In mid February I decided to try something that is a little less main stream for a runner as far as weights than gym work outs. I bought a weight vest from Dick’s and started running with it. The one I have comes with 8 pounds of sand in it and then has 1 pound iron bars that can be added to the front and back to adjust the weight up to 40 pounds. Here are some of the ideas, pluses and miscues that I have found while using the vest. Yes I do wear it every time I run besides during hill sprints or a race.
The original idea: My thought on wearing the vest was simple, if I could run my normal runs while adding weight then when I took it off I could do much better. That was just common sense but being me I needed to dive into things a little deeper to see why that was.
- Cardiovascular. One study I found said training with added weight consistently improved running time to exhaustion, velocity, lactate threshold and VO2 Max. Running with additional weight forces your heart and lungs to work harder. This helps them to become more efficient, bettering your VO2 Max (a measurement of how well your body delivers oxygen to the muscles in a minute). Simply put you can run faster, harder and longer when you train with weight. Your body becomes better at processing lactate and becomes more tolerant of higher levels of it, thus allowing you to push harder before nausea sets in.
- Core. Carrying extra weight above the waist works your core harder. The more stable your core the better you are able to maintain proper form and allow for maximized lung capacity. By doing longer runs with weight you build the endurance of these muscles the same as your legs.
- Strength. Running with weight obviously improves the strength of your back, abdominal and leg muscles. It also improves the strength of connective tissues in your joints. Another added benefit is it also makes your bones stronger and more dense. This strengthening trifecta leaves you better able to handle climbs and descents and eases recovery time after a hard run or race.
The actuality of wearing the vest differs somewhat than the idea of it. Here are some of the pluses I have found.
- It does make you faster and give you more endurance. I ran the first half of the year over 4 minutes faster than my previous personal best so there is no question there.
- I can honestly say that I have not noticed a difference in form or lung capacity. I always tend to have to fuss at myself for slumping late in a run, no change there and I still get short of breath for a short period when I first start most runs.
- The strengthening part… I have noticed that my legs seem stronger and I have less joint pain so that part seems to be true.
- I also credit running with the weights to maintaining a slow but steady weight loss. In the past I would level off when I started increasing distance past a certain point but this year that is not the case. I think that the added weight coupled with a good diet is the key.
Now, before I send you all out in search of vest, the not so good parts of wearing one to run.
- Fit. The first vest I bought had weighted sand bags on the INSIDE of the vest. Yes, this was as uncomfortable as it sounds like it would be and I returned it after less than 1/2 mile of use. The second one is the one I have now. It has 8 pounds of sand very high, 4 each to the front and the back and then has multiple little pockets to place 1 pound lead pieces. No matter how tight I strap the waist the sand bag part still bounces a lot, basically hitting your upper chest with each stride.
- Wear ability. A high fashion statement these do not make. Mine looks like a bullet proof vest and tends to get a lot of strange looks from passerby’s. It is also very hot. It is made of heavy material that in many places is multiple layers thick plus having lead or sand in between. I would honestly guess that it feels 15 degrees warmer wearing it than not.
- Chaffing. Yep, I went there. As I said I wear it tight to try and limit the bouncing so any bunches of clothing under the straps such as a waist band on shorts becomes a potential source of rubbing.
- Soreness. When I first started wearing the vest I used just the 8 pounds. Wow did that small amount make a huge difference. It slowed me down, made me tired and made my legs, butt and back sore. It took a week or two to get over the soreness. Every time I add a little more weight there is the same thing but not nearly as bad as the first time.
- Hydration. Carrying water is still a riddle I am working on. The back pack doesn’t fit across the vest and the waist pack had the same problem. With temperatures climbing into the 70s and 80s during runs plus the added heat of the vest hydration is a must.
A couple of closing thoughts and suggestions about running with extra weight. As I said earlier I think there is no question that it has helped me and I plan to continue to use it as I get ready for upcoming events. If you want to try it then use the kiddie diving board, not the high dive. Start off with a light weight, no more than 5 % of your body weight and then gradually increase the weight. Several studies suggest that 30-40 % of your weight should be the upper end but many benefits are there at much lower weight. Currently I am somewhere between 15-20%.
Shop around before you buy a vest, read reviews. If I had it to do all over again I think I would have gotten one with a lot of mesh for ventilation even though they cost much more. A loaded back pack is not the same thing. The vest distributes the weight evenly front to back as well as side to side. Most running back packs aren’t designed to carry heavy weight because they pull back on the shoulders and the weight is all on your back. Hiking back packs are better as far at distribution but are very hard to run with (yes, I tried both types).