Many people consider running with weights to be the next step in their running program, once they’ve mastered some distance running or are looking to take their training to next level.
Lets get one thing straight right off the bat:
Running with ankle weights or wrist weights is not a good idea.
We’ll get into the whys in a minute.
Running with a weighted vest, however, can be beneficial to your fitness – as we’ll get into.
It’s important to know that most professional runners never run with weights since there are risks involved. It is not an ‘initiation right’ for runners in any way, but weighted vests are increasingly popular and can help you level up your training if used correctly.
This article will explore the benefits and risks of running with weights – include ankle weights, wrist weights, and a weighted vest – and provide advice on how to use those weights properly to make sure you are improving your strength and not putting your body at risk.
Why Run with Weights?
We’ve interviewed health and running professionals who have weighed in on running with weights – how it has affected them and their clients through many years of experience.
Chanha Hwang, PT, DPT, CHC and founder and owner of Fatherly Health and Wellness LLC, offers up his advice,
“The biggest benefits of running with weights come from the improvement in cardiovascular health, which forces the heart to pump more blood due to increased demands of the workout.”
These increased demands can also benefit runners in these ways:
- Increase endurance and speed: you won’t be able to run faster with the weighted vest, but you’ll build up strength and stamina while wearing it, which will eventually boost these areas.
- Weight loss: many runners want to speed up their weight loss process by running with weights – just remember that the extra weight can help you burn more calories, but you’ll still need to eat plenty of vegetables, lean protein, and maintain a calorie deficit.
- Faster workouts: For the busy moms, career professionals or those who just don’t have time for a long workout, you’re looking to get the most results in the shortest amount of time.
- Adding strength gains: Aside from the benefits that extra strength adds to runners’ stamina and endurance, strength gains also limit your risk of injury in the long run – as long you don’t get injured while running with the weights, you’ll have extra benefits long term.
- Bigger challenges: While you’re running with weights, your respiration levels are higher – this increases your lung capacity when you live in a flat area and don’t have the opportunity to do extra hill training on your cross-training days.
Remember that wearing a weighted vest while walking or running increases the load on your muscles and connective tissues. That weight, if carried correctly, adds an extra stressor to the body, which spurs a change that your body can only achieve when it’s under new stress.
Is it Safe to Run with Weights?
Dr. Ashley Lee, a podiatrist at Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists, contributes her advice on running with ankle weights based on patients from her clinic.
“…You just slip them [ankle weights] on and go about your regular routine, but it’s not always that simple. “They can be beneficial for strength training, but there are some risks.
Although it is important to get adequate exercise for your feet and ankles, it is important to be aware of proper exercise techniques before jumping right into a new workout routine.”
- Related: 6 Best Men’s Running Tights
Dangers of Running with Ankle Weights
Dr. Lee goes on to point out some of the risks involved while running with weights.
“It’s not a good idea to use ankle weights while walking, running, or any other aerobic activity, because they place excessive stress on the joints, which can lead to swelling of the joint, problems with tendons or ligaments surrounding the joint, and can lead to unusual strains on other parts of the body such as your hips or lower back.
However, wearable ankle weights are helpful for exercises that target the leg and hip muscles, such as leg lifts or weighted lunges. Adding ankle weights to your strength training routine can be beneficial, because they increase the intensity of an exercise, thereby increasing calories burned during a shorter period of time.
Still, there are risks to running with ankle weights, so consider these before beginning a workout with them. If people use ankle weights and they’re not familiar with the types of movements they should be doing, it can cause muscle and joint sprains. It’s best to start with low-level activities before moving onto high-impact activities.
Wearing ankle weights while running is not recommended by most health care providers.
If you are looking to change your walking or running routine or get ‘more bang for your buck,’ instead of ankle weights, try walking or running on an incline or speed training (hill running or HIIT workouts, for example).
While running with weights can build strength, it can lead to overuse injuries from the repetitive motion and heavy load.
If you want to run with weights, it’s best to leave off ankle weights and hand weights and opt for a running vest instead.
On top of the risks mentioned by Dr. Lee, ankle weights can also cause knee and hip tendinitis. Hand weights can cause shoulder and biceps tendinitis. Hand weights can easily throw off your balance and cause your body to overcompensate while you’re running.
How To Run With a Weighted Vest And Avoid Injury
The key is to use the weights in a limited way to stimulate the muscles but not overwork the connective tissue and joints.
Dr. Hwang recommends:
“Running with a weighted vest has become more popular recently. It is important to ensure equal weight distribution of the weighted vest around your body. If the weighted vest shifts as you run, it can cause imbalance and result in one side of your body overcompensating for the unequal weight.”
So be sure to choose one that fits you snugly and won’t shift around while you run.
Here are some other precautions that will help you use the weighted vest safely:
Begin by Walking
It’s best to start by using the vest on a hike or a walk. Let your body get used to the extra weight while wearing sturdy shoes that support your ankles. Walk on a trail that is relatively smooth so it doesn’t jostle your body and make you lose your balance.
Use it on Cross-training Day
When you’re using the vest to help you train for a race, rather than overall fitness performance, only use the vest on your crosstraining days. Wearing it during long distance or high speed runs will have greater risk.
Don’t wear it on your active rest days, since those are reserved for recovery. The added weight will prevent your body from fully repairing its muscles for training.
Start with Less
Start by using much less weight than you think you need. It’s always better to start low and ease up to more than to jump into something you’re body isn’t ready for.
Ease in Slowly
Start by using the vest once a week, then ease up to 2-3 times per week depending on your goals.
Don’t start using your vest in the middle of your race training. It’s best to adjust to it during your off-season, rather than risking an injury just weeks before your race.
The Best Weighted Vest
For an adjustable vest that also lets you start small and work up to more weight, I recommend the Run Max Pro weighted vest.
It comes with the right weights (you can choose the weights you want included) and offers equal weight distribution – critical for safely building up strength.
Running with Weights is Not for Everyone: Should You Do It?
Dr. Hwang discourages new runners or short distance runners from running with weights, “…Because running with weights can dramatically affect your running form and will slow you down.”
Here are the best uses for weighted vests:
- Military and firefighters who need the extra weight for their training
- CrossFit incorporates them to increase your training – it is safe to use weighted vests during any type of strength training that doesn’t also include heavy cardio.
- Advanced runners who are looking to take their strength to the next level and ultimately increase endurance and speed
If you are a new runner or have primarily run short distances to this point, the next step in your running agenda should be completing a half marathon or full marathon. We offer free downloadable training plans that fit all levels of runners.
Check out the training plan library, find the one that fits your level (and goals) the best… and enjoy the next level of your running lifestyle.