Reader to Reader: Why Train With a Backpack?

Useful for training or just a macho thing?

Posted: 7 September 2006
by Jane Hoskyn

This week, one reader wants to know why some runners like to put their back(pack)s into it...

"Is it silly to train with a weighted rucksack strapped to your back? Surely it's safer to have a weight strapped around the stomach (less pressure on the back)? Why don't runners who feel the need to do this just run a training session faster...? I've never heard of an elite athlete saying that this type of weight training has contributed to their success. It's almost exclusively men that do it, so is it just a macho 'hey look at me' thing?"
Paul Johnson

Your answers

  • Running wearing a backpack trains you to run wearing a backpack. It's useful if you're doing military exercises or mountain marathons, but it doesn't confer any advantages otherwise. You're more likely to get injured, at least initially. – Velociraptor
  • I'm a territorial soldier and a keen runner (and a woman!). I've trained with weight as part of my army life, so it's not true to say that this is a macho thing limited to men. Running with weight is not good for your back or knees if you are running too fast. Even when training with weight in the army, you're restricted to walking very fast as opposed to running. If you are training for a specific reason with weight, then go for it; but not just for the sake of it. – Tracy Keating-Verga
  • I wear a backpack when I'm training for an ultra-marathon. I load the pack with all the items and liquid I'll need for the event, and this allows me to get accustomed to the weight and the feel, because it does change your running style. – The Aussie
  • I used to run with rucksack, or a bergan as they're known in military circles. It hurts, and it's a pain in the neck (not to mention ar*e), bouncing around no matter how much you strap it down. The only running advantage I could see was: run with a bergan, take it off, and run again. Then it felt like you were running fast. – Tri Taffia
  • I served in the Paras for 11 years, and most of our training was with 30lb and upwards of weight in our bergans. I haven't had any problems with knee or back injuries (I'm now 42), apart from the odd dodgy parachute landing. Once the weight was off my back, I tended to run much faster and easier. It's no fluke that most army cross-country leagues and championships etc were won by Parachute units. For the record my marathon PB is 2:52... without a bergan! – Jonah
  • Unless you're training for an elite regiment or an ultra-marathon in the desert, training with a rucksack carries no tangible benefit. Steady, structured training with running and cross-training over a period of time is the way to build fitness and avoid injury over the long term. – Mike Hawes
  • It will put extra strain on the body and probably make you change your running style. I do run with a pack sometimes, but only so I can get to the gym/race/work. I keep it as light as possible. If I could ditch the pack, I would. – coughie
  • I'm training for a half Ironman, and I run once a week with my wife. She's a beginner and runs at a far slower pace than me, so, to save the run being "junk miles" for me, I wear a weighted pack to increase the intensity of the run. It's crucial to wear a pack with a chest strap and waist strap to prevent chafing and stress injuries. – CraigB
  • Have you ever heard of a top professional middle- or long-distance runner careering along the roads with a bag full of weights on his/her back? If they could have more success training that way, they'd have being doing it years ago. – Johnny J
  • I do very long, slow runs, so I've got used to carrying a backpack with water, gear etc. Recently I developed some lower back pain due to posture; as an asthmatic, I tend to hunch slightly. I've actually found that the pack helps relieve the pain, partly because it makes me brace my shoulders and partly because it seems to have some acupressure-type effect. – Bear B. Hind
  • Unfortunately every Friday it's part of my job to run with a 15kg bergan. This training is good for building endurance and core muscles, but if you don't build up to it you're gonna get injured. There are much better ways to improve your core strength. I've just finished 11 miles with a pack, and I probably won't be doing any exercise until Monday (three days away), when I might be able to move again! – Vezza
  • If you want a little more gravity, you'd be far safer finding a decent hill. The rate of lower limb and back injuries amongst military recruits who train with packs is quite frightening. But if you are determined to achieve the "military poseur", try this top tip. Fill your huge, green rucksack with pillows and sleeping bags and set off at a blistering pace - huge kudos with no chance of injury! – andy roberts

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Discuss this article

Hey peeps

It has been a while since I've posted on the RW forums but I'm pleased to be back.

I sooooo need some advice!

I used to be a half decent runner. I've run seven marathons (with a best time of 3hrs 36min), loads of HM and more 10k races than I could even begin to count... And absolutely loved every minute of every one!

