You could be a seasoned distance runner who has conquered many races – 5k, 10k, marathon, or even ultra marathons. Maybe you are a sprinter who loves those quick dashes. While the training paths diverge for the sprinters and mile crunchers, a systematic regimen is a must for both. And both schools of runners are constantly on the lookout for means to add load to their training: through distances, intensity, duration, terrain, altitude etc. Adding resistance while running is a training practice too. Most do it by running with weights – using vests or tying weights on ankles or arms. The practice could lead to injuries, say experts.
Training right is more important than training hard, explain experts, while agreeing that the more a runner progresses, the more training gets invested and intricate. The quest is to enhance the many physical and psychological attributes that power strides, including muscle memory. Strength training is a must too, with some runners believing that carrying additional weights while running is a good replacement for working out the muscles in the gym. They end up doing more harm than good.
Running with weights
Running with weights is cardiovascular training that can increase endurance and stamina.
“The most common weights used by people while walking or running include ankle weights, wrist weights and weighted vests. They help increase resistance,” says Dr Sidharth Unnithan, a sports medicine specialist based in Kochi, Kerala.
Some people also prefer using weighted belts.
“The amount of weight that can be added varies depending on the capacity of the individual and how much they can carry,” says Delhi-based running coach Rohan Sharma, founder of EnduroCo-Endurance Coaching. “The ankle weights which are easy to find, can be added up to 2kg and the weighted vests can go up to 20kg.”
Benefits of running with weights
Weights are added to increase resistance while running which makes it a form of resistance strength training.
“Running with weights increases the cardiovascular load and improves the endurance level. It increases strength and is one of the methods for achieving weight loss,” says Dr Unnithan.
Sharma adds: “The intensity of the workout also gets increased, and you end up burning many more calories than you would otherwise. To some extent it also helps in toning the muscles.”
Mostly, it is employed by those who are hard-pressed for time. A short duration exertion running with weights gives a high intensity workout that serves the purpose of both strength and aerobic training.
Why you shouldn’t run with weights
The downsides of running with weights are many, compared to the benefits.
Altered biomechanics: Running with weight, especially those that are not evenly distributed affects gait. “As the gait changes, the biomechanics are altered, which leads to undue stress on the joints and muscles. It also has a negative impact on the posture and running form. This results in improper running form which is problematic especially for long distance runners,” says Sharma.
Creates muscle imbalance: Overuse of certain muscles leads to muscle imbalance. “With weighted running, there will be more muscle development in certain areas, whereas certain other muscles will not get the same amount of workout. This results in imbalance making you more prone to injuries,” adds Sharma.
Reduces agility: The added weights also have the tendency to reduce the speed of the runner. “Agility gets reduced. People also tend to misstep more as their legs feel heavier,” adds Sharma.
Increases the risk of injuries: This is one of the major drawbacks. “It causes overuse injuries such as tendinosis, tendinitis, muscle strains and ligament sprains,” says Dr Unnithan.
Dangerous for those with cardiac and joint issues: It can affect the joints and increase inflammation, and if the muscles aren’t strong, it causes injuries in people with rheumatoid arthritis. “People who have had bypass surgery, or are prone to cardiovascular health issues, shouldn’t run with weights as it increases the cardiovascular load and the risk of a heart attack. For people with osteoarthritis in the knee, hip, or ankle, it increases the load on the joints and causes injuries,” says Dr Unnithan.
Should you run with weights?
Running with weights is very rarely recommended by coaches.
“Even elite runners or marathon runners never or very rarely use weights while running,” says Dr Unnithan “If you are going to run, it is advised to do a proper strengthening program and then go for a regular run. With this the individual muscle groups are trained properly with resistance training and running enhances cardiovascular health. So, your body gets both strength training and cardiovascular workout.”
Sharma adds: “But if at all someone is advised to run with weights, all the negatives of it must be highlighted and told as well. Then they should start gradually with very small weights and slowly build it up. Only a couple of sessions a week should be done, and always under somebody’s guidance and never by themselves.”
- Running with weights is done using ankle weights, wrist weights, weighted vests, or weighted belts. They increase resistance.
- It increases the cardiovascular load and improves endurance. It increases strength, tones the muscles and helps in weight loss.
- The cons of it include altered biomechanics, muscle imbalance, reduced agility, increased risk of injuries. Since the disadvantages of running with weights outweighs its pros, it is usually never recommended.