Running with Weights – What You Need to Know

Running with weights is a great way to increase the difficulty and impact of your runs.

If you have been running for a long time and are looking for something to add a new element, adding weights is the perfect way to do so. 

Running with weights - what you need to know

How does running with weights work?

Adding weights means that you are propelling more than your body weight, increasing the resistance your muscles are working against. This increases the strain that your body is under, making your muscles work harder.

This boosts your heart rate and will cause your body to burn more calories. The American Council on Exercise suggests that running with weights burns an additional 5 to 15% calories. 

Weights are believed to boost your heart rate by 5-10 beats per minute, and your oxygen consumption by 5-15%. This information can be found on the American Council on Exercise website.

This is useful if you are consistently tracking your heart rate but otherwise may mean little. If you wish to burn more calories from fat, your heart rate should be between 60 and 75%. For heart health and cardiovascular performance, it should be between 75 and 80%.

It is also useful if you wish to improve your overall upper body strength. Carrying the weights will make you stronger, as you are forced to hold them for an extended period of time. A 2007 study conducted by Klentrou, Slack, Roy, and Ladouceur suggests that running with a weighted vest increases the isokinetic strength of postmenopausal women. 

We do not advise incorporating weights into every run that you go on. It is a good idea to only use them once or twice per week. This will prevent overuse injuries.

Are there downsides to running with weights?

Yes, there are some downsides to using weights while running. The biggest downside to this is that it could lead to the development of muscle imbalances. This is because you are not likely to be holding the weights in the same form as you would when doing isolated weightlifting exercises. 

Carrying dumbbells as you run is very likely to cause muscle imbalances, particularly around the shoulders. This can cause your posture to appear slumped or hunched over. This is a common problem area for runners anyway, and so can be very detrimental to your overall health.

Many of the additional calories burnt from running with dumbbells come from the increased range of motion in your arms. This effectively means that you could get an almost identical result by swinging your arms more as you run.

What are the types of weights?

Dumbbells

These are useful and easily accessible. With the year we have all been having forcing us to spend more time inside, you may well have invested in a pair of dumbbells for your home. You can use these to run with without any real issues.

The only potential problem is that you must maintain a good grip on them at all times. This can be hard and there is the potential for you to drop the dumbbells. This could lead you to injuring yourself or someone else. 

Wrist weights

This is probably what most people will think of when the phrase ‘running with weights’ is mentioned. You should not choose weights that are heavier than 3 pounds for this, as it can lead to wrist strain.

Ensure your wrist weights are snugly fitted to your body and are not likely to fall off or come loose during exercise. They are commonly Velcroed around your wrist.

Ankle weights

These are basically the same as wrist weights, just for a different part of the body.

They are less effective than wrist weights and leave you more susceptible to sustaining injuries. This is because they can adjust the way you run and the muscles used. 

Weight vest

This is a really good way to incorporate weights into your workout. As it is a vest, you do not need to focus on holding it. The weight is also distributed much more evenly across your body, being focused around your core.

This is one of the safest methods to run with weights. You should not wear a vest that weighs more than 10% of your total body weight, as heavier ones can cause issues.

They have been proven to increase agility and speed in your run. The 2012 study found little evidence to suggest that incorporating a weighted vest improves your strength or power.

Your weighted vest should fit snugly without being too tight. We suggest easing into workouts including it. Start by only wearing it for 10 minutes of your run, and gradually build this up over time. 

Backpack weights

This is similar to military training exercises. You can place weights in a backpack to simulate the rough weight of your filled bag. This is a really useful exercise to allow your body to adjust to the extra load that it is put under. 

It is also useful for backpackers and hikers who regularly need to carry around heavy bags. It is safer to use the weighted backpack method when you are jogging or walking instead of running at full speed.

This is because the weights will be bouncing around in your bag. Not only can these hit into you and cause you injury, but it means that the weight load will not be evenly distributed across your muscles. 

How heavy should the weights be?

It is a good idea to begin with light weights to allow you to adjust to the movement without overloading your muscles.

If you start with too much weight this can lead to muscle sprains, strains, and other serious injuries.

We do not recommend exceeding around 3 pounds in each hand. This is because carrying weights heavier than this with improper form can lead to excess stress being put on your muscles and joints. This can cause injury or serious and lasting damage to your body.