I also used to look nice and thin and toned.

Until I had a car accident in January and completely crushed my foot. I now have a foot made of metal and a knee missing numerous important bits of support!

I now live in China, and have started to get back into running. I run about four times a week for about 30mins to 45mins at a time... but it feels so much harder than it used to!!!

I'm now much heavier than I used to be, my cardio fitness is pathetic (from sitting on my bum for months) and I feel so slow and heavy when I'm running.

Do you think the fact that I was mega-fit less than a year a go will mean that I can build up my fitness faster than most?!?... Or am I literally starting from scratch?!?

I hate the thought of being a beginner again. Don't get me wrong... I enjoyed it at the time... But when I've been running for years, I hate the fact that I struggle when I get to 40 minutes.

My body is a beginner but my head is a pro!

Anyone got any hints or tips for building my stamina quickly?!?
Posted: 01/09/2006 at 11:36

This collection of thoughts could be worth a read:
Posted: 01/09/2006 at 11:53

Be patient.

I'm in a similar sitution except I've never run as well as you.

I'm forced to except that recent surgery may mean I don't run ever but if I do, it will be starting as a beginner.

I found starting to run, so hard compared to maintaining a level of running that I dread it.

My biggest battle will be to start and to not give up because I can't do what I used to. So my advice is v personal - set realistic goals and don't get disallusioned. Good luck

Posted: 01/09/2006 at 13:07

You have the advantage of knowing how good you used to be and the ability to get there again. Take thing's sensibly and you'll get there once more sooner than you think. I'm sure your previous fitness levels will be an advantage to returning to full fitness.

Good luck.
Posted: 01/09/2006 at 14:41

In a similar position although not due to an accident but a serious foot injury that took a couple of years to heal – in the interim I got married and we had a son – have put on a couple of stone as well and generally feel cr*p about it all – started to run again in April and felt exactly the same – I used to jog at 7 minute miles and suddenly found after 6 years that I was ‘running’ at about 10 minute miles – to be fair the pace did gradually start to pick up and it was almost a major mile stone when I measured a course and found that I had run sub 8 minute miles for 30 odd minutes – but because I know what I used to do, I have totally lost motivation – did a race and found that instead of being in the top 5% I was in the bottom 5% and was beaten by club mates who couldn’t get anywhere near me a few years ago – the enthusiasm I found before my holiday has definitely waned.

Am guaranteed an entry to the 2007 FLM under the 5 rejections ruling and it is my intention, as selfish as it seems to enter then defer for a year and train properly for the next 18 months to see if I can get back to something like my best – (although as 6 years older that may be beyond me) although a former club mate and rival did run 2:45 this year so if he can I can I suppose – But definitely starting over again -0 although perhaps with a bit more knowledge than originally.

Stick to it – you have been through a lot more than me so I am sure the times will start to come down but would suggest finding a goal

Posted: 01/09/2006 at 16:25

Hey Moose, I was really touched by your story. Hope you don't mind me nicking it for this week's Reader to Reader article! I just think that so many of us have been through that demoralising injury -> running break -> "argh I can't run any more" cycle (mostly on a far less dramatic scale than yours), so I think a good Q&A round-up would help a lot of people, not least yourself.

(I also loved your line "My body is a beginner but my head is a pro"... very nicely summed up!)

Hopefully we'll get some good advice and empathy from other RW members. The article is highlighted on the homepage now (under the Reader to Reader banner) and links to this thread, so watch this space!

Cheers all, and best of luck Moose.

Posted: 01/09/2006 at 18:22

Thanks for the advice and sympathy people! It really helps to know that there are others in a similar position... Even if the reason is very different.

Jane - Of course I don't mind... I'm very flattered! I will look forward to reading the article!

Grendel... I think you should make the most of your FLM entry... Even if it does mean putting it off for a year. I don't think it's selfish!

Unfortunately, I had a guaranteed entry for the 2006 FLM because I had at last managed a qualifying time... But these things happen I suppose?!? I won't be up to the distance for the next FLM so I suppose I'll just have to start again. A bit of a bummer when it has taken you four years to get the qualifying time!!!

Thanks for the motivating comment Chase Runner... I might just stick that on my wall for all the times I feel I haven't got a hope!!!

