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Running with Weights: Benefits, Dangers and What You Need to Know

Running with weights has become an increasingly popular topic, especially among new runners or those using running to supplement their fitness routine. Runner’s World notes the trend, as more and more runners are seen using some form of weights on their run.

Whether you’re hoping to get stronger, lose weight faster, or improve your fitness, you might be considering running with weights.

Will running with weights make you stronger?

Unfortunately, running with weights is not always what it’s cracked up to be. In most cases, running with weights is not the most effective way to gain strength or build muscle.

Running with ankle weights or dumbbells has the potential to actually cause more harm than good. Running with a weighted vest can provide some benefits, but only when done correctly. For most runners, supplementing with strength training is a much more effective way to get stronger.

Is it safe to run with weights?

If you choose to run with weights at any point in your training journey, it is crucial that you do so carefully.

Running with ankle weights, wrist weights and dumbbells is generally not very safe. These types of weights can drastically alter your running form, put extra pressure on joints, and lead to a variety of injuries, inflammation and strains.

However, running with a weighted vest is usually a safe option, as long as it is fitted properly and the appropriate adjustments are made.

What are the benefits of running with weights?

When approached correctly, there are quite a few benefits that come from running with weights. Running with a weighted vest, for example, distributes weight evenly and does not increase the pressure on joints. This added weight is safe, and provides many benefits.

  • Increases overall calorie burn
  • Higher resistance builds strength
  • Improves muscle fiber density
  • Potentially increases heart rate for harder workout
  • Promotes optimal bone health
  • Strengthens postural muscles to improve form

Phoenix Spine & Joint‘s Orthopedic Surgeon, Eric A. Eifler, M.D., CAQSM, notes via Runner’s World, that added weight makes muscles work harder, thus promoting muscle fiber growth.

It is important to note that any and all of these benefits will not be experienced when running with weights incorrectly. Taking the time to learn how to adjust your training, when to wear the weights, and getting them properly fitted are all vital in order to experience any benefits.

Why run with weights?

Most runners hope to run with weights in hopes to increase their weight loss, gain strength, boost overall endurance, or simply to conquer another challenge.

Regardless of why you might be considering running with weights, the first and most important step you’ll need to take is to educate yourself. Here are some things to know before running with weights of any kind.

What are the dangers of running with weights?

When most people think of running with weights, they think of simply adding wrist or ankle weights and heading out for their regular run. However, this can be incredibly harmful. Here are some of the dangers that come from running with ankle weights, wrist weights or dumbbells.

  • Unusual strain can lead to muscle imbalances or injuries
  • Can eventually lead to tendinitis in areas such as the knee, hips or elbows
  • The extra stress on the joints can lead to inflammation and swelling
  • Could inadvertently alter running form in a negative way

According to Katie Lawton, ME.d. in Sports Medicine at Cleveland Clinic (via Runner’s World), the addition of weights in the repetitive motion of running can add stress to the IT band, hip flexors and extrinsic muscles of the feet.

Running with weights can be beneficial, but only when approached safely. Here is how to safely run with weights to improve strength and fitness.

Different Versions of Running with Weights

There are a few different versions of running with weights, depending on the type of weight you choose. Here are some of the most popular weights from which runners often choose to add weight to their workouts.

  • Ankle weights
  • Wrist weights
  • Dumbbells
  • Weighted vest
  • Weighted backpack

Running with weights requires very different accommodations depending on the type of weight. This is what you’ll need to know if you’re considering adding any of the previous forms of weight to your next run.

Running with Ankle Weights

In most cases, running with ankle weights is more dangerous than beneficial. The potential benefits of increasing weight and adding resistance are very easily outweighed with the dangers.

Adding ankle weight will place more strain specifically on the joints in your ankles and feet, which could potentially lead to swelling, tendinitis is upper joints such as the knee, and improper running form. It usually causes runners to unintentionally change their running form, leading to negative impacts such as muscle imbalances and chronic injuries.

Should you choose to run with weights, ankle weights are probably not the safest way to go.

Running with Wrist Weights

Similar to ankle weights, running with wrist weights is typically much more likely to cause harm than it is to do good. The potential benefits of adding wrist weights are easily outweighed by the dangers.

Much like ankle weights, wrist weights place unusual strain on the joints in the arms. Pressure is concentrated on the wrists, which could quickly lead to swelling or result in tendinitis in joints such as the elbows and shoulders.

Wrist weights might also alter your arm swing, trunk rotation and overall angle on the run, which could in turn lead to muscle imbalances and various injuries. It is safest to avoid running with wrist weights.

Running with Dumbbells

Much like adding ankle weights or wrist weights, running with dumbbells has the potential to do more harm than good. While dumbbells might not concentrate the weight on a specific joint, it is very likely that they will negatively alter your running form.

If you are considering running with dumbbells, a safe alternative might be to try walking while carrying light dumbbells. However, in most cases, a greater benefit will be seen from walking or running at an incline.

Running with a Weighted Vest

When considering running with weights, adding a weighted vest is usually the safest way to do so. When fitted properly, a weighted vest will distribute weight evenly throughout the midsection. It does not increase the pressure on any specific joints, but rather, increases the overall resistance on a run.

It’s important that weighted vests are fitted properly prior to beginning any run. The vest should not shift or move in any way while running – if it does, it creates the potential for similar injuries and issues as seen when running with ankle or wrist weights.

Runners who take the time to get fitted for a weighted vest will likely see some benefits in their strength or endurance for running over time. However, adding weight is not something that should be done for every run – spacing out the weighted runs is key.

Running with a Weighted Backpack

It might be tempting to create your own weights by adding objects or weight to a backpack and wearing it on a run. However, much like ankle, wrist weights and dumbbells, this places harmful strain on specific areas of the body.

A weighted backpack sends all of the extra weight to the back, straining the neck and shoulders, and negatively altering running form. Rather than building strength, this will lead to soreness, stiffness and strains.

It is safest to avoid running with a weighted backpack – instead, choose the option where weight is distributed evenly around the midsection, such as with a weighted vest.

How to Avoid Injuries

When adding anything new to your training routine – whether it be weights or a new workout – it’s important to do so gradually and safely. Incorporating weights on a run is a big change, whether it feels like it or not.

Approaching this change slowly and with care will help avoid any potential injury or strain. Here are a few ways to avoid injuries when running with weights.

  • Avoid ankle weights, wrist weights and dumbbells
  • Ensure a proper fit beforehand
  • Check for even weight distribution
  • Start out with a few practice walks
  • Ease in with short, easy runs
  • Adjust your pace as needed
  • Listen to your body – slow or stop if there’s pain or discomfort

Many runners let their motivation and excitement get ahead of them as the pursue strength and fitness gains. However, it’s important to remember that slow and steady usually wins the race. Trying something new or adding too much too soon will often result in injuries that lead to more time off.

If you’re hoping to increase weight loss or gain strength quickly, two of the safest, most effective ways for runners to do so is to incorporate weekly strength training exercises or to run on an incline. These strategies give the body practice with increased resistance to boost stamina more quickly.

If you’re determined to run with weights, taking the time to get fitted for a weighted vest is the safest, most beneficial option. Do the preparation ahead of time and you will likely see it pay off in your training.

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