contraindications and Risks of Running In a Weight Vest
- Does Running With a Weight Vest Increase Weight Loss?
- How Heavy Should a Weight Vest for Running Be?
- 5 Tips for Running In a Weight Vest
- Best Weight Vests for Runners
Let’s get started!
What Is a Weight Vest for Running?
A weighted vest, sometimes called a weight vest, is a garment that contains sand, iron filings, or iron weights that can be worn during exercise to increase resistance.
Some weight vests for running have removable weights so that you can modulate how much weight you’re adding to your body, whereas others are a set weight.
Most weight vests for runners weigh between 4-20 pounds (2-10 kg or so).
Why Run In a Weight Vest?
Some CrossFit athletes or runners wear weight vests while running to make the workout that much more intense.
Much like the old-school method of running with ankle weights, running in a weight vest increases the resistance your body has to work against, enabling you to build muscle and get stronger.
6 Benefits of Running In a Weight Vest
There are several potential benefits associated with running in a weight vest, including the following:
#1: Running In a Weight Vest Can Strengthen Your Muscles
Running a weight vest adds additional resistance or load to your body, so your muscles and connective tissues have to work harder.
In this way, wearing a weighted vest running can be seen as a form of strength training.
#2: Running In a Weight Vest Can Increase Bone Density
In accordance with Wolff’s Law, bones adapt relative to the stresses placed upon them.
Running in a weight vest increases the impact force when you land, so your bones respond by laying down a denser matrix of minerals.
#3: Running In a Weight Vest Can Increase Your Aerobic Capacity
If you’ve ever lost weight, you might be able to recall how running was more taxing when you were heavier.
Running in a weight vest is perceived by your body as running with a higher mass, so it requires your heart and lungs to work that much harder.
Over time, your cardiovascular system becomes stronger in response to the additional load. This, in turn, can increase your VO2 max, or aerobic capacity.
#4: Even Weight Distribution
Unlike running with ankle weights or dumbbells, a weighted vest distributes the weight evenly over your entire trunk, closer to your center of mass.
This reduces stress on your joints and alters your running stride, reducing the risk of injury.
#5: Running In a Weight Vest Burns More Calories
Almost anyone curious about running in a weighted vest asks, “Does running in a weighted vest burn more calories.”
In short, yes. Running in a weighted vest will increase your energy expenditure.
The more weight you carry, the more energy it takes to move your body from point A to point B. Therefore, whether you’re a heavier person, carrying a large pack, or wearing a weighted vest, it takes more effort to run, which equates to burning more calories.
#6: Running In a Weight Vest Can Help You Run Faster
Studies have found that wearing a weighted vest while running or sprinting can improve your race performance times and help you run faster.
For example, one study found that wearing a weighted vest equal to 6-19% of the subjects’ body mass for 3-7 weeks improved sprint times.
Another small study found that running in a weighted vest equal to 5-10% of the subjects’ body weight improved agility running time.
Contraindications and Risks of Running In a Weight Vest
Running in a weighted vest isn’t safe for everyone, or at least not initially.
If you are a beginner runner, it’s usually not a good idea to run in a weighted vest.
It takes several months for your body to get used to the stresses and impact of running using just your own body weight.
When you are running, your feet absorb forces equal to 2.5-3 times your bodyweight every single step. This impact stress travels up the kinetic chain to the bones, joints, muscles, and connective tissues in your legs.
These tissues need several months to fully adapt to the stress and strength accordingly.
Running in a weight vest adds additional weight to your body. This external load adds to your total body mass, so it gets worked into the 2.5-3 times your “body weight.”
In practical terms, this means that the relative weight of the vest is actually magnified when you run in terms of the additional stress it adds to your skeletal frame.
For example, if you weigh 180 pounds (82 kg), your body is usually subjected to 450-540 pounds of force per step.
If you add a 15-pound weighted vest, you’re not just adding 15 pounds of force, you’re adding the equivalent of up to 45 pounds, bringing your relative force up to 495-585 pounds.
This isn’t necessarily unworkable eventually, but running in a weight vest is contraindicated for beginners because it’s too much too soon for the body.