Well... It is half two in the morning China time... So must sleep! Good night everyone!
Posted: 01/09/2006 at 19:24

Moose- great that your back in the sport you obviously love

Wish I had the answer for getting your staminia back quick would make me a wealthy person

Just had a rough few months my self nothing to compare with what you have gone through but really needed some motivation

so decided to find my fav running distance


so picked one and gave myself 7weeks to get in to reasonable shape

as I know how hard it is training for one and doing myself justice

you know the staminia will return as the training req needs it

I just set myself weekly targets with the main theme being on increasing my long run
by 2-3miles a week

have now done 4x20milers

my marathon is on the 10/09 at mablethorpe
my staminia improved greatly

Posted: 01/09/2006 at 19:49

Mooose, sorry to hear about your accident.

Can I ask how long you've been back running? If its not that long then back up to 3/4 times a week up to 45 mins is really good I think from nothing!

I had a minor accident compared to yours with a broken leg but was advised to build up slowly to avoid getting injured, didn't listen and ended up longer off my feet.

Good luck with getting your fitness back and enjoying your running.
Posted: 02/09/2006 at 14:13

I was supposed to be running the Edinburgh marathon (my first), I done all the long runs (22 miles as the longest)and I was really pleased and confident as I started to

I was playing football about 10 days before the Marathon with my six year old son and he accidently kicked me very hard in the ankle, as well as flaring up a tendon. I was in agony and found it hard to run more than 4 miles. After visiting a physio turns out my son had given me a slight fracture. No marathon = one very upset Daddy.

Anyway three months later and many trips to the physio later and I've just started running again and to my utter frustation I can barely run two miles!!

It is really very very frustraing just how
quickly you can lose your fitness. I'm not a great runner and times are not important to me but I just love running. So I guess Moose its just head down time and start ramping up the miles again nice and slowly.

It would be nice to see a RW article about how best to return to running after a spell of injury with a recommended programme.
Posted: 02/09/2006 at 16:20

Hey cinders. A broken leg doesn't sound that minor to me!... Leg bones are rather important things when running!!!

I attempted my first run/walk (but only for about ten minutes) two and a half months a go... And today I managed my first one hour run!

In fact... I'm so proud I'm goona shout it from the rooftops: I RAN FOR AN HOUR!!! YAAAYYYYY!!!! (Sorry... Bragging over!)

It is still so frustrating though. I used to run for an hour most lunch times... I wouldn't have even considered posting on here to tell anyone.

Yet now, it feels like such a big thing. And it was really hard work.

I want my body to catch up with my head as quickly as possible... But I suppose that if I don't make myself hold back a bit there is a chance my foot won't stand the constant pounding!?!

Oh... What to do?!?

Patrick - That must have been so frustrating!!! With just ten days to go?!? Aaarrghh!!! I agree... A good RW article about how to get back into the training after an extended break would be good!

Good luck with getting your mileage up as well! First to ten miles buys the beers!
Posted: 03/09/2006 at 09:53


all is not lost as I have said about 7weeks before FLM I pulled a calf muscle took just under 4weeks before started running again

then 2weeks after FLM went down with a chest viral infection lost another 3weeks=5weeks in total

each time I had to build up with slow run/walk sessions

I feel know that I am back to how I was pre FLM which was about 4month ago

the fitness does return but you have to be careful so as not to hurt/injure yourself any more

Posted: 03/09/2006 at 12:29

i can sympathise with you all, having had one iLLness after another. Have gone from being very blase about 10 miles, halfs, etc., to happy to run for 10 minutes before i have to stop and walk. it's slow and i try and keep positive but sometimes that's easier said than done, particularly when everyone around you seems to be getting stronger and passing you by.

We all managed to get past the "beginner" stage before and it will happen again but patience is needed. unfortunately i don't have any (and i don't know any other runners who have!)

for as many weeks as i have been ill, injured, etc., there is always another runner who has been off for longer than me so i try to keep things in perspective - again it's hard work but it's either that or give up, which i'm not ready to do yet because I LOVE RUNNING

Good luck to you all.

Posted: 03/09/2006 at 12:46

Well said Aud!

If we think about it... We're very lucky to be back running at all.

