Will running with weights help you to build muscle, while building your endurance?? If it sounds too good to be true… I think you know where this is going.
While the additional weight means your body must work harder to propel yourself forward, forcing the heart to pump harder to increase blood flow, it does NOT mean you’ll be building muscle and overall improving your performance most of the time.
One of the main issues is that it can drastically change your running form.All right, so having said that should you just skip the idea all together…
I’m gonna say for most runners yes. BUT there are some benefits when done safely and correctly, so let’s dive in to give you the full picture and make a choice for yourself.
Pros and Cons of Running with Weights
Studies show mixed results in performance with the addition of weights, most specifically with weighted vests. While there does seem to be evidence of some benefit, there are far superior ways to improve strength and endurance for running.
- Increases heart rate 5-10 beats per minute
- Increased calorie burn due to the added weight
- Improved balance
- Beneficial to bone health
- Throws your gait off, which can easily lead to joint damage and pulled muscles
- Is not proven to elevate Vo2 max
- Increase load impact on knees, ankles, hips, spine, etc.
- Disrupts balance
- May only be mildly beneficial to performance
Different Types of Weights for Running
There are several different options to choose from for those who wish to add weights to their runs, but I hope you see pretty quickly there is only ONE OPTION that isn’t going to lead you to injury.
Running with Ankle Weights
Running with weights on your legs can increase calorie burn slightly, but only if you can keep running! They notoriously cause a number of injuries, which means you won’t be running and will thus be burning far less calories.
- Place strain on the ankle, knee, and hip joints, leading to injury
- Alter running mechanics
- Your feet will land harder with each step from the added weight
- Gait changes can lead to pulled tendons and ligaments
If someone has told you ankle weights are great for running faster, just put that idea to the side and focus on ways that will help you build leg strength without injury, like hill repeats and tempo runs.
Similarly, don’t strap this to your wrist and go for a run either. It’s going to change your arm swing and similar to ankle weights, this repetitive movement and extra weight can lead to joint and tendon injuries in the wrists, shoulders, elbows, and neck.
Running with Dumbbells
Dumbbells essentially work the same as wrist weights, but since they’re held, there’s more room for user error. Incorrect use can cause poor running form, leading to:
- Muscle soreness and injury
- Imbalance in core, causing spinal, hip, and knee injuries
- Exaggerated arm swing
- Change in stride
- Added impact to knees, ankles, feet, and hips
- Tendon and ligament damage in shoulders, neck, and spine
I actually don’t mind if you want to walk and do some movements with dumbbells. Then you’re working on endurance with your upper body, but again, you still aren’t getting the same benefit as you would simply doing a full on strength workout.
As an alternative to running with dumbbells, try this upper body workout designed with runners in mind.
Running With Weighted Vests
Commonly referred to as “military-style” training, running with a weighted vest has become more popular since the rise in event like Spartan races.
Studies on wearing a weight vest show mixed results.
A 2017 study of 19 Spanish soccer players showed a minimal increase in 30-meter sprint performance for those wearing a vest 2.1% of body mass over a six-week period.
Another study in Australia revealed similar results. The subjects wearing a weighted vest for three weeks showed some improvement in running time (2.2%), while peak power and running velocity remained virtually the same among the control and test groups.Pictured here is Hyperwear vest.
Running in a weighted vest may have some benefits:
- Help increase bone density, particularly in post-menopausal women
- Boost cardiovascular performance (most helpful for those doing Spartan where they often need to carry heavy weights)
- Improve balance if worn properly (again most helpful if you need to move quickly with weight)
- Distributes weight more evenly than hand or ankle weights
For most runners, I would say skip the running with a weighted vest and instead use it on walks, particularly hilly and incline walks. Then you’ll be increasing the intensity of those workouts, with less chance for injury due to form change or overstressing the body.
What about a hydration pack?
Does wearing a hydration pack count as running with weights? Well, maybe, kinda sorta, though I doubt your pack is holding 10lbs worth of gear. And if it is then, I hope you’re training for a multi-day running event and need to become accustomed to that weight.
As with any vest, make sure you find a hydration vest or belt that fits correctly. And I absolutely recommend them over carrying a water bottle, which much like holding a light weight can actually change your arm swing.
Should you choose to wear a weight vest while you run, understand that improper wear can result in injury.
- A weight vest should not exceed 10 percent of your body weight.
- Those with back and neck problems should avoid using weighted vests, as it can put pressure on the spine and cause disc degeneration.
- Ensure even distribution of weights around your body. Disproportionate weights can cause injury from favoring or overcompensating on one side or knocking you off balance causing a fall.
- Make sure the vest fits comfortably and snugly. Shifting can throw off weight and cause imbalances.
- Build up to maximum weight. Start with 1-2 lbs and gradually increase the amount of weight over a few weeks.
- If, at any point, you feel pain in your joints or other nagging pains, stop using the vest and visit your doctor.
Does Running With Weights Build Muscle?
One could argue that by running with weights you’re strengthening the exact muscles you use while you run, and while that is true in some regard, it’s not the whole picture.
Adding extra weight to your runs is not the most effective way to build muscle strength, build muscle, or really give you those toned arms. Why? You aren’t using enough weight to break down the muscle and cause it to repair, which is how you build muscle.
Consider your reason and goal for carrying weights during your run. Is it to gain strength? Endurance? Resistance Training? You can achieve that more effectively by doing more targeted strength training, long runs, and speed workouts.
I’ve got heaps of strength training resources for you, many of which can be performed at home:
- 10 Online Resources for Training at Home
- Full Body Home Workout
- 27 Body Weight Strength Workouts for Runners
- 10 Simple Strength Moves to Improve Your Running
- Resistance Band Workout for Hips and Glutes
Have you tried running with weights?
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