You can still remember the days when you couldn’t even run around your block without huffing and puffing. Now you’re a pretty seasoned runner if you do say so yourself. You’re at the point where you need a new challenge on your runs. You’ve heard about running with weights, which could be just what you’re looking for. What are the benefits of this style of running?
Running with weights can increase your endurance, strength, and speed. You may burn more calories and potentially build muscle in the upper half of your body. You can also improve joint function so impact injuries become less of a concern.
While running with weights can be advantageous in many ways, you have to be careful about the weight limit you select. On top of that, expect a period of adjustment, as your gait, posture, and balance will all change when using weights. In this guide, we’ll provide handy tips and tricks for successfully–and safely!–running with weights.
Why Use Weights for Running?
Before we get into our tips, let’s begin by discussing the benefits of using weights on your runs.
We always say this on the blog, but in running, you’re constantly setting new goals. At first, you’re happy to get through a mile. Then you try to run five miles, 10 miles, even 20 miles. You might next aspire to run your first marathon, then to win a marathon.
Once you do all that, you might start traveling internationally, participating in marathons all over the world to insert new life into your runs. You’re clearly in need of a new challenge, and you don’t necessarily have to venture onto foreign soil to find it. By running with weights, it’s like starting all over again with running. You’ll have to beat new speed records since you’ll be naturally slower and then find ways to continuously outdo yourself from there.
You’ll be plenty entertained and busy for a while with this challenge of yours, adding novelty back to your running experience.
Increase Your Endurance
Going back to that example from the intro, think a moment to those days when running a very short distance made you feel like you were dying. You’d be flushed, your heart would pound, you couldn’t catch your breath, and your legs were like noodles. Yet you kept pushing on, and eventually, when you ran that same distance, you could get through it without difficulty.
This is endurance. As a more experienced runner today, your endurance is likely impressively good. You can run circles around your friends and family and you might even have a few gold medals from running competitions.
Yet your endurance can go even further, and running with weights is one way to get it there, as you’re pushing your running abilities to their limits. You’ll feel slow and clumsy when running with weights at first, which is natural. This is just like when you first started running and you felt like you couldn’t breathe.
If you persevere with the weights (gradually, of course), you’ll reap the reward of more endurance. Even when the weights are off, this added endurance can help you run longer distances, maybe more than ever before.
There’s a reputation among non-runners that the runner’s body is a thin, scrawny one. Yet we just published a post that proves the contrary; a runner’s body is often toned, semi-muscular, and low on body fat. You’re also quite strong considering how often you use your muscles on a run, but you can increase your strength even more with some weights.
Just take a look at the results of this 2007 study from the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity. The study involved women in menopause who wore weighted vests and exercised over 12 weeks, thrice every week.
As the weeks went on, the weight added to their vests went up incrementally, never exceeding 15 percent of the women’s body weight. After the 12 weeks wrapped up, the body strength of the participants increased.
You’re pretty impressed with your current running speed, especially on a good day. You always post your new running records to social media to encourage your fellow running buddies to push themselves further. They do the same, motivating you.
You might think that added weight will only slow you down, but that’s actually the opposite of what happens. Although the results won’t be immediate, you can eventually run faster by using weights.
There’s science to back this up too! One of the best studies on this topic comes from a 2012 publication of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The participants in this study were all men. They were tasked with wearing weighted vests. The vests were heavy, between five and 10 percent of the participant’s body weight.
By combining exercise with the use of the weighted vest, the participants had more agility and speed by the time the study wrapped.
More Calories Burned
We won’t get into this too much as we’ve talked about it on the blog quit a bit recently (such as this post), but you can burn a lot of calories when running. It’s anywhere between 500 and 1,000+ calories for an hourlong run depending on your weight.
Of all the physical activities you can do, running is on the shortlist of those activities that burn the most calories. When you now include the additional load of carrying weights while running, you can expect to burn even more calories on your runs since you’re exerting yourself more.
Just how many more calories are we talking here? The American Council on Exercise or ACE says you can torch extra calories at a rate of between five and 15 percent when carrying weights that are one to three pounds. If you’ve been trying to lose weight, this could certainly help you!
In our post about how running can change your body, we mentioned how building muscle is one possibility. Considering the muscles a runner uses, most of this muscle-toning occurs in the lower half of your body, from your core to your ankles and everything in between.
If you want to build up the upper half of your body, holding weights while you run might be effective. The jury is still out on this one, but a 2013 report from the European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicinethat involved 65 overweight or obese women and men shows that the group that did aerobic exercise with resistance training gained more lean muscle than those who did aerobics alone.
Some experts believe you won’t gain much muscle, so you probably can’t rely on this method alone for more toned arms. Since you’ll have the weights handy, you can continue lifting them in between runs, which can indeed boost muscle growth.
Better Joint Function
Running isn’t exactly the easiest activity on your joints, let’s be real. If you’ve ever had joint pain from running, you want to do anything you can to avoid such pain in the future. Using weights while running can help, but there are some caveats to this.
If your weights are too heavy for your own body weight and ability, then you can hurt your joints further rather than help them. That’s also true if you’re not using the proper form.
What kind of joint benefits can weights add? By using weights on your run, the muscles that surround the joints become stronger. This prevents the joints from moving as much while you run, which can reduce your rate of impact injuries. If you already have joint pain, you might notice that this pain decreases.