Give your tissues time to adapt. Once running is feeling relatively comfortable and easy—at least 4-6 months in, you can consider running in a weight vest.
Running in a weight vest is also contraindicated for runners who are injured.
As can be seen, a weighted vest increases the resistance and workload for your body, so if your tissues are already damaged, running in a weighted vest can be dangerous.
Moreover, wearing a weighted vest while running can alter your gait and biomechanics, so it can further exacerbate the strain on a weakened tissue and increase the risk of injury.
Finally, although not an absolute contraindication, if you’ve never done any kind of strength training or weight training, it’s not a good idea to jump right into running in a weight vest.
Start with some basic resistance training exercises, like weighted squats and deadlifts, to get your spine and core used to supporting your body under a load.
Does Running With a Weigh Vest Increase Weight Loss?
Because your body has to work against additional resistance, running in a weight vest burns more calories than running without one.
Therefore, running in a weight vest can accelerate your weight loss, provided you are running as far and fast as you would otherwise.
How Heavy Should a Weighted Vest for Running Be?
Although there aren’t definitive rules, the general recommendation is that a weighted vest should be no more than 10% of your body weight.
For example, if you are 180 pounds (82 kg), your weighted vest should be 18 pounds (8.2 kg) or less.
5 Tips for Running In a Weighted Vest
It sounds simple enough: slip on the weighted vest, buckle it, and get running.
However, running in a weight vest isn’t something you should jump right into, especially if you have been running much or have never run in a weighted vest.
Here are some tips to increase the safety of running in a weighted vest:
#1: Add Weight Gradually
If you buy one of the weighted vests for running that allows you to add or remove weight, start with simply wearing the vest without any weight to get used to the overall feel.
For your next run, you can add a couple of pounds of weight, spread evenly throughout the vest.
Gradually add more weight each time you wear the weighted vest running, as long as you are not experiencing any discomfort.
#2: Wear the Vest Occasionally
There are many benefits of running in the latest vest, and it can certainly make you a stronger and faster runner.
However, much like other forms of speed training with resistance like running with a parachute, running in deep sand, or running pulling a weighted sled, running in a weighted vest isn’t the type of training you probably want to do every day.
Due to the added resistance, you will most likely run at a slower pace while wearing a weighted vest.
In this way, you “run slower to get faster,” meaning that if you get used to running in the weighted vest—and your muscles and cardiovascular system adapt and get stronger—when you remove the vest and run without it, running will feel easier so you’ll be able to run faster.
However, you don’t want to wear a weighted vest running every day. This is because you have to plod along at a slower pace when you wear it because of the load and your neuromuscular system will lose its “sharpness” that normally gives you a faster cadence and running speed.
To balance the pros and cons of running in a weighted vest, wear a weighted vest running no more than a few times per week, interspersed with runs without the vest.
#3: Build Up Slowly
If you get a weighted vest for running that can’t be adjusted in terms of the weight, you’ll have to take a different approach to getting used to running in the vest.
When you first start wearing the weighted vest running, instead of wearing the vest vest for the entirety of your usual 45-minute run, begin with just 5-10 minutes.
Then, remove the vest and finish your run.
Continue adding 5-10 minutes of wear time each time you run wearing the weighted vest.
#4: Be Careful On Descents
Any time you’re running downhill, your bones and joints are subjected to even more pounding, and wearing a weighted vest only magnifies this further.
Try to limit downhills when running in a weight vest, especially at first.
#5: Get a Snug Fit
When you are running in a weight vest, you want the vest to be as snug as possible. It should feel like it is part of your body rather than the external weight that it is.
Tighten the straps so that the vest does not rotate or bounce. You should be able to slip your fingers under it and breathe comfortably, though.
Best Weighted Vests for Runners
RUNMax 12lbs-140lbs Adjustable Weighted Vest
Running in a weight vest can be a good way to add some resistance training to your workout routine and help you get stronger and faster.
However, it’s important to remember that there are risks associated with wearing a weighted vest while running, and it’s not ideal for every runner. Consider your goals and needs.
If you do decide to run with a weighted vest, build up gradually and only wear one a couple of times per week at most.
For other ideas on how to run with resistance, check out our Speed Training With Resistance guide.