How Running Parachutes Work

By: Sara Novak  | 
An athlete runs sprint drills on a stadium track.
An athlete runs sprint drills on a stadium track. She is running with a parachute attached to her for resistance training. FatCamera / Getty Images

Plummeting from an airplane at 10,000 feet isn't the only time a parachute comes in handy. In fact, your local track may actually be an ideal venue. Running or speed parachutes are gaining popularity with a host of athletes.

The nylon parachutes attach to a harness around your waist or your chest and then expand as you speed up. As the chute expands, it creates drag, forcing you to work harder which, in turn, builds overall strength. Runners using parachutes create wind resistance even on a day when it isn't windy at all.


Many elite and amateur athletes have comprehensive strength-building programs, which require ample time in the weight room. With parachutes, you build strength while running. They combine resistance training and interval training in a single workout. For die-hard runners, building strength without giving up a running day has added appeal.

Wind resistance training builds strength in key large-muscle groups, increasing race-day or game-day performance. While using these speed chutes exclusively isn't recommended by elite coaches or athletes, parachute training is an excellent addition to your training repertoire. They help you get the most bang for your workout buck.

Sprinters and other athletes seeking to develop explosive speed are the most natural beneficiaries of training with parachutes. However, middle- and long-distance runners can also benefit from the quickness, agility and speed developed by incorporating parachute running and other resistance work into a broader strength training program.

Speed chutes also afford runners a psychological edge. It's this extra mental resilience that shows when other runners tire out. When the winds gust against you while attacking the last big hill of the race, it's wind-resistance training like this that provides an extra edge.


Running Parachute Design

Man lost both legs running with prosthetics.
U.S. Marine Sgt. Angel Barcenas, who lost both his legs as a result of and IED blast in Iraq, runs with a parachute during a demonstration at Walter Reed Army Medical Center June 1, 2007 in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

The name running parachute bears a striking resemblance to the product. Running parachutes attach to a harness around your chest or wrap around your waist. In the same way that conventional parachutes create wind resistance when you jump out of a plane slowing your fall, running parachutes create a drag behind you while running.

The harness attaches with Velcro that easily detaches either at the end of a sprint or mid-stride. When runners detach the chute from their bodies they suddenly feel an explosive burst of energy, as if they're a bullet shot out of a gun. This explosive speed training is ideal for baseball, basketball, football and soccer players.


The chutes are available in a variety of sizes -- the larger the chute the more resistance it creates. Chute size depends on your training level and body build.

For example,

  • A small workout parachute creates around 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms) of resistance and it fits an individual less than 170 pounds (77.1 kilograms.) It's best for beginner or intermediate runners.
  • A medium-speed chute creates about 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of resistance and it fits an individual between 170 (77.1 kilograms.) and 210 pounds (95.2 kilograms.) It's best for intermediate and advanced runners./\r\n/
  • A large chute creates about 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms) of resistance, and it fits an individual weighing more than 210 pounds (95.2 kilograms.) It's best for intermediate and advanced runners [source:Competitive Edge Products].

Runners can also attach more than one chute at a time for additional resistance.

The small and compact design of the speed chute means that you can fold it up and take it wherever you go. The parachutes weigh about 1 pound (0.4 kilograms) each. Simply add it to your gym bag and you can vary your training any day of the week.

At between $30 and $75, the chutes are rather inexpensive and financially viable for many athletes. The cost depends on the size and the brand of the chute that you choose.


Benefits of Running Parachutes

Building strength translates into a better overall athletic performance. Wind-resistance training with speed chutes provides overall muscular resistance. Depending on the chute size, they can produce between 15 and 30 pounds (6.8 kilograms and 13.6 kilograms) of resistance, similar to running on a windy day, running through water or running up a hill.

Speed chutes build fast-twitch muscles. Fast-twitch muscle fibers are advantageous for short bursts of strength or speed, critical in shorter races like the 100-meter (109-yard) dash. That's why sprinters find the most use in speed chutes. Fast-twitch muscles also provide explosive speed and fast directional change in football, basketball, baseball, soccer and lacrosse players. The NFL uses speed chutes throughout their preseason practices [source: SKLZ].


Middle-distance and long-distance runners, on the other hand, focus on building strength and increasing endurance while maintaining flexibility. Their focus is building the slow-twitch muscles. Slow-twitch muscles use oxygen efficiently so that an athlete performs continuously, over a long period of time, which is critical for longer distance races. The chutes aren't effective for building slow-twitch muscles. That's why middle- and longer-distance runners use them less often.

