Should You Run with a Weight Vest?

If you’re like me, you’re always looking forward to the next thing you can do, the next little trick to try to get the most out of your running, out of yourself, out of your fitness, anything you can possibly do to get that gain that nobody else is doing. So, one thing you’ve seen and you’re considering is, should I run with a weighted vest.

If you’re like me, you’re always looking forward to the next thing you can do, the next little trick to try to get the most out of your running, out of yourself, out of your fitness, anything you can possibly do to get that gain that nobody else is doing. So, one thing you’ve seen and you’re considering is, should I run with a weighted vest.

If you haven’t been with me here on the channel before, I’m Jesse Funk. This is a show I call Runner’s High and we’re going to talk about weighted vests. Now, of course, this is not a weighted vest. This is a dress vest that you’d wear with a dress shirt. But I don’t own a weight vest so I thought this would make a good prop. So, I’ll do my best Mr. Rogers here and try to take off this as we continue talking.

Now, the idea is simple, right? If we run with extra weight, it’s extra resistance. So, when we’re able to take it off, then we are able to run faster because we’re not running with that extra weight, right? We could say, hey, this is gone, goodbye, and now I’m fast. It just makes some intuitive sense too. When we think about some of the research I’ve talked about on this channel before, we covered whether losing weight makes you faster.

And there’s a study that suggests that for every pound we lose we gain two seconds per mile in speed. So, if you’re running a seven minute mile now you can run a 06:58 if you lose one pound. So, you think the reverse might also be true. So, if we put on weight then we can become faster at that weight so we can automatically take it off and become faster. And in the design of that study that’s what they used. They used weight, add it on to runners, figured out how much it slowed them down and then said, hey, if you lose this much weight, then it makes you that much faster.

Now, there are problems with that study when we’re talking about functional fitness and body composition. But in this particular scenario, we’re pretty much comparing apples to apples. If, like me, you ever watched anime, you may have seen Naruto, a very popular anime. And I’m talking about Naruto because it’s that moment when you see Rock Lee for the first time take off his leg weights and these tiny little things, he drops them and the ground virtually explodes because they are so heavy and then now he’s so so much faster. That’s the moment we’re looking for. That’s like our fitness fantasy, right?

Where we have this little secret we’re not going to tell anybody about and then now it’s going to make us much better. There’s just something about it that’s so tempting. And there’s a lot of people to talk about it. And they say, hey, the benefits to your cardio are endless. Now, this comes from people who are selling weight vests. And I will say that, in fact, yes, running with a weight vest is going to make you work harder. Duh, duh, duh. If you add weight, your body has to work harder to move it, simple resistance training.

The questions I have come in large part because we don’t have a lot of research on the effects of especially long distance runners. Using weight vests, there’s a little bit of evidence from like one small study that suggests we can get maybe a 2% increase. But I’m going to spend the majority of this video talking about what are the possible concerns and do those concerns outweigh the potential benefits? My first concern is this and that is the long term effect on your joints.

And I say this because two parts, one, we know the more weight you have on you, the more stress your joints take. That’s a common comment from doctors if they’re asking a patient, hey, you really need to lose weight. You know, you’re having joint pain, losing weight would help you in this situation. So, I don’t think it’s that outlandish to suggest there might be something to look at there.

Now that being said, I have also talked about the benefits of running and joint health because some amount of stress on the joints can help them stay healthier for longer. We stress things just like our muscles, our joints, etc. If we stress them to an acceptable degree, which varies by person and fitness level, then our body’s able to repair them and keep them healthy and strong. So, I’d like to know more about that.

And the reason is because we’re adding non functional weight. That’s the second part is that it’s essentially for all intents and purposes, it’s like adding fat to our bodies. Except the big difference here is, say, this suggestion typically don’t put on more than 10% of your body weight as a weighted vest.

So, currently, I weighed this morning at a 165 pounds. So, let’s say I put on a 15-pound weight vest, I’m under that 10% limit, which would be 16 and a half pounds, for you doing the math at home. So, if I put on a 15-pound weight vest, all that weight is up here, it’s all my upper half. Compare that with, if I gained 15 pounds in fat somehow, I’ve just wished for or the fat fairy showed up or whatever. And suddenly, I’ve got 15 pounds of extra fat on me.

