4 Benefits to Marathon Training with a Weight Vest

So we’re down to the final week before the Seattle 1/2 Marathon. And things are coming along really well. It’s been exciting to experience how our fitness and speed have improved at the same time.

This is unusual for distance running.

Usually you are either building volume and running more miles at each training session or you’re improving your speed but not necessarily going any faster. This is the  traditional program offered by many fitness stores and rec centers.

But we’re trying something new and it’s paying off.

And last week was the last week of building our volume was the toughest workouts we will have to do. With the end in sight, of the training anyway, I thought I’d add an extra challenge to the training session and threw on my weight vest for a couple of the workouts.

If you’ve never trained with a weighted vest ease into it. Start with something on the light to moderate side at maybe 5-10% of bodyweight. Oftentimes I’ll hear of people using a 40 or 50 lbs vest for their first time out and paying the price for days afterwards as a result.

So what’s so great about using a weighted vest? Here are my top 4 Benefits to Marathon Training with a Weight Vest.

Reason #1 – Increased Ground Reaction Forces

I remember reading a research article a while back on training with a weight vest. And a quick citation search wasn’t successful in identifying it. Anyways, the article mentioned how the increased load from the vest was beneficial in providing increased force into the ground with running.

Overcoming this increased force would lead to increasd power production. Which would help me run faster on race day.

Reason #2 – Improved Breathing Mechanics

Optimal breathing orginates below the chest in the diaphragm. When we breath from the diaphragm, rather than the chest, there is an improved exchange of air. And we get better lower trunk stabilization when the diaphragm pulls down on each inhalation.

When I wear my vest I cinch the straps up tightly so the vest doesn’t flop around as I run. The pressure of these straps against my abdomen makes it really easy to remember to move my stomach in and out during breathing. Better diaphragm breathing allows leads to the next point.

Reason #3 – More Relaxed Torso

When I was young I was in competitive swimming. I remember one race when my goggles broke and I didn’t have my best race. I came out of the pool and threw my goggles against the wall in frustration. My coach simply said ‘Don’t waste anymore energy on this race. Get ready for the next one’.

What does this story have to do with running and wearing a vest? Well it makes me think to stay relaxed. And conserve energy. Specifically to conserve energy from getting tight.

When wearing a vest there is a tendancy towards diaphragmatic breathing. This lessens the impetus for chest breathing. Less chest breathing means less tension through the chest, shoulders, traps, levators etc.

In other words I’ll stay more relaxed and not be wasting energy on something that doesn’t contribute to speed. Thanks Coach Margie!

Reason #4 – Psychological Advantage

I’m not sure why all my old swimming stories are coming to mind but when we used to train for swimming we’d wear 2-3 suits. Sometimes we’d even wear an old t-shirt.

Why? Well for the extra drag of course. If you’ve never tried swimming laps in a t-shirt you’re in for a shock. It’s very taxing.

But the other benefit was the next time you raced without a t-shirt on you felt super fast. And the same applies when running with a weight vest. As soon as you ditch the vest you feel super light on your feet. And you feel like you can bound 50% further than with it on.


If you are going to try training with a vest, ease into it. Maybe use on for your weight training workouts first. Then use on for part of your conditioning or energy  system training. And make sure to do a thorough cool down and recovery specifically the lower body and calf complex. The calves won’t be used to this increased load and will need some extra stretching or myofascial release post-workout.

Chris                                                                                                                                                                               okanaganpeakperformance.com

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2 Responses to 4 Benefits to Marathon Training with a Weight Vest

  1. Joel says:

    I got on your mailing list from a Twongo coupon that I
    purchased…haven’t used it yet but I look forward to using it in the new year.

    I have generally liked the articles that you send out.

    Wearing a weight vest seems like a good idea for the reasons you discuss and for posture, etc. I have never tried a weight vest, but my first thought it
    would put additional stress from impact on knees and
    ankles. I am just wondering if the benefits outweigh the stress that puts on knees/ankles. I am no physio or doctor…just a thought…


    • Chris says:

      Hi Joel: Thanks for your question. And you’re right to wonder how the extra loading will affect the various joints, specifically through the lower body.

      There’s a noted physiotherapist who said ‘you don’t run to get in shape, you need to be in shape to run’. I think we can extend this to all types of training especially plyometrics. And running is definitely a plyometric activity.

      So before we look at incorporate plyos, box jumps or any type of explosive training we need to ensure that we have adequate eccentric strength. This means we are strong enough to handle the stretching of the muscle that occurs during a plyometric exercise. And obviously adding external load such as a dumbbell, barbell or in this case a weight vest will require even greater eccentric strength.

      All the best,


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