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Running with weights: The benefits and risks

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There was a day, not that long ago, when wearing ankle and wrist weights was anything but cool. But now, thanks to stylish designs, celebrity endorsements, and a love for workout efficiency, running with weights is making a comeback. Here's what you need to know about adding weights to your run — the benefits and risks, and how to do it both safely and effectively.

Runners have a bad rap for avoiding strength training. They like to run, so that's what they do. However, resistance work is one of the best things anyone can do to improve their running performance — not to mention reduce their risk of injury. And for people with body composition goals, strength training can support levels of lean muscle mass.

But strap on a pair of ankle or wrist weights, and running automatically becomes a super-efficient cardio and strength workout, right? Yes and no.

The benefits of running with weights

1. It can strengthen your muscles

The main benefit to adding weights is that it makes your muscles work against extra resistance as you run. The result: greater muscle activation and growth. Which muscles the weights target depends on where you wear them.

Ankle weights will target your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and hip flexors.
Wrist weights will target your biceps, triceps, shoulders, back, and core.
Weight vests will target your glutes, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, back, and core.

2. It can increase your exercise intensity

Wearing weights also places an extra challenge on your cardiovascular system. The greater the demand you place on your muscles during exercise, the more blood and oxygen they need to do their thing — and the faster and harder your heart and lungs have to work to meet your body's nutrient and energy needs.

Wearing a fitness tracker with a built-in heart rate monitor can help you gauge your workout intensity. Remember, the more intense your workouts, the shorter they will need to be.

The risks of running with weights

1. It can throw off your form

People don't naturally have really heavy wrists and ankles. But when you wear weights running, your body has to move as though it does — meaning you adopt a totally new running gait, or form.
When running with weights around your limbs, your stride length, how you land on your feet, and even your spinal alignment can change. And that can do more than slow your run time…

2. It can up your risk of injury

The biggest concern with weighed-down running is the risk of both acute (sudden) and chronic (wear-and-tear) injuries. This is both due to the excess stress wearable weights place on joints such as your elbows, shoulders, and knees (which are already pretty prone to injury) as well as changes in form.

3. It doesn't count as cross-training

Weighted vests increase how hard your muscles have to work without placing quite as much stress on your joints or altering your form. But they still don't actually count as cross-training.
That's because, even if you increase the load on your muscles, it's still done through running. Running is a very repetitive activity, and to promote better muscular balance, you need to challenge your muscles through other movement patterns.

The bottom line

Stick to using ankle and wrist weights for dedicated strength exercises like hamstring curls, reverse clamshells, and shoulder raises. And if you really want to try out weighted running, use a snug-fitting weighted vest. This will keep the extra weight around your center of gravity to help your form stay in check. Opt for one that holds multiple weights around your torso and allows for you to remove or add weights to change how much it weighs you down.

Start with 10 pounds total and slowly increase the weights to make sure your body has plenty of time to adapt and you keep your injury risk as low as possible.


Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.

Written By
K. Aleisha Fetters

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Headshot of Aleisha Fetters

I'm a quirky (aka nerdy) strength coach with a passion for science and sweat. I love to help people meet their body goals, but it's their mental and emotional gains that make me do a happy dance. My flirtation with running includes two half marathons and, someday, I will run 26.2.