Running With A Weighted Backpack: What you need to know


Running backpack

Whether you are running to burn calories, keep fit, or train for an athletic event, you will get many different tips and tricks on how to train efficiently. There is no “best solution” because everybody is different and they have different needs. You will hear that you should run with a weighted backpack, but is it good to run with a weighted backpack?

Running with a weighted backpack or a weighted vest offers benefits that include increasing your top speed, increasing your stamina, helping build lower body muscle and core strength. Overall, running with a weighted backpack is good for you as long as you take it easy in the beginning.

This article will start by talking about the pros and cons of running with a weighted backpack. After that, we will look at whether it is better to use a weighted backpack or a weighted vest. Basically, we will go through everything that you need to know about the subject. So, I highly recommend that you keep reading.

Running With a Weighted Backpack: Pros and Cons 

In this section, we are talking about weighted backpacks and weighted vests. The reason for this is because a lot of studies have been done using weighted vests, but the same logic should apply, to some extent, to both weighted vests and weighted backpacks. Here is a table highlighting the pros and cons of running with a weighted backpack or a weighted vest.

Running With a Weighted Backpack: Pros 

Let’s discuss the pros of running with a weighted backpack in a little more detail.

  1. Increase your top speed: A study was conducted where amateur soccer players were told to sprint with weighted vests (similar to weighted backpacks.) They trained twice a week for six weeks. The study found that the soccer players that trained with the vests showed a significant increase in sprint performance.
  2. Improve running posture: Another study was conducted with long-distance runners. The improved posture contributes to your running economy. Overall, you can expect to see a significant increase in performance thanks to the improved posture. 
  3. Improve cardio performance: When you run with a weighted backpack or a weighted vest, your body will require more oxygen to keep itself going. Simultaneously, you would have a higher heart rate than you would if you were running without the weights. Combine everything, and you get a better cardiovascular workout. Essentially, you are training your body for endurance. Having endurance can help you in many different aspects of your life, including going to the gym. Still, it will help you achieve better times on your runs, and it will help you achieve a better distance on runs. Finally, it will help you not be as tired when completing a run.
  4. Build core strength: Any athlete will tell you the importance of having core strength. Your core helps you keep your body stable. Simultaneously, running with a weighted vest or a weighted backpack improves your core strength and enables you to maintain a good running economy. You will notice that core strength contributes a lot to your posture while you are running. Further down in this article, we will discuss core strength in a little more detail and how running with a weighted backpack or weighted vest helps build core strength. So, keep reading.
  5. Build muscle: This is another pro that we are going to discuss further down and this article. I want to add that it is not uncommon to find that many people who enjoy running also enjoy going to the gym. It is important to note that because weighted backpacks and weighted vests help you build lower body muscle, this can indirectly help you when you go to the gym to build upper body muscle.

Running With a Weighted Backpack: Cons

In this section, we are going to discuss the cons of running with a weighted backpack.

  1. It May be bad for your knees: Running is not always the best form of exercise. Well, this is true if you do not know how to prevent things like “runner’s knee.” A Runners’s knee is an injury that can occur from constant impact while running. If you add too much weight to a backpack while running, you risk amplifying the impact that your knee has to absorb. One way to minimize this is to build up slowly by starting with a small amount of weight and slowly working yourself up.
  2. It May be bad for your ankles: There is a reason why running shoes are so important, and there is a reason you need to get a shoe suited to your running style. You see, a running shoe doesn’t only prevent shin splints. It also minimizes the impact that your ankles have to absorb while running. Much like as we discussed with Runner’s knee, you must start by adding a small amount of weight to your backpack or weighted vest so that your body can get used to the added weight. If you go too heavy in the beginning, you risk hurting your ankles.
  3. Short-term fatigue: Look, if you think that you can add more than 10% of your body weight to a weighted vest or weighted backpack and run the same distance or run that distance in the same time, you might be sadly mistaken. You are going to feel fatigued not only during a run but also after the run. So, when you start running with a weighted backpack or weighted vest, remember not to compete with yourself.

Remember that you still need to stretch after your run, and I recommend taking an extra minute or two to do some additional stretches after running with a weighted backpack or weighted vest.

Does Running with a Weight Vest Build Muscle?

People ask this question because they are trying to build a better physique while also improving their cardiovascular performance. The second reason people ask this question is that they don’t want to add bulk to their physique as their primary goal while running is to either lose as much weight as possible while increasing their fitness or simply staying fit.

Running with a weighted vest or a weighted backpack does help build muscle. This is primarily lower-body muscle. Unless you are using the weighted backpack or vest to do arm curls while running, you will not build bicep muscles if that is what you were thinking.

To be more specific, here are the main parts of your body where you can expect to see an increase in muscle after running with a weighted vest or weighted backpack for some time.

