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Should you run with weight?

Running with weight has gained a lot of popularity over recent years, due in no small part to the CrossFit® games using both weighted vests, and more recently rucksacks, in their events. This, combined with my military background, are probably the key reasons I chose to attack the Gunness® World Record for the most distance covered in 24 hours, carrying a 40lb pack. Hopefully, my experience in training for this event, and others, can help you decide whether to run with weight and if so, what type. There are a few factors to consider when deciding whether or not adding load to your runs is right for you.

What is your current running ability?

This might seem like an obvious question, but I've met many a fitness enthusiast who wants to run before they can walk, so to speak. There is a trade-off when you add load; yes it offers the opportunity to challenge the system more, but there is also a chance you will lose the challenge as the load added, either by weight, type, or for a duration, is currently beyond your ability level. This could ultimately lead to a regression in your running, rather than a progression.

Tip: Progress through a solid 5 or 10km programme for 3-6 months, and ensure you're happy with your running form before trying to run with weight.

What are your goals?

If you are in the military, emergency services, competitive CrossFit®, or otherwise require the ability to carry load for your job, sport or hobby, then training with weight makes sense! Your specific goal or requirement will, to some degree, dictate the type of load, the positioning, the weight, and the types of workout you would most benefit from. If you are a police officer, for example, you are often required to wear your vest and utility belt for extended periods, and carry out all manner of tasks without removing your equipment. If you are an avid hiker, the load would be a rucksack, rather than a vest, and would require much less functional movement than would likely be expected of someone in law enforcement. With this in mind, maybe a weighted rucksack would better suit you?

Do you have joint paint when you run?

If the answer to this is yes, running with weight isn't your priority right now, in fact, it should be avoided until you can run pain-free. In order to get to pain-free running, there are several things you might consider:

  1. Is your body weight too high? If so, consider other forms of aerobic fitness with less impact for the time being, such as swimming, cycling or rowing.

  2. Is your running form okay? If you're not sure, maybe it's worth a quick online consult, or an in-person one if possible, to get some feedback and advice.

  3. How is your underlying strength, posture, range of motion and body control? If it's not great, it may be best to build a solid foundation here, to underpin better running form.

  4. How is your breathing? If it's erratic, and it controls you, more than you control it, then addressing this could be a great start! It's also worth considering that a rucksack will impact your breathing less than a vest, although the vest is more posture neutral.

Tips for getting started.

If you have decided running with load is for you, great! Let's make sure you tick all the boxes required to get the most benefit, with the least risk of injury.

  • Start light, just like any other weight-bearing exercise, and be patient building tolerance.

  • Start slow. Walk before you run; literally! Let your joints and muscles become accustomed to bearing load and the increased impact to which you're going to subject them.

  • Make sure you strength train to create a foundation. Good posture under load, and the ability to resist impact forces are built in the gym.

  • Don't neglect your other training. Not everything needs to be weighted, although once or twice per week, depending on your goals, and with a sensible progression, is probably a good place to be for most people.

  • Select the implement that best suits your needs; vest or rucksack. If, over time, your needs change, be prepared to adapt.

  • Make sure runs with weight are an increased challenge over runs without, once you have built your base. Don't fall into the trap of the weight becoming a subconscious excuse to take it easy.

Tom Hunt Cert HE | CCFT | Pn1


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