Starting to run with weights

You should warm up as you usually would for a run. Spend 5 to 10 minutes walking or jogging to warm up your muscles. 

Pick up your weights and walk or jog gently around for a further 5 minutes. This will allow your heart rate to slowly increase and your muscles to acclimatize to the additional weight.

You should be holding your dumbbells in a firm but not overly tight grip. A grip that is too tight could raise your blood pressure and cause other health issues. Try not to swing your arms too much, as this could cause you to lose your grip and tire much more quickly.

When you feel sufficiently warmed up, set out and begin your run. We recommend staying close to home as if you tire you will still need to carry the weights. Alternatively, run on a clean, hard surface. This will allow you to set your weights down without dirtying them if you need a rest.

How can you minimize your risk of injury?

The first thing you need to do is to slowly increase the weight capacity that you are carrying. If you increase it too fast this can cause your muscles to be under too much strain, causing injuries. If you begin to experience any new or unexpected joint pains, please stop running and consult a qualified medical professional.

If you want more targeted exercise, you can use wrist and ankle weights. Be aware though that this can increase your risk of injury. A safer way to run with weights is by using a weighted vest. This will spread the weight out more evenly, putting less strain on individual muscles.

When you have reached a good base level of fitness and you are happy with the length and time of your runs, you can begin to add in weights. Slowly add weights, trying to keep the length and duration of your run the same. 

What about traditional weight training?

As a runner, it may be more beneficial to perform actual strength training instead of trying to incorporate weights into your runs. This may seem counterintuitive as you will need to carry around more weight due to your increased muscle levels. 

Regular weight training, once or twice per week, will ensure that you become stronger and leaner. It has been proven to help you increase your running speed and can actually help to protect you against injuries.

This is because weight training boosts your neuromuscular coordination and power, strengthens your connective tissues and muscles, and boosts your running economy.

What are some good weight lifting exercises for runners?

Push up

This exercise works your core and chest muscles.

You should do 3 sets of 15 reps with your body weight, or a weighted plate lying on your back.

Bent over rows

This exercise works your core and back muscles.

Do 3 sets of 12 reps using your own body weight or a pair of dumbbells up to 25 pounds in each hand.

Reverse flys

This exercise works your posterior shoulder, rhomboid, and mid-back muscles. Perform 3 sets of 12 reps using 5 pound dumbbells in each hand.

As this becomes too easy, increase the weight to 10-15 pound dumbbells.

Plank

This is a particularly hard-hitting core exercise. You should do 3 planks in a row, with a recovery period between each.

Try to hold the plank position for up to 60 seconds at a time.

You can do this with just your body weight when you’re starting out, but you can add a 10-25 pound weight plate onto your back for a more intense workout. 

Leg raise

This exercise targets your lower abdominal muscles.

Do 3 sets of 10 reps using your own body weight, or holding a 10-25 pound medicine ball between your feet.

Deadlift

A deadlift targets your hamstrings, glutes, back, and core muscles. Do 3 sets of 12 reps using 15-25 pound weights as a beginner.

Once you become more used to the motion, increase the weight and start using a barbell. 

Lunges

Lunges work your glutes, quads, and overall leg muscles. This is a really useful activity for runners to perform. When lunging, perform between 8 and 12 reps for each leg. This is one set, and you should do 3 in total. 

As a beginner, use 10-25 pound dumbbells, one in each hand. As you become more proficient, increase the weight. 

Weight lifting mistakes runners commonly make 

Do not try to lift weights that are overly heavy. You are not using the weight lifting exercise to build excessive quantities of muscle.

Lifting heavy weights is likely to leave you open to injuries and in extreme cases, could cause your muscles to tear.

Conversely, you should not be lifting weights that are too light either. Lifting weights that are light for a high number of repetitions is ideal for building endurance, but this is not the goal for runners.

You should instead focus on building up your strength and explosive power. Lift moderately heavy weights for between 10 and 12 reps per set. 

There is no real need to train specific or isolated muscles. This is beneficial for powerlifters and people who are aiming to compete, but for running it is not so useful.

We suggest a half-hour to an hour session of weight lifting about twice per week. Focus on compound, full-body exercises for the maximum benefits. 

Suzie

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