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The weighted vest: can it improve my running performance?

Whether you’re new to running or a seasoned running fanatic, you’ll know that one of the key aspects to running success is endurance. Endurance gives you the ability to run for longer periods and greater distances. But what more can you do than different styles of running? Enter the weighted vest. This piece of kit, initially favoured by the army, is a fantastic way to add intensity to your running sessions. Here, is an overview of weighted vests, a guide on how to choose the right vest for you and advice on how to plan your running sessions wearing one. Ready, set, go! 

The lowdown on weighted vests 

So what actually is a weighted vest? Well, they pretty much are what they say on the tin. A vest that can be bought in different weight grades or that is adjustable. They are either a classic ‘military’ vest style covering the front and back of your torso or are worn like a rucksack with the weight sitting on your back.
Regardless of the type of vest you go for, these vests add an additional element of resistance, challenging the body to work harder when walking, moving through bodyweight exercises or running. And, this extra resistance means you can engage in less intense or shorter training periods and still get the same effects. 
Sitting on the shoulders and upper body, a weighted vest is particularly taxing on your respiratory system - a key player in endurance. The additional weight on the upper body is definitely something you need to get used to. It may initially affect your breathing patterns or can even elicit a panic response from the body. However, this aspect has an upside; much more control of your breathing, pacing and awareness of your cardiovascular system. 


How can weighted vests improve your running technique? 

As we said above, a weighted vest is a perfect companion to a runner. Adding a weighted vest while you’re on a run or doing sprint training adds resistance and builds up cardiovascular tolerance. As a result, when you take the vest off that tough session seems all the easier. The vest essentially works as a conditioner - putting your body through a higher level of intensity which allows you to push further without it. The same technique is often used in weightlifting too; using a higher weight for fewer reps priming your body to hit higher rep ranges with a lighter weight afterwards. 
But do you wear it for every run or just occasionally? Ultimately the frequency at which you wear your vest really rests on your running goals and the areas you’re trying to improve. Below are some ways a weighted vest can influence your running technique and how to structure a workout to attune to your goals. 


Endurance

As we focused on at the beginning, endurance is a key player in running - especially long distances. The core factors that affect your endurance are VO2 max, lactate threshold and efficiency. In layman's terms: 

  • VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use in a workout. The higher your VO2 max, the better your body is at absorbing, using and converting oxygen into ‘molecular fuel’. 
  • The lactate threshold is the point at which the amount of lactate in your blood accumulates fast. Essentially, it measures how much your body can control that burning feeling in your muscles before the fatigue. 
  • Efficiency is the ratio between energy used during exercise and the amount it ‘costs’. The goal is to produce a big output for relatively low energy costs on the body. 


While there hasn’t been a lot of conclusive research about how weighted vests can improve on these three areas, time and time again they’re called in to help. 


How to use the vest for endurance:

  • Wear your weighted vest on your baseline run. Don’t worry too much about pace or stopping if you need to but work on increasing your speed over time. Once you reach your normal speed, you can increase your distance over time. 
  • Try using it when doing interval training. Remember this will increase intensity so either reduce the total number of intervals or the time of the interval periods. 

 
Improved performance

One of the core reasons many trainers incorporate weighted vests into running training is to improve performance. Explosive power is essential for race technique and can be the difference between winning and losing. With the added weight, your body is forced to increase exertion when you’re training at an explosive capacity. 


How to use the vest for improved performance:

  • Use the vest when sprint training. This works best when you have a set distance. It can be as little as 50m initially and you can aim to improve the speed over time. The key is to really focus on that first 10-20m - exploding from your start point with maximum effort. Then do the same drill without the vest. 
  • If you want to look outside of running, why not try wearing it when doing box jumps or burpees. These explosive movements become even more difficult with the vest but will condition the body to cope with high levels of exertion.  


Strength building

As with any form of weightlifting or resistance training, adding a form of weight in addition to the body helps the body to build muscle. This additional muscle can help to balance out your running training, strengthening areas that some runners neglect and injure. In particular knee problems and shin splints. Both forms of injury can be prevented with some attention on strengthening and stretching the surrounding muscles. 


How to use the vest for strength building:

  • Use the vest when hill sprinting. Short, sharp bursts are a great way to build strength, especially in the legs. 
  • Incorporate some bodyweight exercises such as lunges and squats to build muscle particularly around the knees. 

Choosing the right vest for you 

Now you know how to run with a weighted vest, let’s chat about how to choose the right one for you. We’d advise starting with a lower weight vest if it’s your first time working with this piece of kit. So, start with 2.5kg - this will add a surprising amount of weight without putting too much strain on your body. Once you’ve seen some improvements in your running performance, move up to a 5kg vest or a more challenging weight if you’re ready to push yourself. 
Now you’re kitted up and have a running plan ahead, you’re ready to get going with your weighted vest. If you want to get a weighted vest for yourself check out what we have on offer or if you’re looking for more info on how to improve your running performance, take a look at our blog.
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