You may have seen someone walking or jogging with hand weights and thought, "What a brilliant idea to tone my upper body while running." The added weight you'll carry can also make you work harder, increasing your calorie burn. While this may seem like a win-win situation, you may want to think twice about lugging dumbbells along on your next run. Running with dumbbells carries several dangers that may encourage you to spend a little extra time at the gym rather than lifting on the go.
Holding dumbbells while you run can cause incorrect running form, which can lead to muscle soreness and even injury. With the extra weight in each hand, your center of gravity is thrown off balance and you must overcompensate with your torso, twisting your midriff too far each way. While this might be a good workout for your obliques, it could wreak havoc on your spine, hips and knees. You may also have an exaggerated arm swing and even an actual change stride to compensate for the added weight. Compare it to running with an injury -- for example, you may subconsciously favor your right ankle during a run and the next day your entire left leg is sore.
An increase in the weight you're carrying via the dumbbells adds to the impact your feet, ankles, knees and hips must absorb. This is not necessarily a bad thing if the weight is equally distributed, however, it can be dangerous when combined with the swinging of the dumbbells. Not only do you have to worry about your lower body dealing with impact, but you also need to be aware of your upper body. The constant jerking on your shoulders, elbows and wrists from the dumbbells can quickly result in tendon and ligament damage and sore muscles.
The likely reason you decided to run with dumbbells was to increase your workout intensity. Sorry to crush your dreams, but you may actually have taken your workout downhill. You may be so preoccupied with maintaining form and not smacking yourself with the dumbbells that you have actually decreased your pace. You may think that the added weight from the dumbbells compensates for your slower pace, but you might be wrong. The American College of Sports Medicine notes that carrying hand-held weights does not satisfactorily increase energy expenditure while walking or running.
If your ultimate workout goal is to run with added resistance, you can try several alternatives. A weighted vest gives you the added weight in a balanced and easy to use form. Wear the vest over your workout top and then take off. Your arms are free to do what they need to and the weight is equally distributed around your torso so your center of gravity is on target. Another effective method of running against resistance is to pull something, such as an old tire with a rope tied around it or a parachute designed to add resistance. Try circuit training if you still have your heart set on combining dumbbells with running. For example, take a set of dumbbells to a track and alternate between an upper body lift like the shoulder press with an 800-meter run. Alternate between lifting and running three to four times and there's a good chance you'll walk away satisfied with your workout.
- BBC Sport Health and Fitness: Are You Running Properly
- American College of Sports Medicine: Energy Expenditure of Different Modes of Exercise
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Third Edition; Thomas Baechle, et al
Jen Weir writes for several websites, specializing in the health and fitness field. She holds a Bachelor of Science in exercise science from Montana State University, is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist and maintains a personal trainer certification from the American College of Sports Medicine.