Should You Go Running With Weights? And How to Do It Properly?


Running With Weights

So you've been running for a while now and consider yourself a serious runner. With a steady training schedule and a couple of races under your belt, you are now looking to up your running game.

One of the best ways to add more challenge to your runs is by running with weights.

Does Running With Weights Help?

running with weights on legs

Yes, definitely! Incorporating weight training into your runs makes you work harder and therefore burn more calories.

Running with weights also helps maintain a healthy body weight and waistline. In a study published in the journal Obesity, researchers observed the physical activity, waist circumference, and body weight of 10,500 healthy men age 40 and up from 1996 to 2008.

The 12-year study found that the participants who did weight training gained less abdominal fat than those who did aerobic exercise, while those who did aerobic exercise gained less weight than those who did weight training.

​But the men who did both weight training and aerobic exercise had better results than those who did only one type of exercise.

There are a few ways to integrate weight training into your regular running routine—by carrying weights in your hands, wearing ankle weights, or putting on a weight vest.

Running With Weights in Hands

Running with weights in your hands will boost your metabolism and strengthen your shoulders, biceps, and forearms.

This is especially useful if you're a sprinter, as you need upper body strength to pump your arms effectively towards the end of a race.

Before you grab the heaviest pair of dumbbells you can manage, however, keep in mind that carrying weights in your hands while running can affect your stride and running style, as well as increase your blood pressure and risk of injury.

Thus, hand weights that are no more than 3 pounds are recommended. As long as you're careful, you should be good, according to the American Council on Exercise.

Running With Weights in Hands

Here are some more tips on running with hand weights:

  • Start with 1-pound weights, then slowly make your way up as your body gets used to them. (But remember, nothing heavier than 3 pounds!)
  • Warm up without the weights first.
  • For the first few runs, stay close to home so you can set the dumbbells down if needed.
  • Hold the weights firmly but not too tight.
  • Try not to swing your arms much more than you normally would.
  • Wrist weights are another option if you want to keep your hands free.

Running With Ankle Weights

In 1989, the journal Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation published a study in which participants wore ankle weights while running on a treadmill. The increased training intensity and energy expenditure resulted in greater cardiovascular fitness and weight loss than running without ankle weight.

Running with ankle weights makes the legs work harder and benefits the cardiovascular system. But Dr. Anthony Luke of UC San Francisco recommends that only people without joint issues should use ankle weights, and that they shouldn't be used during every workout to avoid injury.

The Mayo Clinic states that some people change their gait to compensate for the additional weight on the lower legs. This can cause a loss of balance and coordination.

If you choose to run with ankle weights, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The weights should fit comfortably around the ankle; they shouldn't be too tight or too loose.
  • The ankle weights should not slide up or down when you're moving.
  • Wear socks to prevent irritation.
  • Start out light – 1- or 2-pound weights are a good start.

You can also improve your running without using ankle weights by picking up your pace and running up and down hills. If you want to increase your leg strength, you can wear ankle weights while performing leg exercises.

Running With Weight Vest

Weight vests are commonly used in military strength training. A weight vest is a vest that is made from a heavy material or has small pockets that can be filled with small weighted objects such as steel bars and sand bags.

​So why should you use with a weight vest? Well, research has shown that wearing a weight vest while running improves strength, acceleration, and power.

running with weight vest

picture by Dennis S. Hurd

It's also great for increasing core stability, leg strength when going downhill, and power and efficiency during agility drills.

Ultrarunning coach Ian Sharman suggests getting an inexpensive and simple weight vest or using a running backpack that you already own.

The weight of the vest should depend on your body weight and natural strength; 20 pounds will do for most people. Sharman recommends starting with less weight and then building up slowly.

It's generally safe to run with a weight vest, unless you're not used to exercise, have bad form, or using a poorly made vest. To avoid joint strains, back problems, and the like, make sure you don't slouch and let your muscles get enough rest.​

In addition, because weight vests are usually made with non-breathable materials like nylon and neoprene, they can cause overheating and constricted breathing. So always have water with you and take a break when you need to.

Besides running, you can wear a weight vest when performing body weight exercises, walking or hiking, riding a bike, or doing household chores.​

In Conclusion

If you don't know what you're doing, carrying weights while running can do more harm than good. However, when done properly, this type of training will give you greater strength and fitness.

Whether you go for dumbbells, ankle weights, weight vests, or all three, always remember:

  • Heavier is not better. Start with less weight and work your way up over time.
  • Don't overdo it. Give your muscles a chance to recover.
  • This isn't for beginners. If you're new to running, skip the weights for now.

Running with weights is a simple but effective way to turn up the intensity and difficulty of your runs. Weights are a great investment because they're very versatile – add them on top of what you're already doing or use them to try something new.

Has this article inspired you to start running with weights? Let us know in the comments section which type you will be using and why!

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