Faster Heart Rate
A fast heart rate during exercise indicates how intense and effective your runs are. According to the American Heart Association, here’s your target heart rate zone during exercise by age:
- 20 years old – 100 to 170 peats per minute
- 30 years old – 95 to 162 beats per minute
- 35 years old – 93 to 157 beats per minute
- 40 years old – 90 to 153 beats per minute
- 45 years old – 88 to 149 beats per minute
- 50 years old – 85 to 145 beats per minute
- 55 years old – 83 to 140 beats per minute
- 60 years old – 80 to 136 beats per minute
- 65 years old – 78 to 132 beats per minute
- 70 years old – 75 to 128 beats per minute
The ACE post we linked you to above mentions that if you’re using weights that are up to three pounds per hand, you can see a heartbeat increase between five and 10 beats per minute. That will make for quite a rewarding sweat sesh!
Which Weights Can You Use When Running?
When we’ve talked about weights throughout this article, you’ve probably envisioned hand weights, right? Those are indeed one type of weight you can use when running, but far from the only one. Here’s an overview.
An ankle weight slips around your ankle and may weigh three pounds or more. It’s adjustable so to fit slimmer and wider ankles alike. If you’re looking to give your endurance a boost as well as increase your leg strength, wearing ankle weights is one way to do that.
This set of Henkelion ankle weights on Amazon are for men and women runners. They’re weighted from one to 10 pounds and are covered in cotton so you don’t have to worry about abrasiveness on your skin. You can even use them on your wrists.
You do have to be careful when running with ankle weights, as they can strain your ankle joints if you overdo it on your run or use improper form. When your ankle joint is weakened, you risk pain in the back, hips, and knees from injuries to the ligaments and tendons, so be careful!
Most runners will stick with wrist weights so their legs are unencumbered on their runs. These BalanceForm GoFit wrist weights on Amazon go around your wrists, so they’re worn the same way you would ankle weights. As a matter of fact, these weights double as ankle weights as well.
You can select from weights between 1.5 and 10 pounds, and you get two weights to an order. Use the Velcro strip for adjusting the fit of these wrist weights, which are covered in moisture-absorbent neoprene.
Dumbbells or hand weights are those that you hold rather than wear on your body. We recommend dumbbells coated in neoprene or another non-slip material, as your hands can get quite sweaty when you run.
Your last option for using weights when running is to put on a weighted vest. This is how many of the above studies were conducted, so it might be good for you to wear a weighted vest as well.
The RUNFast vest on Amazon is as light as 12 pounds and as heavy as 140 pounds depending on the size you order. It has built-in shoulder pads and the weights are removable. It’s a unisex, one-size-fits-all solution to running with weights!
How Heavy Should the Weights Be?
Since you have so much running experience, it’s easy to think that you don’t need to use very light weights when you run. A one-pound weight is way too easy and three pounds sounds like nothing as well. You’ll go for something heavier, such as a five-pound or maybe even a 10-pound weight.
Please don’t do this. ACE and many other experts recommend you don’t exceed three pounds when running. Sure, in any other application, carrying three pounds is a piece of cake, but remember, you’re running as well. There’s an added degree of difficulty that you won’t realize is there until you try running with weights yourself.
Tips and Techniques for Safely Running with Weights
To wrap up, we must share some tips for avoiding injury when running with weights. Please keep these tips in mind every time you slip into your weighted vest or put on your ankle weights!
Start with One-Pound Weights
We’ll say it one more time: when you run with weights, it’s like going back to being a beginner. When you first started running, you didn’t try to jog a whole mile right away. Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t because you lacked the stamina and endurance.
It’s the same thing when running with weights. It’s going to be pretty difficult with just one pound around your wrist or ankle. Let yourself fully adjust to the experience before you start running with a two-pound weight, then you can graduate to three pounds.
Expect Changes When Running
A while ago, we wrote a post about how to run with a stroller. In that article, we talked about how everything about your running stance changes, from your gait to your strides and your posture.
It’s the same story when you run with weights. You might feel a little unbalanced at first. You’ll also have to shorten your gait if you’re using ankle weights. Swinging your arms when you run will be more difficult with wrist or hand weights, so that’s something you have to accommodate for as well.
It won’t feel strange to run with weights forever, but do be patient during this time. Avoid overstraining yourself too, which will almost certainly result in injury.
Don’t Put Weights in a Backpack
Some runners swear by throwing a few dumbbells into a backpack and then going for a run. This doesn’t have the benefits we described above because you’re not really carrying the weights the same way.
Besides that, the weights can jostle around in the backpack, possibly hitting you in the back and causing pain or injury. You’re much better off using the weights we suggested earlier in this guide instead.
Listen to Your Body
Our last but arguably most important tip is to listen to your body. If you feel joint pain and stiffness or achiness anywhere else, step to the side of the trail and take a break. Let yourself cool down for a minute, grab a drink, and try running again. If the pain resumes, then you need to rethink running with weights.
Carrying weights with you while running increases your heart rate, lets you burn more calories, builds strength and endurance, and may even help you develop upper body muscles. Whether you most prefer ankle weights, wrist weights, dumbbells, or a weighted vest, remember to always run with three pounds of weight max. Best of luck!