Reader to Reader: Why Train With a Backpack?

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


Any questions?
Got a new poser or problem that you want RW members to answer? Spotted a great question on the forum? Email us!

Click here to find out more about Reader to Reader.