If you’ve had a hard time changing up your workouts to increase the intensity or vary the difficulty level, weighted vests may be an option. They provide some variety and increase the efficiency of your workout.
Weighted vests work well to increase the challenge of bodyweight and resistance activities, and they can be used with some aerobic activities, such as running and hiking. They can also be used with explosive training exercises, including jumps and reactive training drills.
If you’re unfamiliar with this tool, a weighted vest is just what the name implies. It looks like a tactical or fishing vest, typically with pockets to add or remove weights as needed. The amount of weight in the vest varies, but it typically ranges from 12–150 pounds (5.4–68 kg).
Weighted vests differ from just sticking weight in a backpack on your back because they distribute the resistance evenly around your torso.
Wearing weighted vests during your fitness training offers various benefits, although there are special considerations and precautions to keep in mind. Read on to learn more about how to implement weighted vests into your exercise routine and choose a vest.
Weight vests are simply a form of added resistance. The more you have to push during a movement, the harder your body has to work and the more energy the movement requires.
One study showed that people wearing a vest that added 10% of their body weight burned significantly more calories than both those not wearing any weight and those carrying only 5% of their body weight (
One recent study found that weighted vest training improved blood lactate thresholds for runners. This means they were able to tolerate faster speeds for greater periods of time before fatiguing (
In fact, improvements were seen during both sprints and endurance-run distances.
The loads used were equal to 5–40% of the participants’ body weights. Higher weights were used to improve sprinting performance, while lower weights equal to 10% of body weight were used for longer distances.
Weighted vest training also increases strength.
Gains have been observed in strength-training performance during the bench press and when doing pushups with weighted vests. Improvements have likewise been found by adding weight to traditional resistance exercises and explosive movements like the power clean (
Strength gains from weighted vests have not only been seen in younger populations but also elderly ones. Also, these vests have been recommended as training devices for those with osteopenia to help improve bone mineral density and decrease the risk of fractures (
Body mass benefits
One small study suggests that weight loading helps the body metabolize fat more efficiently (
Still, it should be noted that this was a very small clinical trial, and more research is needed to solidify these claims.
Weighted vests have been used to improve running speed, endurance, and muscular strength. They can also help increase the number of calories burned and maintain bone mineral density.
Weighted vests typically distribute the weight evenly around your torso, which should decrease the tendency to compensate for the load when standing, walking, and performing other activities.
However, you may find one brand or style of vest may be more comfortable to wear than another.
There are 3 main styles of weighted vests: shoulder holster, tactical, and torso-covering (note that these are not industry-wide terms).
Shoulder-holster-style vests tend to fit like a hydration pack with a buckle in the front, and the weight is distributed in the front along the straps and upper back.
Tactical vests fit like military-style body armor. They tend to use steel plates that are inserted into the front and back slots of the vest.
Torso-covering vests, meaning those that cover only your chest, tend to use velcro straps to affix the vest.
Finally, some vests are made with the female body in mind, accommodating for differences in body shape such as larger chest sizes. These can help with comfort and decrease pressure on breast tissue.
There are also differences in the weight sources of the vest. Some vests offer only a fixed amount of load, as weights are not able to be added or removed but rather sewn into the vest. Meanwhile, others have slots in which weights can be added or removed relatively easily.
Some vests have plate-loaded resistance. These are usually sold separately from the vest. Some are specialized plates, while others allow Olympic-style plates to be added.
Some vests come with shoulder pads to keep the edges of the straps from causing excess friction. This can provide comfort and help keep the straps from digging into the wearer, especially when the vest will be worn for a longer period of time.
In addition, the fit of the vest is important to consider. When purchasing online, this may be difficult to assess. However, you may want to check out the reviews to see what others say regarding the fit. Also, check on the amount of bounce that can occur when wearing it.
Adding a vest with weight tends to insulate the body and keep heat in, which can be uncomfortable in hotter climates. Having material that wicks away moisture or has ventilation to manage this can be helpful.
Again, weighted vests can be worn for a variety of reasons. If you’re wearing it to run, you’ll need a lower-weight vest compared with someone using it to increase muscular strength during resistance training.
Adjustable vest weights are ideal when you may be using the vest for a variety of activities. You’ll be able to add or remove weight depending on your strength and which activity you’re performing.