I could easily have lost my legs in the car crash... In fact... I'm amazed I didn't!!! Patrick's physio might not have helped... Cinders' broken leg could have been worse... Then none of us would be running at all.

Can you imagine that?!? I can't!

When I think about it sensibly I know that I'm lucky and should stop moaning... But when I'm running and find such a short distance so hard I just want to scream!!!

In fact... I'm going to...

Posted: 04/09/2006 at 15:11

I totally sympathise - I had a car accident in 2002 when someone drove into the back of my car at 30 mph, which resulted in a serious whip-lash injury. I was off work for four months, almost unable to walk let alone run, I couldn't lift my head or my arms, lie down, or sit down - it was a nightmare. I had been able to run respectable 8 minute miles over a half marathon distance, I was also running regular races and I completed the London Marathon in 2001. When I was told that it was unlikely that I would be able to run again, I was devastated. 20 seconds of in-attention by some other stupid idiot driver was just about to ruin my life!

I'm pleased to say that it didn't. Despite being told that it would take four to five years to recover fully (if ever), a year after the accident I did my first five minutes on the treadmill - it was the best five minutes ever! Since then I have pushed myself to run with the encouragement of my osteopath and chiropractic. Its taken some time but this year I have managed to get through the year relatively injury free and I just completed a half marathon (Burnham Beeches) a couple of weeks ago. It took two hours, but I really felt that I had reclaimed my running (hopefully to continue).

So no hints and tips for building up your stamina quickly, rather the reverse. Take it slowly but don't give up! The main difficulty is getting one's head around the length of time it takes to recover and learning to live with it! Muscles have a great memory, and I am sure with time you will be back to your super-fit self!

Posted: 04/09/2006 at 15:13

Wow Minnie5... That is inspirational! You have recovered so well!

I'm not sure why the doctors are so quick to say that we'll never run again! My doctor was equally as pessimistic as yours... And said that I may not walk, and if I do I'll be on crutches for at least a couple of years. That was in January... And already I'm running and can walk pretty much without a limp (until I'm drunk or tired!)

I suppose they are just trying to cover themselves, but they need to realise how much they are destroying our hopes and dreams!

I hope you are right and that muscles do have a good memory. My brain has a terrible memory so maybe my muscles will make up for that!!!
Posted: 05/09/2006 at 10:05

I reckon you should go back to basics here.
After a break from running I dread going back to it. The best solution in my opinion is to not put any pressure or expectations on yourself. You're running, enjoy it, enjoy the buzz after a run. The fitness will return just dont look at the past as unachievable. No go RUN!
Posted: 05/09/2006 at 20:54

i menat now go run lol!
Posted: 05/09/2006 at 20:59

Hi Moose, hope it didn't sound too mawkish. I'm glad you've proved your doctor wrong! Mind you rather that than how my GP treated me - he insisted that it was all in my head - and sent me to see a counsellor! Fortunately my consultant at the hospital said it was text book whiplash but complicated because I had damaged the nerves in both my neck and lower back, and then even more fortunately prescribed some effective pain killing drugs!
Posted: 06/09/2006 at 14:42

Minnie5 (why the 5 by the way?) - You had an evil GP... I don't know how you managed to resist thumping him?!?... Nerve damage in your neck and lower back is serious stuff... Not in your mind!!! Grrrr... I want to go spike him with my antlers (do moose have antlers or is that just reindeer?!?)

I was so lucky really. I hit a building at seventy miles an hour, but somehow managed to avoid any head or spinal damage?!?

A good advert for Alfa Romeos me thinks!!!

However, I smashed every single metatarsal in my foot numerous times... So my foot is now held together with metal plates, pins, screws and wires... You should see my x-rays... They're hilarious!!!

The engine also ended up in my knee so I had to have lots of bone and stuff chiselled out... Eurgh... Doesn't bear thinking about!

Like I said before... We should thank our lucky stars we're running at all...

... But that sooooo doesn't stop the lack of fitness being frustrating!

I wanted to do a long run today but had to stop becuase my foot was making too many squeaking and creaking sounds for my liking... Not comfortable at all. How will I ever get back to form if I have to keep stopping for silly reasons like that?!?


Posted: 06/09/2006 at 15:34

Moose, you should enter your x-rays for the Turner Prize.
Posted: 06/09/2006 at 15:38

Moose, I'm sure I heard/read once that if you've been fit once then it's easier to get fit again than starting for the first time.

