Running With a Weighted Backpack! Should You Do It?

Cardio and weight training are common combinations, and HIIT and Bodypump are excellent examples. This idea encourages people to think that running with weights is a good idea. But is it?

This is a yes and no question. Depending on the athletes’ goal, they could benefit from it. Combination workouts have their pluses, and rucking is a prime example.

Wearing a weighted backpack while running can assist an athlete if done correctly. However, if the goal is speed and longevity, it can hinder rather than help.

There’s also the time when it’s an absolute necessity, like carrying supplies for a trail run.

You may have seen people running with backpacks and wondered if that’s part of their training. It could be. Let’s look deeper.

What are Your Running Goals?

People run for all sorts of reasons. For some, it’s to improve speed and fitness; for others, it’s a part of their workout plan, and if you’re like Sherif or me, it’s training to compete in events. Wearing a weighted backpack may help or hinder these activities.

If you’re a marathon runner like me, then your objective is to run as far and fast as possible. You don’t need anything holding you back, so a weighted backpack is not needed or wanted. 

If you are a triathlete like Sherif, the same applies. Speed and agility are your goals, and a weighted backpack serves no purpose in training.

Sherif has recently taken up trail running and has needed to change his training, which now includes a weighted backpack.

See the section below about trail running preparation.

If your goals aren’t to compete in any events, but you wish to improve your overall fitness with a combination of cardio and weights, then wearing a weighted back also known as ‘rucking,’ may be an excellent addition to your workout.

What is Rucking?

Rucking began as a military training exercise but is rapidly appearing in workouts globally. In simple terms, it means walking or running for a set number of miles wearing a weighted backpack. It gets its name from ‘rucksacks,’ which is the nickname given to military bags. (Source)

Benefits of Rucking

Rucking has many benefits for athletes who want more endurance and strength. Here are some.

  • Improves strength, endurance, and general fitness: by increasing the weight of your body, your muscles have to perform extra harder, and as a result, you get stronger.
  • Improve muscle power, endurance, and strength in older adults: when you get to my age (55), your body starts to develop things like osteoporosis and sarcopenia (muscle wasting). Adding a weighted backpack to training helps to build bone and muscle strength.
  • Improved balance: the additional weight can help avoid falls and other injuries.
  • Increases calorie burn: the extra weight increases the amount of energy the body needs to burn.

How to Get Started With Rucking

Please don’t load up a backpack with weights, strap it on your back and start running. You’ll injure yourself very quickly. Start small.

Begin with 3–5% of your body weight and run for a maximum of 20 minutes. How did that feel? If it’s ok, increase it to 5–10% the next time, but keep it to 20 minutes.

Over time you’ll feel more comfortable running with the extra weight, so you can increase the mass and time. Remember, a general rule is that your backpack should weigh no more than 20% of your total body weight. So don’t go over that amount.

Choosing the Right Backpack

No! The bag you carry your laptop around is not suitable for rucking. Choose the backpack carefully.

  • Wide straps: thin straps will feel uncomfortable and may even dig into your shoulders under the extra weight, look for the widest ones possible.
  • Pockets: some items are best stored inside the pack, but others, like a water bottle, are easier to access if they’re in a pocket on the outside.
  • Material: ensure the backpack is waterproof; if you’re going trail running, you’re likely to encounter all sorts of weather conditions, so be prepared.

How to Pack the Backpack

You need to be kind to your body, so correctly placing the weight in the backpack is vital. Try to put the weight as high as possible in the bag. A rolled-up beach towel, a yoga mat, or even some bubble wrap at the bottom of the backpack will elevate the weight.

Preparing For Trail Running

Talk to Sherif, and he’ll tell you, you can’t just show up at a trail run event and expect to succeed. There’s a lot more planning and training required than for a marathon or a triathlon. A trail run can take anywhere from half a day to a couple of days, and there’s one extra piece of preparation a runner needs, carrying supplies. That’s where weighted backpack training can help.

My tip is to pack a bag with everything you’ll possibly need for a trail run, even if you don’t plan to take it all. Consider sat nav equipment, food and drink (like energy bars), paper maps (in case there’s no signal), a torch, a multitool or keychain knife, a safety blanket, and pain medication (pills, gels, bandages). (source)

When all of that is inside the backpack, weigh it. You’ll be surprised how heavy it is.

Trail running packs can weigh between 10–40 pounds. 

Now think about carrying all that weight for x number of miles across rough terrain. That’s why you need to incorporate a weighted backpack into your training.

Like with all weighted backpack training, start low and build up. In your first training session, put one pound only into the backpack and run with it. You’ll be surprised how heavy it’ll start to feel as you keep going. Next time, double it to two pounds. 

Don’t increase the amount until you feel comfortable with the extra weight.

Keep training like this until you’re carrying the amount equal to what you’ll take in the event, and never more than 20% of your body weight.

Rucking can be an excellent way to improve muscle endurance or to prepare yourself for an event like a trail run. For those who want to increase their speed and distance, this is not something you should include in your training.

Stephen Christopher

began running at the age of 50 and 2 years later ran his first marathon in just over 5 hours. He continues to join events all over Thailand and South East Asia with Berlin and London on the list for the future.

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