But both groups can benefit from the extra overall resistance training, which builds strength in the calves, thighs and quads as well as the core. This holistic approach to strength building makes for a more competitive and vigorous overall athlete.

An increase in overall strength leads to an increase in the amount of force an athlete applies to the ground, thus projecting them forward faster. The increased strength in your calves and ankles allows you to take off faster and take longer, enhanced strides.

The chute provides progressive resistance, meaning the faster you run, the more it drags [source: The Runner's Guide]. So no matter how fast you run, it provides enough resistance to increase strength. That's why it's effective for every ability level.


Training With a Running Parachute

Running parachute workouts aren't worthwhile for everyday use. They are best incorporated along with other forms of resistance training like resistance bands and ankle weights, periodically. Start out by adding them in once a week. Use them for shorter distances, starting at around 50 yards (45.7 meters) and working up to 100 yards (91.4 meters.)

Open areas are the best places for trying them out. Find a local football field or other athletic field to practice your speed-chute training. While you can train with the chutes on curves, running straight makes the most sense so that it picks up wind resistance and provides the anticipated drag. Avoid running near trees where the chute could get caught and damaged.


While the chutes do allow for lone training, a partner can throw the chute up in the air so it quickly catches wind resistance. But either way, pick up speed quickly so that the chute immediately expands and creates drag.

If you're considering incorporating running parachutes into your workouts, build up to the routine below. If it's too easy, you can increase the number of sprints.

  • Take off and quickly build up speed as you throw your body forward.
  • Quickly lift the body up. Stay relaxed during the sprint and maintain an upright position.
  • Increase your impact with the ground and try to maintain a constant speed, even as the chute begins pulling and dragging.
  • Start out with four 50 yard (45.7 meter) sprints with the chute.
  • Increase the distance to 75 yards (68.5 meters) and do four more sprints.
  • Increase the distance to 100 yards (91.4 meter) and do four more sprints.
  • Rest for one minute between each distance.


Overall Running Parachute Success

man running
The mental toughness you gain from running with a parachute may help you on race day.

Though running parachutes haven't been studied very extensively, one study at Human Performance Laboratory at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso found no solid evidence that running parachutes increased overall speed. Two running groups between the ages of 15 and 18 of comparable speed were studied. With all variables the same, the group training with the chutes ran no faster than the group training without the chutes. But the study also found that the chutes did no harm and they didn't cause any higher instance of injury in runners [source: Peak Performance]. It should be noted that this is just one small study that included only 14 runners.

As with many varieties of interval training, the benefits of running parachutes aren't always black and white. For example, success in training means maintaining runner motivation. And part of maintaining motivation is keeping it interesting. Running parachutes add a bit of flavor to your workout. They provide interval training by less traditional means. Instead of hitting the hills or adding in sprints, a runner can simply strap on the harness and find a resistance workout built right in.


Another benefit to the chutes is versatility. Train by yourself whenever you like, and all you need is a 1-pound (0.4 kg) piece of nylon. It's easy to put on and easy to break down. It's also inexpensive.

Wind resistance training can also play an important role in developing strength, especially when a person is recovering from an injury. Parachute training lessens the impact of a motion when compared to training in the weight room.

Running parachutes also endow runners with a mental edge. If you're training during the difficult, windy conditions provided through a speed chute, when race day or game day comes you're prepared even if the wind is whipping at 40 mph (64.3 kph.) The human body adapts to whatever it faces if properly trained. This newfound mental toughness also comes into play at the end of a race when everyone else is tired. Wind resistance builds extra stamina, endurance and technique so you're still on track when everyone else has run out of steam.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Hopple, John. "A Guide to Using Running Parachutes." The Runners Guide. Aug. 24, 2010.
  • Competitive Edge Products Aug. 25, 2010.
  • Fit Sugar. "In Case Running Wasn't Hard Enough." Aug. 24, 2010.
  • Laurens Fitness. "Running Parachute." Aug. 24, 2010.
  • Peak Performance. "Running Parachutes." Aug. 25, 2010.
  • Novak, Justin, Elite High School and College Runner. Personal Interview. Aug. 25, 2010.
  • Hadfield, Jenny. "Running Against the Wind." Runner's World. Aug. 27, 2010.
  • SKLZ. "Speed Parachute Used in NFL Training." Aug. 27, 2010.
  • Peak Performance. "Cross Training Workouts." Sept. 2, 2010.