I'm still on my first time, so no 1st hand experience but I expect it's true. I mean, the body is a pretty intelligent thing.
Posted: 06/09/2006 at 15:42

Hey, Jane, that's not such a bad idea! I swear I'd win... My foot really is a work of art. Although, would I have to give a percentage to the surgeon?!?

Thanks Michelle, I hope you're right. I'm sure it just comes down to patience... Whci no runner has!!!
Posted: 06/09/2006 at 16:25

sent this message on site but have it again

You had an excellent, rewarding relationship with your running self which had tragically ended. Like the end of any relationship, there is a grieving process. You appear to be still grieving over what you had - allow yourself this.

You are now faced with a new relationship with your running self and like any new relationship, it is easy to start comparing it to the last one you had . It is also easy to not give the new relationship the time and investment it needs to thrive. This relationship with your new running self will thrive if this time is given as did your past relationship.

There is a positive side I believe. Well, for a start, you had lost something special that maybe you took a little bit for granted. Chances are you will appreciate even more the results of your new training. Your new running relationship may be different and exciting in a different way. Remember the past, of course. You wont shut it out -you don't need to shut it out! However focus on your new running relationship and imagine the self esteem and pride that will arise from present humble beginings. A new and stronger "pro" will emerge.
Posted: 07/09/2006 at 19:33

moose-dont know if you are already doing this

how about a bit of cycling to get all those joints moving

please dont spike me with those antlers
we really like moose in this household
came across one in Canada what a mighty animal
Posted: 08/09/2006 at 19:26

Wow, Johnny J, that is a fantastic recovery! Well done! Hopefully by following the advice everyone has so kindly given me on this thread, I'll be back running marathons... One day.

3.53 is a very impressive V65 time... I just hope I'll still be running by then. I have a very bad feeling that all sort of niggles with my foot will end my running days well before then.

I doubt I'll ever beat my marathon PB of 3.36 (I sooooo desperately wanted to dip under 3.30) but to just complete a marathon would be great. I'm hoping for the Great Wall next year... But maybe that's too soon?!?

The Hoose - Goer: Wow, that's some fantastic running advice, but even better advice for my recent relationship break-up... Thanks. That's some great multi-taking from you! Running expert and relationship councilor rolled into one!

thunder-cat: I was doing some cycling when I first started to recover (but couldn't run)... But since I've moved to China I haven't dared buy a bike yet.

Have you ever visited a Chinese city? People on bikes are scary!!! Everyone rides at full speeds along the pavements (rather than the cycle lanes?!?) and no-one seems to stop at traffic lights.

At the moment, when I nearly get killed by a cyclist, my road rage is limited because I can't catch them. If I was on a bike I'd be forever chasing people after my near-death experiences!!!

Posted: 11/09/2006 at 16:34

Moose - I've not had anything as spectacular as your injuries but after taking 3 minutes off my 10k PB in 3 months last year I tore one of the major muscles in my hip. It was three months before I got back to tragically slow, 30 minute runs and I could barely contain my frustration. Three months later, I'd taken another 5 minutes off my pre-injury time and was doing regular long runs to train for a marathon.

I can sympathise completely with how much it winds you up feeling like you're back at square one, but even with my own very unscientific personal experience I do honestly believe that you get fitness back quicker than you built it first time round, and Hoose is absolutely right - you appreciate much more how hard you are working towards your goal, whatever it might be.
Posted: 15/09/2006 at 16:34

Good on ya smackie... 5 minutes off a PB is fantastic even when you've been fit and well... So after an injury like yours it is extremely impressive.

Well... I'll keep my fingers crossed that I experience a similar phenomenon. I'd be over the moon to one day shave 6 minutes from my marathon time.

Pigs will have started flying by then!!!

I'm also fully aware that The Great Wall Marathon would not be the place to try to achieve this PB... A bit too soon after my injury and on one of the toughest marathon courses ever...

... Which is kinda why I want to do it. I won't have to compare my time to my past times. The GW marathon often takes people 5 or 6 hours!!!
Posted: 16/09/2006 at 09:02

ta moose -some of us blokes can do it;O)

actually good to look at our running as a relationship between ousrselves and our "inner athlete";O)
Posted: 16/09/2006 at 09:51

Dear Mr Moose - Minnie5 again (5 because 1-4 were already taken - how many Minnies can there be?) By the way how does everyone do those little picture things in there messages?

