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Does Running with A Weight Vest Build Muscle?

Running with a weight vest is a great way to add intensity to your run and build muscle. Not only will you see a physical difference in your body, but you’ll also have more strength. Does running with a weight vest build muscle faster than running without one? Yes, it does.

While many people are unsure of the benefits of running with a weight vest, adding this extra weight can be a great way to increase the effectiveness of your run and help you build muscle. There are both pros and cons of running with a weight vest. Sometimes it makes sense to add to your workout, and sometimes it doesn’t.

What Muscles Does Running with A Weighted Vest Work?

does running with a weighted vest build muscle

At first, running with a weight vest may feel uncomfortable or challenging, but over time you will notice that your body is changing and becoming stronger. The added weight helps to tone your muscles and build strength in your core, legs, and back.

Normally, running mostly builds muscles in your lower body and core. However, when adding the weight vest, your back and shoulders get brought into the mix since they have to support the weight of the vest while keeping your torso vertical.

Additionally, if used when warming up, a weighted vest can help you get more out of your running program.

According to a Journal of Science and Medicine article in 2015,

“The weighted-vest condition resulted in a very large enhancement of peak running speed (2.9%; 90% confidence limits ±0.8%), a moderate increase in leg stiffness (20.4%; ±4.2%), and a large improvement in running economy (6.0%; ±1.6%)”

Essentially, if you wear a weighted vest during the warmup, you can expect a decent increase in speed (yes, running with a weighted vest can make you faster!), reduced leg stiffness, and improvements in running economy throughout the remainder of the workout.

That sounds great to me.

How Heavy Should a Weighted Vest Be for Running

The most common weighted vests for running range in weight from about 4lbs to around 30lbs. While heavier vests do exist, some going up to 150lbs, it isn’t realistic to think you will be running much with an extra 150lbs on your back.

When just getting started training with a weighted vest, I would keep the weight low in the 3%-4% of your total body weight range. For example, a 150lb person should use around 5lbs or so of additional weight. This will help acclimate the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints to a slightly heavier weight.

What Happens if I Add Too Much Weight to A Weighted Vest?

Controlling the initial weight and slowly moving up should help reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and reduce your chance of injury throughout the process. Additionally, when wearing a weighted vest, be sure to maintain proper posture and good running form.

You will have more control over your speed and pace when you can run with the correct mechanics. If you find yourself struggling to maintain an upright posture or slight forward lean due to the weight of the vest, it may be time to drop the weight.

Another potential downfall with too much weight is that your upper body gets tired before your legs. Ultimately, the extra weight is a tool to help enhance muscle building and promote faster speeds and longer distances when unweighted, but if you have to cut each run short because your shoulders are tired it may be working against your best interest.

Is a 20 lb weight vest enough?

20 lbs are more than enough for the vast majority of people who run with a weighted vest. Strapping on an extra 20lbs and going for a run may sound easy, but it is not. Trust me. You will feel every lb of that as you schlep your way across the finish line.

According to this study, weighted vests really helped increase the effectiveness of a run after about 30 minutes. Therefore, if you are packing on 100lbs and running for 4 minutes, you are unlikely to see much of a benefit and would be better off running for longer with less weight.

When people ask the question, should I run with a weighted vest, it most likely comes from a place of wanting to help maximize their training benefits. Leave no gains on the table. I love that, you’re not alone.

As long as appropriate thought is put into the process and safety precautions are taken, it can be a great way to help augment your training.

What Should I Look for When Buying a Weighted Vest?

There are several well-known brands of weighted vests that make a quality product. When looking for vests to buy, focus on a few key features to make sure you get the right product for your goals. When buying a weight vest, it’s critical to weigh all of the options.

Fit and Adjustability

The vest must fit properly. Honestly, I wouldn’t buy a weighted vest that isn’t at last somewhat adjustable. People’s bodies change over time, especially when working out regularly, and it’s just too risky to buy something as expensive as a weighted vest without having the ability to adjust it as needed.

Our pick for the most adjustable: Aduro Sport Adjustable Weighted Vest

It’s a bit pricy, but it ticks all of the boxes for a great weight vest that will last you a long time.


Material is another concern. Most major manufacturers today use a quality material to make their vests. One drawback of purchasing a more affordable weight vest is it may be made of slightly less durable materials. This may not be a bad thing depending on how much you run, but it is something to think about.

Our pick for the highest quality weighted vest: Strength Sport Systems Premium Quality Weight Vest

Weight Distribution

Weight distribution is very important. The X design weight vests are the winners here. They distribute the weight in a very natural way making it less inconvenient to wear.

Our pick for the best weight distributing option: PACEARTH Weighted Vest (also a good budget vest)

Storage Pockets

Most weight vests come with some sort of storage pockets. There are always things to carry like your phone, keys, or a gel pack. If you are someone who likes to have these things on you when you run, make sure the vest you choose has storage pockets that will work for you.

Analyze each vest before you purchase it to make sure it can carry the person load you need as well as the weights!

Adjustable Weights

Another critical factor is that it has adjustable weights. Most vests do, so I won’t belabor the point, but look at the size of the jumps. For example, if the vest starts at 4lbs and goes to 6lbs, that’s a 2lb jump. If it goes from 5lbs to 10lbs you may be missing out on that sweet spot you really need.

Something to keep in mind.

Overall, while it can be intimidating to try something new like running with a weight vest, the benefits of doing so far outweigh the risks. If you are looking for a new challenge or want to take your training to the next level, consider giving it a try.

Does running with a weight vest build muscle? Should I buy one? Which one should I buy? Hopefully, we made the answers to those questions a bit easier. Just make sure to do your research and buy a quality product and you won’t regret it.

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About the author

Jasper loves to write about fitness, running, and anything else that gets him moving outdoors. He's an avid hiker, backpacker, and climber who loves to stay fit so he can make sure he's healthy enough to enjoy his favorite hobbies. He also spends time writing about his true passions in life.