Is Running With Weights GOOD for you?

Have you noticed a lot of runners out there lately, running with weights?

It’s giving life to an old trend.

There’s no doubt running with weights increases the difficulty of your run. The added weight makes your muscles work harder, which, in turn, makes them stronger.

And then you are so used to running with the weights that when you run without them, your run seems so much easier! You can run farther and faster without them because you feel so much lighter.

It seems like a good idea.

But is running with weights all that it’s cracked up to be?

Pros & Cons of Running with Weights

The debate is on. Some people swear by running with weights. And others say it is a horrible idea.

So, it’s hard to know if you should pick up the weights or leave them at home.

Rest assured, there are some definite benefits to running with weights. But just like all exercises, you need to weigh the benefits against the risks.

And, depending on your running goals, the risks might outweigh the benefits.

Benefits

The jury is out on whether running with weights actually makes you stronger.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) states that running with 1-to-3-pound weights can increase aerobic fitness, but it won’t necessarily increase muscle mass, which seems odd, right?

You would expect to build muscle by adding the weights.

But The National Library of Medicine found that aerobic exercise, combined with resistance training, was effective in the creation of lean muscle mass.

So, if your goal is stronger muscles, running with weights might do the trick. But strength training would be a better option.

Still, running with weights does offer plenty of other benefits:

  • Increased speed: There are many ways to gain speed, but if you hate speed training, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that speed and agility are increased by wearing a weighted vest.
  • Increased calories burned: The added weight means it takes more energy to cover the same distance. This increases the number of calories you need to burn. In fact, ACE says you can burn anywhere from 5% – 15% more calories by adding weights to your run.
  • Increased bone health: Most people aren’t running to increase bone health, but The National Library of Medicine found that running with weights does just that, so chalk it up as an added benefit.

While these are all great reasons to pick up the weights for your next run, if you do it wrong, you won’t see any benefits.

You’ll just hurt yourself.

Drawbacks

There are a few reasons to consider running with weights. I mean, you look pretty cool with those weights strapped on your body. Almost intimidating, really.

You look like someone who takes his runs seriously.

But there’s even more reasons not to strap on those weights:

  • Running with weights drastically alters your running technique. When you add more weight, you are putting more stress on your body, pounding all of that weight into your joints, bones, and muscles.
  • Running with weights increases the impact on your lower body, specifically: If your muscles can’t carry the extra weight, your joints and bones must take it on, increasing the risk of stress fractures and joint pain.
  • Running with weights leads to a higher risk of injury: A change in running form and increased impact on your body can lead to lower back pain, IT band syndrome, joint pain, stressed hip flexors, cartilage damage, and muscle strains.

The risks are high, if you choose to run with weights, so consider your goals. Perhaps strength training, tempo runs, or intervals are a better option.

Types of Running Weights

But if you decide to take on running with weights, there are many weights to choose from. You can use an ankle weight, a handheld dumbbell, or a weighted vest.

Each weight has a specific purpose. There is not a one-size-fits-all option. So, choose a weight that will help you meet your fitness goals.

Ankle Weights

Ankle weights are weights that you strap onto your ankle. They are made from a weighted material, but some have removable weights, which allows you to adjust the weight as needed.

Ankle weights are discreet and not very bulky. They are a nice option if your goal is to increase endurance and strength.

Precautions of using ankle weights

If you don’t use the proper form when running with ankle weights, you can do more harm than good.

When you strap on that weight, the weight is carried only by your ankles, and not distributed evenly for your entire body to carry.

Your ankles, then, must adjust to that added weight. This often changes your running form, specifically your stride and gait, which strains your lower leg joints, muscles, and tendons.

This, in turn, increases your risk of injury and forces you to use different muscles.

And it’s like a domino effect.

You wore the weights to strengthen your muscles and run faster. But you strengthened the wrong muscles because your form was off.

So, when you take the weights off, the benefits won’t carry over, because you strengthened different muscles with the weights on than you use to run with them off.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Believe it or not, changes in your running form will slow you down as well.