Anyway belatedly (if you are still reading the thread) I just wanted to say that I think you are doing brilliantly given what happened to your foot and knee. My little shunt pales into insignificance in comparison. And you have managed to retain your sense of humour!

Also liked The Hoose-goer's running relationship advice, although it is so hard not to compare and contrast with one's previous running self (or selves in my case, being the second time that I have had to return from a fairly long term injury!)

One consolation (a very poor one) is that you will be so focussed on your foot and knee that you won't think about the aches and pains in any other part of your body!

I've just signed up for the Luton Marathon - I have to say it doesn't really have the same ring (or scenic potential) as the Great Wall of China Marathon!

Posted: 26/09/2006 at 10:03

Divide your running career up into two, post-accident and pre-accident. try to use some rough guesswork to estimate how much of a % slowing effect the gammy foot etc would have had on the pre-accident you when you were really fit. Then set something up in Excel or whatever so that when you type in your training pace etc after a run it shows you what that would have been pre-accident. Then aim to get fitter than you were before the accident, allowing for the effects of the accident.

I would also aim to run as hard as you did before. You won't be able to run as fast as you did before, but so long as you run as hard there's nothing more that you could wish for.

maybe take up another sport/ hobby/ exercise regime for the first time to get you more intoa beginner's mindset.
Posted: 26/09/2006 at 10:25

I thought about taking up knitting, but then I probably would have poked both eyes out! Initially injuring my right knee in January just as I was starting my FLM training in earnest I thought it would heal relatively quickly and I'd still be able to take up my place. By March I managed to get back running a bit but hurt both Achilles', coming back from that I hurt my left forefoot and it's only now that I am getting back to running again (touch wood). I've only managed 3.5 miles and it felt slow and hard. My legs were heavy and I was knackered. A far cry from my longest run which was 18 miles at 7m40s pace in November. Having had so many false dawns in my comeback I don't care now how fast I can go or aim for any races. When I'm ready I'll enter one but until then I'm happy just to be able to run at all again.

Build back up slowly or you run the risk of getting injured again.

Good luck.

Posted: 26/09/2006 at 13:09

I used to be a half decent runner. Problem was it was the top half.
Posted: 26/09/2006 at 13:16

Hee hee hee... I like that! I'm stealing that joke as my own!!! Cheers Earl!
Posted: 27/09/2006 at 02:31

I just started running again after a cycling accident - I completed the womens windsor 8K (slowly) this Saturday and then went and fell off a horse and cracked a couple of vertebrae on the Sunday. I am back to square one BUT I am determined to keep on running - although it may just be walking for the first few weeks!
Posted: 27/09/2006 at 18:34

You're welcome Moose.

Posted: 27/09/2006 at 21:02

What Bear B.Hind said about her back getting injured or strained as a result of running is probably due to a lack of core (abdominal) strength/engagement during running. Your core, when engaged, help support you spine from forces in all directions. The reason the backpack made you feel better when running is probably because  it forced you to engage you abdominals in order to correct posture... My advice would be to start a weekly/biweekly training regimen of bridge posture and medicine ball throwing in order to give you a stronger core... Warning; do not exhaust you core immediately before an exercise that requires it for support or else you risk giving your self spinal strain!
Posted: 18/11/2010 at 15:15

What Bear B.Hind said about her back getting injured or strained as a result of running is probably due to a lack of core (abdominal) strength/engagement during running. Your core, when engaged, help support your spine from forces in all directions. The reason the backpack made you feel better when running is probably because  it forced you to engage you abdominals in order to correct posture... My advice would be to start a weekly/biweekly training regimen of bridge posture and medicine ball throwing in order to give you a stronger core... Warning; do not exhaust you core immediately before an exercise that requires it for support or else you risk giving your self spinal strain!
Posted: 18/11/2010 at 15:16

Nice post Joshwa....but you do realise this thread is 4 years old?!
Posted: 20/11/2010 at 19:40

  Damn, i've just read right the way through it without realizing that.

Posted: 23/11/2010 at 15:57

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