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Will running with a backpack slow you down?

If you are a runner there may be times when you want to run with a backpack. Perhaps you have some snacks in there, race-day extras, additional gear, or you don't want to check your bag at the event. Have you ever thought about whether or not it has an impact on your running performance to do the run with a backpack? Well, some scientists did wonder and so they did what all scientists do - they put to the test!

In the May 2018 issue of the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, researchers tested whether or not running with a backpack on will hinder your performance. To conduct the test, the researchers took 10 recreational runners who were males and had them run on a treadmill for 5-minute segments, monitoring them at three different speeds. They did this series of tests both with the additional weight of the backpack and without it, so they could compare the data. During the running they tested their heart rate, oxygen consumption, lactate and lactate threshold.

What they found in this test is that the energy consumption that the  runners used to run with a backpack on was:

  • Oxygen consumption, energy cost of running and heart rate increased significantly while running with a backpack weighing 3kg (6.6 pounds).
  • Running with a 1kg (2.2 pounds) backpack showed a significant increase in heart rate at 80% sLT (p=0.008) and a significant increase in oxygen consumption and heart rate at 90% sLT (p=0.045 and p=0.007) compared to running without additional weight.
  • While running at 70% sLT running economy and cardiovascular effort increased with weighted backpack running compared to running without additional weight, however these increases did not reach statistical significance.

In conclusion, they found that running with a backpack on increases cardiovascular effort and running economy deteriorates. This is especially true when running at higher speeds. Their recommendation is that backpack weight should be kept to a minimum. This is important information to keep in mind if you will be planning a run that includes wearing a backpack. It's going to make your body work harder, especially if you are someone who is running at faster speeds. You will want to account for that. Your best option, if you must run with a backpack, is to ensure that the weight is kept to a minimum. This goes for the running backpack itself and what goes into it.

You can find plenty of lightweight running backpack options out there. Just be sure to find out their weight before choosing one, so you can determine how much you can put into it and still safely and comfortably manage your run!

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