You've taken up running to become stronger and lose some weight. Calorie burn increases when you weigh more and your muscles work harder against resistance -- so you strap on a weight vest for your next run. But as you sweat and suffer, you wonder if the vest is really helping you achieve your goals.
Weight vests come in a variety of styles, but most are made of strong nylon, held in place with elastic Velcro straps and are weight-adjustable by adding or removing metal ingots. Wear a weighted vest for a variety of workouts, including walking, calisthenic exercises and running. It'll certainly make you work harder -- if that's your goal -- but may compromise your form and the distance you cover.
Wearing a weighted vest makes exercises that require you to overcome gravity more demanding, and possibly more effective. With each step you take running, you increase the cardiovascular demands of your workout -- even if the extra weight causes you to run at a slower speed.
The extra demands placed on your muscles when running in a weight vest can marginally increase lower-body strength and endurance. This will be particularly noticeable when you perform the same runs without your vest.
As well as making your muscles stronger, wearing a weighted vest when running increases the load transmitted through your bones. The extra loading can result in increased bone mass by stimulating cells called osteoblasts to lay down new bone material in response to the demands being placed on your skeleton. Running without a vest also prompts this bone-building, however.
While a weighted vest increases the demand placed on your legs and cardiovascular system, too big a load can have an adverse effect on your running style.
If the vest is too heavy, you may find that you run using a lower, shorter stride pattern, which subsequently alters technique when you return to running without a vest. You're no longer "light on your feet."
So, despite the fact you may be stronger and fitter than before, you may not be able to run faster or farther.
Increased Joint Impact
Wearing a weighted vest increases the impact and forces that are transmitted through your legs. If you use a vest that's too heavy, the stress may prove injurious to your knees, ankles or hips.
To minimize your risk of injury, keep the vest's weight light at first and gradually increase them over the course of several weeks. If you are new to running in a weighted vest, 5 percent of your body weight is an appropriate load. Never load your vest with more than 10 percent of your body weight.
If you're coming to running from a sedentary lifestyle, a weighted vest is an absolute no-no. You need to build stamina and leg strength before considering wearing a weighted vest for workouts.
Not a Running Asset
While wearing a vest may enhance calorie burning, strengthen your leg muscles and bones, and increase the difficulty of your workouts, it's unlikely to improve your running ability.
The best way to increase your running skills is to run farther and faster. Wearing a weighted vest, especially a heavy one, is likely to result in slower, shorter workouts, which will not necessarily help your running skills. Plus, the likely compromise to your form will only hurt you in the long run.