Running with a weight vest can improve your speed
By Owen Anderson, Ph.D.
A famed Finnish exercise scientist recently reported some fascinating new research results for runners, part good news, part merely strange. The good news is that you can boost your leg-muscle power and speed in just four weeks. The strange news is that no special workouts are needed. In fact, what you wear when you run is far more important than how you actually train.
This doesn't mean you need to slip into polypro pants, a paisley singlet or energy-return shoes, however. According to the new research, simply wearing a weighted vest will do the trick. If this sounds a little offbeat to you, perhaps it's because you're no rocket scientist. Those who are, the NASA experts, have long realized that weightless space travel weakens leg muscles, while jumping around on Jupiter (the planet with the most gravity) would build leg power.
Finnish Researcher Helkki Rusko didn't have a large enough budget for interplanetary travel, so he opted to test the gravity-leg-strength connection by strapping weighted vests onto his subjects, 12 well-trained athletes. Each vest weighed 10 percent of the subject's total body weight, forcing leg muscles to work harder, even during routine activities like standing and walking. Rusko's subjects wore their vests all day long for four weeks and during at least three of their eight weekly workouts.
The initial results were negative. After four weeks: the runners needed more oxygen to run at a given pace (that is, their running economy had deteriorated). Similarly, their leg muscles were producing more lactic acid, a possible sign of muscle fatigue.
Fortunately, Rusko didn't give up at this point. For the next two weeks, he asked his subjects to take off their vests and continue training as usual. A retest at the end of this two-week period produced far different results.
This time, lactate threshold was 2 percent higher (meaning that the runners produced less lactic acid), and max V02 had also increased by 2 percent. Two other important measures also improved: Endurance while sprinting soared by 25 percent, and stair running speed, a good indicator of leg-muscle power, increased by 3 percent.
These improvements in speed and power occurred because weighted-vest running altered the test subjects' basic running mechanics and activated the fast-twitch muscle fibers in their legs. Only the group's running economy remained slightly depressed.
The bottom line? Wearing a weighted vest has the potential to strengthen your leg muscles, make you faster, improve your kick and make you a better hill runner. However, it's important to bear in mind the following points:
* If you decide to try using a vest, wear it as much as possible during your daily routine. Wearing a vest only for workouts may not provide enough stimulation of fast-twitch muscle fibers.
* Wear the weighted vest during some, but not all, of your training sessions. The vest actually slows your average speed during training, so constant use would eventually teach your muscles to work at a slower rate.
* You'll have to stop wearing the vest for several weeks before you see positive effects. Your body needs a "furlough" to recover from the extra stresses of vest wearing.
* Don't try to substitute hand weights for a vest. Hand weights may slightly increase your oxygen consumption, but they won't do anything for your leg muscles or increase your max V02 to any significant degree.
* Don't attach weights to your ankles. The extra poundage could cause injuries and may wreck your running economy.
* Weighted vests will probably prove most beneficial to middle and short distance runners. Distance runners may be able to improve their lactate threshold, max V02 and kicking ability by using a vest, but they must guard against loss of running economy. You can buy weighted vests in some sporting goods stores.
This article appeared in:
RUNNER'S WORLD MAGAZINE -- NOVEMBER 93
Weighted vests are tools you can use to add resistance to your current exercise program to build lean muscle and burn additional calories. There are risks with wearing a weighted vest, so talk to your doctor before donning a vest laden with weights -- especially if you have any underlying medical conditions that could react negatively to added pressure.
Weighted vests increase the load you carry when performing exercises to strengthen back muscles, encourage proper posture to counteract the effects of curvature of the spine, and improve stability. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, weighted vests are particularly beneficial to prevent osteoporosis, or bone loss that leads to fractures and curvature of the spine. Weighted vests increase the intensity of your exercise by adding load-bearing weight to your hips and lower spine, areas that suffer most injuries as a result of bone loss and poor posture. Increased loads also increase endurance levels. Create an Exercise Plan Build a Custom Plan Here Based on Your Goals and Favorite Activities. merckengage.com Sponsored Links
The most common exercise that incorporates weighted vests successfully is walking. The extra weight provides additional load-bearing impact with every step. In order to remain upright and continue walking, you must hold yourself erect when wearing a vest. You can also use weighted vests while using a treadmill -- which is particularly efficient if you have any difficulty with balance because you can hold on to the rails for support as you build core and lower back strength. Weighted vests also can improve the workout you get while stair climbing, jumping and using step machines.
Weighted vests are best suited to exercises that you perform in an upright position, such as treadmill work, walking and running. You can place undue stress on your back and offset your balance if you try to wear a vest while cycling or performing calisthenics in a prone position. Weighted vests are not appropriate for exercises that require bending, such as crunches or rowing, because they're designed to interfere with your core flexibility. According to the American Council on Exercise, to safely and comfortably use a weighted vest while exercising you should wear vests that are no heavier than 5 percent to 10 percent of your total body weight.
In addition to building bone density, weighted vests can increase your lower body strength considerably, according to a study performed by the Department of Exercise and Science at the University of Utah. You must exert considerable effort to remain upright while wearing a weighted vest when you're working out, requiring you to use your legs more effectively. The top-heavy resistance the weights provide engage your buttocks and thigh muscles to hold yourself upright and requires increased muscle activity to move your legs. Your dynamic balance, leg strength and lower body power increase after wearing weights while exercising.
A weighted vest is a versatile piece of fitness equipment that is relatively inexpensive and can provide many benefits to your health and fitness. Weighted vests come in a variety of different styles and weights. Some styles of vests are adjustable in weight, which can allow for a wider range of training methods, as well as improved health and fitness results.
Wearing a weighted vest increases the intensity of your workout, whether you are running, walking, doing push-ups or just wearing it around the house. Wearing a weighted vest requires your body to use more energy to do the same tasks as it would without wearing the vest; thus, you will burn more calories that could result in weight loss.
Improve Bone Density
Weight-bearing exercises are beneficial for improving bone density and preventing osteoporosis. In 2000, a study conducted by Oregon State University found that elderly women who wore a weighted vest from 1 to 10 pounds during resistance exercises were able to improve their bone density over the course of five years. The extra weight provided by the vest causes your muscle to become denser, too, which may help prevent the onset of osteoporosis.
Wearing a weighted vest during plyometric-type exercises, such as jumping and leaping, can improve your vertical jump. A study conducted by Heikki Rusko from Texas Tech University found that athletes who wore weighted vests of about 10 percent of their body weight during their jump drills had significantly improved vertical jumps after six weeks compared to the control group.
Runners who regularly wear a weighted vest can improve their speed and endurance over time. The added weight of the vest requires more oxygen, strength and energy than running without it. According to Rusko's Texas Tech research, athletes who wore a weighted vest during high-speed running improved their VO2max and lactate threshold by 25 percent and their max running speed improved by three percent within a six-week time period.
Beginners should consider starting with a lighter-weight vest or an adjustable weighted vest, choosing a weight that is less than 10 percent of your body. Begin wearing the vest around the house during daily activities before incorporating the vest into your regular training regimen. Once you feel comfortable with the weight of the vest while doing the low-intensity activity, gradually increase the weight and the intensity of your workouts.
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