Benefits of Running With Weights and How to Do It Safely

6 min read Chris Zibutis

Chris Zibutis
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Chris Zibutis
Head Running Coach - that one person on earth who loves interval runs 🥵

Does running with weights help burn more calories? And will it increase your strength too?

In this article, we’ll look at what science has to say about running with weights. We’ll sum up the benefits of jogging with weights and bust common myths.

We’ll also look at the different types of weights you can use and how to avoid injury.

Benefits of Running With Weights

Whether you’re a beginner runner or an experienced one, running with weights can be beneficial. Advantages range from faster weight loss to improved cardiovascular health and endurance. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of running with weights.

Burn calories for weight loss

Using 1–3 pound hand or arm weights helps you burn up to 15% more calories during aerobic training, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

When you run, your body burns more energy than when you walk. Adding weight to your runs means that your body will have to use more energy to keep you going.

Take two runners who move at the same speed and cover the same distance. If one of them runs with weights, they will burn more calories.

What’s more, running with weights may also help reduce leg fat in women and trunk fat in men, according to a 2013 study.

Build strength

Running with weights can make you a stronger runner. It may also help you build strength in ways that you wouldn’t during a normal run. But it’s important to understand that simply running with weights isn’t the equivalent of a full-strength workout.

ACE notes that while 1–3 pound arm or leg weights boost your aerobic fitness, they won’t necessarily help you build muscle mass.

On the plus side, a 2007 study on postmenopausal women found that running with weighted vests for 12 weeks improved isokinetic strength. This type of strength can make knee muscles stronger and help prevent running injuries.

Improve cardiovascular performance

Are you a seasoned runner? Running with weights can help you increase the intensity of your exercise. As ACE notes, wrist or ankle weights can add 5–10 beats per minute per run.

Good to know: To burn the most calories from fat, you want to keep your heart rate between 60–75%. For optimal cardiovascular performance and health, increase it to 75–85%.

Enhance endurance and speed

Benefits of running with weights may also include better endurance and speed. Running with weights also increases the anaerobic metabolism in the leg muscles, according to this study.

Participants in the study showed better endurance, ran faster on an incline, and had a lower lactate threshold. They wore a vest weighing 9–10% of their body weight all day for four weeks, including during training.

Is It Safe to Run With Weights?

Should you run with ankle weights if you’ve never done it before? What about wrist weights?

Running with weights is safe if you follow safety guidelines and don’t overdo it. Too much weight may put stress on your joints and muscles.

Another thing to consider is the type of weight. For example, some people may experience a blood pressure rise when gripping weights. For this reason, wrist weights are often safer.

Understanding the different types of running weights can help you make an informed decision.

Types of Running Weights

Some running weights are designed for runners. Others are more generic but can be used when running too. So, which one is right for you? 

Weighted vest

Is running with a weighted vest good or bad? It can be beneficial if the vest weighs up to 10% of your body weight. Staying within that limit makes a running vest safe and convenient.

A weighted vest distributes weight evenly on your upper body. It’s easy to put on and leaves your hands free. For all these reasons, it can be a good idea if you’re new to running with weights.

As the study above mentions, the benefits of running with a weighted vest include enhanced endurance and speed.

Wrist weights

Want to burn more calories while running? Wrist weights can help. Wrist weights for runners are comfortable and are often made from a soft material.

You can wrap them around your wrists and clasp them or tie them with Velcro. Because they’re not bulky, they shouldn’t get in the way of your arm movements.

Important: Running with wrist weights is safe as long as you stick to weights between 1–3 pounds.

Dumbbells

Got a pair of dumbbells already? If you want to try running with hand weights, you could use them instead of buying wrist weights. But stick to the 3-pound max rule. Adding more weight won’t bring you better results – only increase your risk of injury.

However, because they require a constant grip, dumbbells may feel uncomfortable during long runs. What’s more, they may affect blood flow in your arms and raise your blood pressure.

ACE notes that when holding weights during cardio exercises, people tend to swing their arms more. It is this swinging that’s responsible for about 2/3 of the calorie burn and oxygen uptake increase associated with doing aerobic exercises with hand weights.

Put another way, swinging your arms more as you run will bring you benefits similar to those of running with dumbbells.

Ankle weights

Running with ankle weights can slightly increase your heart rate and calories burned. However, these weights also slow you down. Because of this, ankle weights tend to provide lower benefits for runners than wrist weights or a weighted vest.

Ankle leg weights for running may also alter your running gait. What’s more, they can put more strain on your muscles, tendons, and joints.

So, the use of ankle weights when running or walking is not strongly backed by science. You may find them useful if you’re deliberately running at a slow pace. And already have well-developed leg muscles and a good running form.

Weights in backpack

If you don’t have any running weights already, you could fill a backpack with books or other items to get a feel for running with weights. But bear in mind that running with a weighted backpack can strain your back.

Unlike a weighted vest, a backpack won’t distribute the extra weight evenly. Having the items inside shift as you go can be annoying too.

Tip: Follow the same safety tip as for weighted vests. Keep the backpack weight lower than 10% of your total body weight.

How to Avoid Injury While Running With Weight

If you are careful, you can run with weights without injuring yourself. And without having to slow down. Here are the things you need to pay attention to.

  • Warm up before your run. Put your running vest on during the workout. A 2015 study found that warming up with a weighted vest can boost workout performance.
  • Start with a weighted vest rather than wrist or ankle weights. The vest safely distributes the weight, making it easier for your core to bear it.
  • Add weights in increments, starting with a baseline weight. Ideally, you want to keep running at the same pace as before adding the weight.
  • Don’t add in extra weight for the sake of it. In a study published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, weighted vests helped improve the balance of paraplegic patients.
  • If you feel joint or muscle pain in the area bearing the weight, stop and remove the weight.
  • Factor in your own body weight. New runners with a high BMI may be more prone to injury if they use running weights. Running can put significant pressure on the legs, bones, and the rest of the body. Also, don’t use weights to boost your heart rate. A 2020 study on treadmill runners found that wrist and ankle weights burned more calories but didn’t significantly improve heart rate.
  • Don’t let the weight alter your running gait or form. If it does, it’s probably too heavy for you. You may want to downgrade it.

Safety Considerations

In addition to the tips above, here are a few important safety reminders. Keep them in mind to avoid getting sidelined by injury.

  • Adjust your training plan if you have to. Make sure you get enough rest and don’t suddenly increase the intensity of your workouts.
  • Avoid wrist or ankle weights heavier than 3 pounds. Heavy weights can put too much strain on your joints, muscles, and tendons. They can cause joint or shoulder/leg pain and injury.
  • Avoid wearing a weighted vest heavier than 10 pounds. Even if you have a strong core, the benefits don’t seem to justify the extra weight.
  • Pay attention to how your joints are reacting to the weights. If you experience joint pain or discomfort, downgrade or quit using the weight.
  • Use wrist weights instead of dumbbells, especially for long runs. Gripping dumbbells can be unpleasant and increases the risk of injury.

Takeaway

To sum up, here are the key points to remember:

  • Running with weights can help you burn more calories, boost your endurance and speed, and improve cardiovascular health.
  • Some weights are safer for beginners than others. Start with a weighted vest and use wrist weights rather than dumbbells or ankle weights.
  • Running with weights isn’t a substitute for resistance weight training. It doesn’t help you build muscle as effectively.
  • To see results when running with weights, you need to keep running as fast or faster than your usual pace. Don’t slow down.

As long as you stick to the safety precautions and use the right weights, running with weights is not only safe but also beneficial. Try it out!

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