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Weight vests have become popular recently as a resistance training tool. These vests seem to be everywhere and can be purchased at sporting goods stores and online. Running with a weight vest is used in some forms of armed forces combat training, so it’s sometimes referred to as “military-style” training.

It makes sense for men and women in boot camp to practice running with heavy equipment on to simulate combat conditions. But the research into the benefits of civilians running with these kinds of vests is mixed.

Running with a weight vest can improve your running posture. It might also help you increase your speed. One small study of 11 long-distance runners showed a peak speak increase of 2.9 percent after weight vest training.

Weight vests work by training your body to exert more force to run during training sessions. When you run without the vest after you’ve gotten used to training with it, your body continues to exert the force it would need for you to run at your normal pace with the added weight. Some runners say that this is a very effective way to cut down your pace quickly.

But what we know about the benefits of weight vests for runners is limited. There’s enough clinical evidence to suggest that this method of training has a lot of potential. More research is needed to understand how they work and the ideal ways to train with them.

Cardiovascular benefits

Anecdotally, people feel that running with a weight vest can spike your heart rate and improve cardiovascular health. It makes sense, since your body must work harder to propel your weight forward when extra pounds are added. Your heart works just a bit harder to pump blood through your veins when you’ve got the vest on.

One very small study showed significant increase in exercise intensity and heart and lung efficiency when subjects ran with the vests on. For people who have been approved for regular cardio exercise, a weight vest might be a great tool for cardiovascular conditioning.

Musculoskeletal benefits

Running with a weight vest might increase your bone density. In one study of post-menopausal women, regular exercise with a weight vest may have prevented hip bone loss. And weight-bearing exercise is known to be the best kind of exercise to prevent osteoporosis.

Balance improvement

Since you must be more mindful of posture and form when running with a weight vest, it may improve your balance as you run. One study showed that regular resistance training with weight vests decreased the risk of falling for women who had reached menopause.

If you’re training to increase your running speed, here’s how to use a weight vest to do it using sprints:

Start by running sprints with the vest on without any weight added to it. Make sure it doesn’t shift around your body and watch how it impacts your form. Then slowly add small amounts of weight, no more than three pounds at a time, to your training sessions. Try to maintain your current sprinting speeds and reps.

Weight vests aren’t just used for running. Taking your weight vest with you into the weight room and elliptical could also be beneficial.

Weight training with a weight vest

If you wear a weight vest during weight training exercise, you’re working against gravity at a higher intensity. We need more research to demonstrate this principle, but the studies we do have show that weight training with the addition of a weight vest may improve bone density.

Cardio exercise with a weight vest

Wearing a weight vest might help you burn more calories during a cardio workout. Some people wear their vests during boxing classes, or while using gym equipment like stair-steppers.

A weight vest should not exceed 10 percent of your body weight. Most research is based on vests that are 4 to 10 percent of the body weight of study subjects. To get the most value for your money, look for a vest that allows you to start at a lower weight and gradually add more weight.

When you’re shopping for a weight vest to use for training, try on different styles and shapes. A weight vest should fit your body snugly. The weight should feel evenly distributed over your trunk and torso. Check out these weight vests available on Amazon.

If you’re using a weight vest to enhance your exercise, keep the following safety precautions in mind:

  • Make sure that the weights are secured and proportioned equally around your body. If your weights shift while you’re moving, they could knock you off balance and cause you to injure yourself.
  • Don’t start training at the heaviest weight configuration for which your vest is equipped. Start with very little weight and work up at each subsequent training session.
  • Some body-building websites and advice forums advocate for building up to vests that are 20 percent of your body weight. If you’re interested in carrying a weight vest that heavy, you should speak with your doctor and make sure your heart is healthy enough for that kind of endurance and cardiovascular exercise.
  • If your joints bother you, or if you have osteoporosis, see a doctor before you try running with a weight vest.

Running and working out using a weight vest might make your workouts more efficient. Bone density and balance are the two benefits that studies consistently show for weight vest workouts.

While some runners love weight vests for increasing speed, other runners didn’t see a big difference. It seems like adjusting your running form, in addition to other factors like adjusting your diet, might make a bigger impact on how fast you run.