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ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, 8 Benefits of Running with a Weighted Vest

8 Benefits of Running with a Weighted Vest

Reading Time: 5 minutes 15 seconds


DATE: 2024-03-11

If you do it right, running with a weighted vest can be a great way to improve your fitness and athletic performance. Weighted running builds strength, endurance, and cardio fitness. Choose a vest that fits you, start slowly, and avoid overdoing it for a safe, effective workout. 

Why Do People Run with Weighted Vests? 

If you don’t run, or if you run only for the sake of fitness but dread it, adding weight might seem like a particularly Medieval type of torture. Why would you take an already difficult workout and make it harder, right? 

And yet people do it. You’ve probably seen someone on a treadmill or out on the trail working really hard to carry their own weight and extra weight in a vest. 

These people aren’t punishing themselves. There are perfectly good reasons to weight your body for a run. Many enjoy the challenge. Others want to increase gains without necessarily running faster or harder. Some runners use weights to prepare for races. 

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Benefits of Running with a Weighted Vest

Those who run with weight vests to make fitness gains are on to something. There are several benefits to running with more than just your body weight: 

  1. Increase the intensity of your runs

  2. Build speed with the extra weight

  3. Make strength gains while running

  4. Running with a weighted vest improves form

  5. Challenge yourself on a group run

  6. Prepare for distance events

  7. Save time working out

  8. Improve bone density and connective tissue strength

1. Increase the intensity of your runs

Running is a great cardio workout. You can take the intensity up a notch by running faster or running up hills. You can also add weight. You’ll feel your heart right spike faster and more intensely with extra weight on your frame. 

According to a small study, running with a weight vest leads to increases in heart and lung efficiency. (1) In other words, it makes an already effective cardio workout even better. If you’re looking to seriously build cardiovascular endurance and health, weighted running is a great tool. 

Check out this guide for more information about selecting the best weighted vest for your workouts. 

2. Build speed with the extra weight

Running with a weight vest will definitely slow your pace. It will make you feel slow. But once you take it off for a non-weighted run or a race, you’ll feel a difference. By making your training runs more difficult, you build speed for race day. 

Research is limited to how effective this strategy actually is, but some studies do show a benefit. (2) Don’t expect to get miraculously faster but do look for realistic gains if you stick with this type of training. 

3. Make strength gains while running

Added weight can make you a faster runner while also building muscle. It’s not quite the same as lifting weights, but by adding to your body mass while running, you tax your muscle to a greater degree. Ultimately, this builds more muscle mass and strength. 

One of the simplest and easiest ways to gain strength is with bodyweight exercise, no added weights needed. Here’s how to harness these exercises to build muscle

4. Running with a weighted vest improves form

Carrying this extra weight on a run will feel awkward initially. It forces you to hold your body a certain way, which can be good for posture, running form, and balance. 

This strategy can backfire, of course. If you don’t have the right size, the weights are not balanced, or if you’re using too much weight too soon, you might change your form for the worse. Ultimately, running with some extra weight in a vest requires that you pay more attention to posture and form, which can be beneficial. 

5. Challenge yourself on a group run

Group runs are great for accountability and for socializing with like-minded friends. One of the biggest problems with a group run is matching your pace or effort with those of other runners. You want to run with friends, but they have a slower pace, and you can’t afford to slack off in your training. 

A good solution is to weight up. Even the playing field with a weight vest. This makes the run more challenging for you, while you maintain the same pace as the rest of the crowd. 

6. Prepare for distance events 

Weighted running can add a boost to your training for distance events, like a marathon. It adds an element of difficulty that increases your ability to endure for longer. Adding weight can be especially helpful if you’re training somewhere without access to varied terrain. It increases the difficulty factor to better prepare you for the course on race day. 

7. Save time working out

If you’re always on the go and find it hard to fit in a workout, weight vests might help you be more efficient. A workout with a weighted vest is more intense, so you don’t have to spend as much time on it. If you only have time for a 20-minute run, add the weight for the equivalent of a 30- or 40-minute standard run. 

8. Improve bone density and connective tissue strength

Weight-bearing, or load-bearing, exercises like running are great for building strength and density in bone tissue. It also benefits your joints, strengthening tendons and ligaments. 

The added weight only increases this effect. In a study of older women using weighted vests during workouts, researchers found that the participants maintained more bone mass compared to others. (3) You don’t have to be older to benefit from this. Building bone density now will reduce your risk of osteoporosis later and the risk of fractures at any time. 

Can I Use Ankle or Arm Weights for the Same Benefits? 

If you’re interested in weighted running but hesitant to splurge on a new piece of equipment, resist the urge to use an alternative. Ankle weights, for instance, are fine for light strength training and even some low-impact cardio, but they are inappropriate for running. 

Adding weight to your extremities when running unbalances the body and puts stress on certain areas. These weights can also irritate the joints and cause pain and swelling. A vest distributes the added weight around your core, which keeps you stable so that you can run safely and with good form. 

How to Run Safely with a Weighted Vest

Weighted running has a lot of benefits, but make sure you do it safely to avoid injuries and repetitive strain. Keep these considerations in mind as you get started: 

  • Find an adjustable weighted vest that fits you properly. You don’t have to spend a lot. Look for a used vest in an online running group, for instance. As long as it fits, you can use it safely. It should be snug to your body so that it doesn’t shift much when you move. 

  • When adding weights to the vest, start small. Use the vest alone at first to get the feel for it, then add a minimal amount of weight. 

  • Start with just one weighted run per week and add more as you get used to the vest and build strength. 

  • Distribute the weights evenly on the vest to stay balanced. 

  • Make sure the weights are secure in the vest before you start running. 

  • It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before using a weighted running vest. There may be reasons it’s not a good idea for you based on your medical history. 

  • If anything hurts while running with a weighted vest, take it off and run without it. 

Create a Weighted Vest Workout for Runners

A weighted vest is a useful fitness tool, but it might not be right for everyone. Take precautions when trying this out in your own workouts as well as with clients. Start out slowly with just a little extra weight and just one weighted run per week. If you like it, you can build safely from that starting point. 

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  1. Puthoff, M. L., Darter, B. J., Nielsen, D. H., & Yack, H. J. (2006). The effect of weighted vest walking on metabolic responses and ground reaction forces. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 38(4), 746–752. https://doi.org/10.1249/01.mss.0000210198.79705.19

  2. Macadam, P., Cronin, J. B., & Simperingham, K. D. (2017). The Effects of Wearable Resistance Training on Metabolic, Kinematic and Kinetic Variables During Walking, Running, Sprint Running and Jumping: A Systematic Review. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 47(5), 887–906. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0622-x

  3. Snow, C. M., Shaw, J. M., Winters, K. M., & Witzke, K. A. (2000). Long-term exercise using weighted vests prevents hip bone loss in postmenopausal women. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 55(9). https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/55.9.m489

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