The difference is, all the weight with a weight vest is distributed to my upper body. If however, I gained all that fat, it will be distributed, I’ll say more evenly. That’s not entirely accurate, but more evenly, certainly than a weighted vest throughout my entire body, which is also consequently why trying to lose fat from just your stomach or one particular area doesn’t work. We lose fat from all of our bodies at the same time. In that scenario, functionally, the fat is better because it’s spread out more evenly versus the weight vest, which can cause some potential issues.

And that brings me to point two. And that is a potential in adjusting your running mechanics because of the weight vest. Now I’ve seen people talk about the positive potentially being that it’s going to improve your posture. You have to work harder to stay in good posture. So, having this weight vest is going to help you overall. Okay. That’s all well and good if you already have good posture. And you probably need to cut back your mileage to adjust for the weight vest because you don’t necessarily know yet how much extra fatigue you’re going to take on by adding that weight.

So, say my long run this weekend, I’m going out for 14 miles on Sunday. If I was going to put on that 15-pound weight vest, I probably shouldn’t go out for 14 miles. I should probably test it on something much, much shorter, like five miles. Something much, much shorter well within my current range of mileage so that I can see, okay, how does this run compare to what a normal five mile run might feel like for me? Do I notice any adjustments? And the troublesome part is the adjustments you don’t notice, the things that you don’t really know that you’re doing because they’re so small. You start to make these small adjustments and they become larger and larger, and potentially end up as an injury.

We have a high susceptibility to injury as runners because we do the same thing over and over and over again. And when you adjust your stride, you adjust something and it hasn’t built up the tolerance for the miles that you’re putting in, then it is much more likely you’re going to strain, sprain, or break whatever it is that’s getting that extra load because of the adjustments. So, that is really probably my largest concern is the adjustment to how we run, rather than whether you are going to get the benefits of the weight vest.

My last concern is this and it’s easily mitigated, so I left it for last because you can take care of it if you’re going to go down this road. And that is if you’re using a weight vest all the time, which I think is sometimes our tendency, right? It’s like it’s all or nothing. Like whole hog, I’m going in, I’m doing the whole thing. Whereas it would probably be smarter to use it in lieu of, say, speed training or Fartlek or something. Because if we’re using it all the time, and the weight vest manufacturers and retailers suggest this, it takes a regular easy cardio workout, it makes it much much more difficult. I had a friend text me recently asking me running advice. This is a friend who I ran with in high school, he’s getting back into running and kind of want to know about his situation.

He said, hey, I’m real competitive at this particular run I do with other people. How do I get my normal long runs by myself to be that fast? And what I had to tell him was, you’re probably going too fast. You probably need to check your ego and go slower. Well, what does that have to do with weight vests? It’s the same scenario. If you are using a weight vest, every single day, the load or the stress, which would normally be expressed as speed in that you’re going faster, is on your body every single day. So, you’re not going faster, but you are introducing extra stress on your body.

What I told him in the scenario here with the weight vest is, if you’re doing that for a run a week, you’re probably fine. That’s probably not a big deal. It may even be beneficial in that case. So, that’s something to take into consideration, if you’re going to go this direction, don’t use it for every single run because now you’ve increased your workload a ton versus that general 10% rule we talk about, which has its own exceptions. But we don’t want to increase our, you know, double our work rate, or increase it a ton because that again, can lead to injuries.

The biggest canary in the coal mine, for me, in terms of why we might not want to use a weighted vest is this, we don’t really see the pros doing it. And that isn’t to say what the pros are doing is what we should be doing. Because the pros take on all kinds of training that you and I simply cannot keep up with. We don’t have the physicality, we don’t have the base, there’s so many factors to suggest just because the pros are doing it doesn’t mean we should do it.

However, my point here is that the pros are the prime example of the people trying to get the every last second out of their legs, every little bit of fitness they possibly can, and we don’t really see it as a training method that happens. Somebody probably does it. As far as I know, if it happens is not, not, not very common. And these are people that again, if they are not experts themselves at training, they are often under the tutelage of some of the leading experts in running in the world.

So, if you believe you’re smarter than the smartest coaches on the planet, go for it. But if none of my other arguments are the case, this is the argument I would make and that’s there are people smarter than you and I and they typically are not undertaking this kind of training regimen. However, I’d like to hear from you. If you’ve used it, how you’ve used a weighted vest, leave it in the comments below, share our experiences and hopefully I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.


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