Training – Weight Vest

Extra Load training using a Weight Vest 

When choosing a  Weight Vest make sure you get one in which you can vary the weight.  This is usually achieved by having the vest covered in lots of small pockets containing small weights.

Some training tips:

The weight vest is a potent training aid. It is ideal for those that aren’t able to train as much as they feel they need to. The following tips will be of use and help you to make the most of this training aid.

Do use the weight vest in hill work, steady running, long intervals (lactate threshold) and long runs.

Do introduce it very gradually, autumn/winter is a good time as you are building up from a low base.

Do realise that you probably won’t feel much stress until the third training session with the harness.

Do look on the extra load (XL) training as LONG TERM gradually building up over years.

Do realise that for comfort you may need to add small pieces of foam/neoprene to stop chafing – also if running with just a t shirt then wear also a singlet so that the jiggling of the vest doesn’t chafe you (especially on the front).

Do understand that the XL training will fatigue-proof your muscles (especially the quads) and at any given running speed you will be running at a higher percentage of your VO2 max. So when running without the vest, any given running speed that you have practised, will feel easier.

Do understand that steady running with XL can be very hard work. If you are on the brink of over-training then this could push you over the brink.

Do stop using XL at least 14 days prior to a major competition. This allows you to complete a full taper and get the benefit of all the XL training.

Do remember that you are doing XL training as a means to an end – to help you perform better in your chosen event without the vest. XL training is not an end in itself.

Do use a very gradual increase in the distance first then inc. in weight. This is a very individual form of training. Can’t really compare with other users. Do ASSESS your own muscle & body stress level after each session, so as not to over-strain or over-train.

Don’t use the weight vest for more than 3 sessions a week as you need a proper recovery between sessions especially as the weight is increased.

Don’t start with more than 2% of your body weight in the harness if you can help it. If due to the design of the vest, you have to start with a higher percentage then extra care is essential to avoid injury.

Don’t be afraid to reduce your volume of training when introducing XL training. You will be having an increased training effect from the XL training you are doing. Your total workload will be increasing.

Don’t use the XL training as an excuse for running slower. Try and run sessions at the same speed as you did without XL and then gradually increase the duration. You start with a small weight in the harness at first to allow you to maintain your normal running speed. As your strength increases the load can be increased little by little. When you then run, at the same effort level, without the harness your normal running speed will feel much easier.

Don’t do XL session with less than 24hrs recovery in-between. A non-XL session or a cross training session could be done in between if planned.


Has any scientific research been carried out to prove the effectiveness of using extra load in training?

Yes, a number of studies have been done, including one performed on William, himself, running both with and without the training weight harness. Some useful links:

Resisted Training Methods for Speed & Power Development


The effect of extra-load conditioning on muscle performance in athletes

Metabolic response of endurance athletes to training with added load

How and why does extra load training work?

In a nutshell it works in two ways: a) on the cardio-vascular system (heart & lungs) – training with extra load makes running at any speed harder (more intense) than running without it and b) more importantly I feel, on the leg muscles. The extra load is a very specific form of weight training, stressing the legs in exactly the right way for running, so that when running without the weight, fewer muscle fibres are required to maintain the same power output i.e. you are very specifically stronger.

Where did you first encounter training with extra load?

In Holland in 1980 when training as a table tennis player. My coach at the time introduced me to doing table tennis drills whilst wearing a ‘sand jacket’ and whilst using an iron bat. Thus the experience and potential benefits of ‘extra load’ (XL) training were brought home to me.

Why did you decide to incorporate XL training in your running programme?

I had run a PB (for that time) of 7:17:39 in the World 100km Championships in Holland (running as an individual) in 1995, having gradually built up my mileage to 90-100 miles per week. I then had to sit down and plan how I wanted to develop my training in the coming years to maintain progress. I didn’t want to go down the road of just increasing mileage year after year. I wanted to try something different. I had read a couple of research papers on extra load training which had impressed me and I decided to give it a go.

Did running with the weighted vest spoil your enjoyment of running?

Good question, as essentially I train because I enjoy it and I want to compete well. The answer is yes, but only for 3 or 4 weeks while I got used to it. I was at a disadvantage as I had to start with quite a high percentage of my body weight in the vest from the outset (about 4%) – this is not recommended and was due to the design of the particular vest I was using. (This drawback, with the original harness I was using, prompted me to design one of my own). After that, the weighted vest became an essential part of my running and I didn’t feel as though I was training hard unless I was wearing it!

You have been training with XL since September 1995. How do you feel that it has affected you?

It has developed tremendous strength, power/endurance and confidence to run hard for long periods of time. It has ‘fatigue-proofed my leg muscles.  It has enabled me to maintain improvement without increasing the total mileage run. It has allowed me to intensify my training. It is the only training method I have found that helps make ultras ‘feel easier’. It offers endless scope for making phased alterations to training each year simply by increasing the load in the vest by about 5% (of the vest weight) each time.

Has this training concept been accepted and adopted by the running fraternity?

Definitely not.

The athletic scene is extremely conservative and mainly resistant to new ideas although this now gradually changing. Because I came to athletics from a different sport (table tennis) and have always been a ‘free thinker’ I have been willing to look at a whole range of unusual and different training methods.

A well known British Olympic coach scoffed at my ‘weight vest training method’ when I explained it to him in 1995. He said “it would be better to simply run faster” completely missing one of the key benefits of this method which is the very specific extra load on the leg muscles.

Other sports are much more open to varied training methods and understand the value of extra load training methods.

William Sichel

September 2000