  • Core strength
  • Thigh (Quadriceps)
  • Calves
  • Abs
  • Back muscles

Core strength: What stops you from completely falling over when adding extra weight to your body via a backpack or a weighted vest? The answer to this question is, your core does most of the work. Core strength refers to 29 different deep-lying muscles that cover most of your torso to your hips. 

These core muscles will work endlessly to help stabilize your body not only while running but especially when running with added weight.

Thighs and calves: We won’t go into much detail here because this may seem pretty obvious. Your thighs and your calves are going to be carrying that extra weight from the backpack. You can think of it almost as doing uphill jogging. While running mostly defines these muscles, walking uphill or adding excess weight to your body is what builds these muscles up.

Your abs are part of your core.

When running with a weighted vest, you will find out the weight is more evenly distributed than they are when you use the backpack. However, when you use a weighted backpack while running, your back muscles will constantly be working to keep the weight up.

This is great for defining your back muscles that many people struggle with and building the back muscles. Because your back muscles are as big as they are, when you work them, you burn more calories during a recovery phase than you do if you work a small muscle. This same logic applies to your thigh muscles as they are also considered large muscles.

Running with a Weighted Backpack VS Weighted Vest: Which is better?

Both a weighted vest and a weighted backpack do the same job. However, one difference makes running with a weighted vest better than running with a weighted backpack. 

A good weighted vest allows you to distribute the weight evenly, and this is sometimes difficult with a weighted backpack where most of the weight will be on your back. Another thing to consider is a weighted vest is more stable unless you find a way to wrap something around your torso to stabilize the backpack.

At the end of the day, if all you have is a backpack, it will still work; however, I recommend getting a weighted vest if you can. If you decide that you would prefer a weighted backpack, I recommend getting one with a hydration pack and can fit the weights in. At the same time, remember while running with the added weight, you will become thirsty. 

How Far Should You Run With a Weighted Vest?

All of us are different. It would be disingenuous for me to say that you should run a set number of miles because this assumes that you can run those miles.

When you run with a weighted backpack or a weighted vest, you should run the same amount of miles that you usually do. The difference is you should take it a bit slower in the beginning.

Your times might worsen when running with a weighted backpack; however, the benefits will become apparent when you run without the weighted vest or weighted backpack. Think of it as long-term returns as opposed to short-term gains.

How Often Should You run with a weighted vest or Weighted Backpack?

It is essential for your health and safety to remember not to run with a weighted backpack or weighted vest every day. Doing so might seem relatively easy to do when you are younger as you do not feel the effects of the constant impact on your knees and ankles immediately. However, when you get older, that’s when things change.

You shouldn’t run with a weighted vest more than three times a week, but stick to running with a weighted vest or weighted backpack only twice a week, and for the rest of your runs, you should do so how you usually would.

You will still see a significant increase in your performance over the long run. If you are training for any kind of Iron Man competition, you could increase the amount of time you run with the vest, but it is best if you stick to two days a week as a long-term option.

Should You Run With Ankle Weights?

In my experience, you should never run with ankle weights. If you do so, you open yourself to the possibility of catching an injury. You are not only putting your ankles at risk. Because of the extra impact, you may cause damage to your knees and also, because of the added weight to your legs, you run the risk of getting shin splints.

You will be much better off if you run with a weighted vest or a weighted backpack. If you see athletes training with ankle weights, they probably have an upcoming tournament, but I can assure you that they will not train with ankle weights constantly.

Should You Run With Dumbbells?

If you are running on a trail or the road, carrying dumbbells will become highly uncomfortable even after the first mile or two. If you are running on a treadmill, then it can be pretty hazardous to hold dumbbells because you need your hands to flip the kill switch in an emergency.

Your best bet again is to use a weighted backpack or a weighted vest. Sometimes you might see some boxers training with dumbbells, but again they will only do this when they are undergoing extreme training camps. It is not something that people do, even professional athletes.

Should You Run with Wrist Weights?

Running with wrist weights is a lot safer and a lot more convenient than running with dumbbells. It is hard to think of a downside when running with wrist weights, so I would say that if you’re looking to burn more calories and you do not want to wear a weighted backpack or weighted vest, then running with wrist weights is perfectly fine.

In fact, running with wrist weights can be highly beneficial, but we would always recommend using a weighted vest or backpack. This is an option for people who want a minimal amount of weight on their arms to train their biceps, triceps and forearms while running.

Conclusion

That brings us to the end of this article. You should now have a broad understanding of what you can expect when running with a weighted backpack or a weighted vest. I always like to express the importance of safety, and for your own safety, you shouldn’t try and add too much weight to the backpack in the beginning; instead, you should take it slow and try and progress.

Mark Norman

I've been running for over 6 years and now try to balance it with life as a dad to two young kids. I'm not super quick, I just try to run consistently, not always easy! I'm lucky enough to have run the London Marathon twice along with countless other half marathons and 10ks. I'm also one of the Run Directors at my local parkrun.

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