Even though the load is distributed evenly, body mechanics can change when wearing a weighted vest. You’ll have to make postural adjustments to decrease the risk of straining or injuring yourself.
A precaution to consider when using weighted vests is attempting to wear more weight than you can handle. This can lead to overtraining or injury.
You may be running 5 miles a day for 4 days per week without difficulty. However, if you wear a weighted vest and attempt to perform the same distance, intensity, and frequency, you’ll be at a greater risk of overtaxing your body.
This can lead to excessive soreness, as well as chronic strain or pain issues. As such, it’s better to start lighter than you think and gradually increase the load.
When choosing a weighted vest, consider comfort, the type of exercise you’re performing, and whether the weight is variable. When using the vest, be cautious when adjusting your body mechanics and careful not to add too much weight too quickly.
Regardless of the type of vest worn, it’s important to adjust the vest for optimal comfort. It should be snug to prevent bounce, yet allow enough mobility to breathe and for your arms to swing.
If you’re wearing an adjustable vest, add or remove weight to accommodate the activity you’re performing.
If you’re new to weighted vests, start with a lower weight than you think you need. Fatigue will occur at lower intensities of cardio activities like running, as well as with fewer repetitions during resistance exercises.
To reap the greatest benefits, choose exercises that require you to work against the weight of the vest when moving your body through space. For instance, more benefit will be gained from running with a 12-pound (5.4-kg) vest than riding a stationary bike with it.
Also, the vest will provide the best resistance with activities like squats and pullups compared with seated exercises like the leg press or lat pulldowns.
It may be good to avoid exercises that place a higher degree of stress on the lower back, such as bent-over rows and stiff-leg deadlifts, to decrease the excessive loads that increase the risk of injury.
How frequently you use a weighted vest will depend on your fitness history. If you’re new to working out, 1–2 times per week using a weighted vest will allow your body to adapt to the change in weight.
However, if you’ve been running or lifting regularly, using a weighted vest 2–3 times per week may be OK.
When wearing a weighted vest, start with a weight that’s lower than you think you’ll need if you have an adjustable weight vest. You’ll reap the most benefit from the vest by choosing exercises that utilize your body weight as resistance.
- Begin lying on your stomach with your hands shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. Your hands should be in line with your shoulders or slightly below them.
- Press into your toes and straighten your knees.
- Keeping your core tight, push up from the ground. Keep your torso in line with your head, legs, and toes.
- At the top, hold for a brief moment and then slowly lower down until your chest or chin touches, then repeat.
- If the vest does not allow you to lower your chest enough, perform the exercise with your hands on something to elevate them, such as 2×4 wooden boards or pushup bars.
- Begin with your hands shoulder-width apart or slightly wider.
- Pull your chest up toward the bar while thinking of pinching your shoulder blades together. Keep your head in line with your torso and pull your collar bones toward the bar.
- Then, slowly lower your body.
- If it’s difficult to get to the bar, try negative pullups by starting at the top of the movement then slowly lowering yourself down with control.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bend your hips and knees to lower your body as if sitting down into a chair.
- When your thighs become parallel to the ground (or lower if you can tolerate), engage your thighs and buttocks to return to the standing position.
Keep your center of gravity between your heels and forefoot (preferably just in front of your ankle joint). Your heels should remain in contact with the ground throughout the entire movement.
Keep your torso straight as you lower yourself. At the lowest point, your shoulders, knees, and toes should be directly over each other.
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Step forward further than a normal step.
- Keep your lead foot flat and your trunk tall as you lower yourself to the ground.
- Your rear heel will rise, and your rear knee will bend as you lower yourself. Keep your rear heel in line with your toes.
- Push off and return to the standing position. Repeat on the other leg.
- Assume the pushup position with your feet slightly pointed.
- Remember to keep your buttocks in line with your shoulders and toes. This is more difficult with the vest and requires a bit more attention.
- Attempt to hold this position for 30–60 seconds. If you’re unable, make it a goal to work up to this.
Resistance exercises that are well suited for weighted vests include weighted pushups and pullups for your upper body, weighted squats and lunges for your lower body, and weighted planks for your core.
Weighted vests can add challenge to many activities. Using them is a good way to increase calorie burn, strength, and endurance.
There are many types of vests available, so choose a vest style that best suits your needs.
Finally, to enjoy a challenging yet injury-free workout, it’s always best to start light and progress as your body tolerates.