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More Training Info > Weighted Trail Running

FAQ: Weighted Trail Running

Q: I've been using a lightly weighted backpack when I go running for a while now as I enjoy the extra level of difficulty it brings and have assumed it helps increase stamina. Recently a good friend told me I should stop as it's bad for my back. I've never noticed any back problems after a run but I don't want to do anything that could result in injury. Do you have any thing to say on the subject?

A: First of all, perhaps of greater (or more immediate) concern than back issues would be the potential for twisted ankles or knee pain, depending on the terrain you are choosing to run on with a weighted pack. If you are on trails with roots, rocks, or other awkward footing, the added weight could throw you off balance more easily or slow you down so as to compromise cardio benefits. Being thrown off balance could also contribute to an increased chance of rolling or spraining your ankles. If you find that you are at all tentative while running, you could trip and fall, causing sprained wrists (especially from the added load to your torso), skinned hands or knees, or worse. Furthermore, if you are on trails with any elevation gain or loss, you may find that your knees experience greater soreness, at least initially, from the downhill portions of the run. However, this should diminish with practice and adaptation, just like in hiking, as the quads get used to the additional load.

As for back issues specifically, if you do not have a history of lower back pain, the main concern for you would be to make sure that the added pack weight does not change your gait or running stride in any way. Too much forward leaning (from weight too high up on the shoulders) can cause early lower back fatigue or strain. Try to keep the added weight low and close to the core and hips. By keeping abdominals and core muscles strong, you should be able to handle a light pack without back problems.

In other words, you CAN safely train with added pack weight, as long as you have a fanny pack or day pack that is close-fitting so that it doesn't throw you (or your core body) off balance. Be sure that you do not increase the weight too quickly. It might also be a good idea to alternate days of weighted versus unweighted runs, or even to include a few low- or non-impact days (something other than running), so you do give your back, hips, knees and feet sufficient rest.


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