When you've been running for a while, you may start to look for ways to up your game and make the runs more challenging. Adding time and intensity are the classic ways to do this. You can simply run longer or find hills that can make your runs more difficult.
Another way to add intensity is to add weight — though if you're thinking of carrying dumbbells while you run, take a few important things into consideration before you head out.
Why They Work
When you carry weights on your run, you're increasing the load your body has to move through space — which means you'll be pushing yourself a little harder. Working harder will increase your heart rate, which will lead to more calories burned.
According to Cedric Bryant, PhD, FACSM, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise, you may be able to increase your heart rate by five to 10 beats per minute, and increase your oxygen consumption by 5 to 15 percent. Weights are also strength-training equipment, so by holding them you may help to strengthen some of the muscles of your upper body.
Why They Don't
You may be able to strengthen your upper body by using dumbbells while you run, but you may be developing a muscle imbalance that can lead to overdeveloped shoulders with a rounded or hunched appearance. Since runners already have imbalances in that area, holding dumbbells may just make the problem worse.
Another thing to consider: The increase in calorie burn from holding the dumbbells may just be a result of moving your arms forward and back in a more pronounced fashion, meaning you could just do the same thing without weights and enjoy similar results.
If you have more time for a workout, an alternative may be to use your dumbbells before you head out on your run. Do several exercises, such as biceps curls, triceps kickbacks and lateral arm raises, which will allow you to isolate muscle groups and help you tone those muscles in a more focused manner.
Read more: The Risks of Walking with Ankle Weights
Don't Overdo the Weight
If you decide to use the weights after all, it's important to choose the right amount of weight. Hand weights should not be any heavier than 3 pounds, suggests Dr. Bryant, since more weight than that can put unnecessary stress on your joints and muscles.
If you're just starting out, choose a pair of 1-pound weights so you can become accustomed to running with weights without a great deal of excess weight. Over time, move up to a heavier weight — not exceeding 3 pounds.
Running With Dumbbells
When you head out on your first run, spend a few minutes warming up without the weights, allowing your body to gradually become accustomed to the increased demand. Walk or jog for about five to 10 minutes, allowing your heart to slowly start beating faster. Then set out on your run.
Ideally, stick close to home for this first run — or jog on a track so you'll be able to set the dumbbells down if you find that it's too difficult.
Hold the dumbbells in a firm but not tight grip; holding them tight could cause you to experience an exaggerated elevation in blood pressure, reminds Dr. Bryant. Pay attention to the swing of your arms, and try not to swing them much more than you do when you don't have them.
To minimize the threat of overuse injuries from using the weights, run with them only one or two days a week instead of every time.
A Weighted Alternative
If you haven't yet bought a set of dumbbells, consider purchasing a weight vest in lieu of the dumbbells. Vests, like dumbbells, add more resistance to your workout, but the focus is around your core. With the vest, your weight will be evenly distributed and you'll be less likely to suffer overuse injuries.