This is because your body develops new, sub-par running patterns, to allow for the additional weight, and your performance can suffer.

So, if you choose to run with ankle weights, pay very close attention to your form. Try not to let it change.

You can strengthen your muscles, increase speed and endurance with ankle weights, but only if you use correct form.

Proper use of ankle weights

Don’t use ankle weights for every run. Start with once or twice a week; at most, every other day. And start slow. Run with ankle weights for just five minutes.

Then, slowly increase it to ten and then fifteen minutes, over many weeks. Give your body time to adjust to the additional weight and strain.

Also, start with less weight and slowly build up. More weight does not equal more gain.

Ankle weights come in .05 pounds to 20 pounds. Start with one pound and slowly build up to three.

Don’t run with an ankle weight heavier than three pounds.

If you have ankle or knee injuries, check with your doctor before using ankle weights.

Weighted Vest

If you are going to use weights when running, the weighted vest is your best option. It disperses the weight throughout your entire body better than handheld weights or ankle weights.

A weighted vest has plates sewn into it to make it heavier. Some vests actually have removable plates, which is nice, because then you can adjust the weight as needed.

Depending on where the weights are, however, it can cause discomfort. Plus, poor layout can make a person feel off balance.

Precautions of using a weighted vest

A weighted vest can cause neck, back, and spinal injuries if used improperly.

If your vest doesn’t fit right, it can move from side to side or up and down while you are running. If this happens, it will create stress on your back and could cause spinal discs.

It can also lead to vertebrae compression, shoulder injuries, and pinched nerves in the spinal column, because the extra weight of the vest is supported by your shoulders, rather than your hips.

Plus, because it wraps around your torso, the vest can put a lot of stress on the front and back of your body, which can alter your running form.

This can lead to strained hips, knees, and ankles.

You can also hurt your back, neck, and shoulders, especially if the vest weighs too much.

So, if you already struggle with maintaining proper running form, a weighted vest is going to magnify the issue. Don’t use one until you have perfected your running form.

Proper use of the weighted vest

Before investing in a weighted vest, check with your doctor, especially if you have any back, hip or knee injuries.

Then, choose a vest that has removable weights. That way you can adjust the weights as you go.

Start out small. You should carry no more than 5% to 10% of your body weight. That means, for a 150-pound runner, you should carry between 7 pounds and 15 pounds.

Less experienced runners should carry 7, while more experienced runners can start out higher.

And then start slow, running for just ten minutes with the vest on. You can build up to longer runs over time.

Dumbbells and hand weights

Dumbbells and hand weights are weights that you can carry with you while you run. There is no need to strap them on to your body since you just hold them in your hands.

Precautions of using dumbbells and hand weights

Many runners will grab dumbbells because they want to tone their upper body while running, but it doesn’t do anything to improve overall endurance or cardiovascular performance.

This is because runners tend to slow down when carrying extra weight.

Carrying dumbbells can also alter your running form. The extra weight will affect both your stride and your arm movement.

Proper use of dumbbells for running

It’s best to use dumbbells when you are just trying to tone your upper body. Start out slow and try to run at a track or close to your house, in case you need to put them down.

Keep the weight light, starting with one pound and working up to three. Don’t carry more than three pounds.

Pay attention to your arm movement. Make sure your arms don’t cross your chest or swing more than they do when you aren’t carrying weights. Shoot for the same arm movements that you always use.

Run with dumbbells just one to two times a week. Consider weight training if you need more than just a couple of times a week.

Should you be running with weights?

Probably not. In most situations, the risk of injury outweighs the benefits of running with weights. Particularly because there are many other exercises you can do to get the same results, such as strength training and speed training.

But, if you are very careful, you can successfully run with weights.

Running is already a high impact sport, so if you do run with weights, start out slowly. Use only 1 to 3 pounds and opt for the vest – it disperses the weight better, reducing the chances for injury just a bit.

Start small, running for mere minutes, until your body has adapted. Only run with weights once or twice a week.

Sports science has come a long way, so definitely consider all your options before running with weights.

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