Ready to level up your fitness and take on a new challenge? Then it’s time to throw on a weighted vest and work. This simple addition to your routine can help you maximize your training time and see quicker, bigger results.
Weighted vests come in different shapes and sizes, but they’re generally pretty simple: They slip over your head and have small pockets to hold your weights of choice. Typically, you can load a weighted vest with anything from five to 50 pounds, says Josh Feldkamp, C.S.C.S., performance coach for the training app Future.
Wearing a weighted vest intensifies your workout in pretty much every way imaginable. Here are four specific benefits that’ll convince you to load up, plus how to do so safely and effectively.
1. You’ll Build Serious Strength
“Like traditional resistance training, adding a weight vest can help to build muscular strength,” Feldkamp says. For example, research shows that doing push-ups while wearing a weighted vest may actually match the effectiveness of bench press work.
“This is done through proper loading,” Feldkamp explains. “Muscular strength is primarily derived at 80 percent of 1RM (one-repetition maximum) or higher, which means that you would need a heavy weighted vest, but by loading the push-up properly you can elicit the same response as a bench press.” The same principle applies to any exercise. Strap on a weight vest for moves you’d typically do with just your body weight to increase the stimulus for your muscles.
Just remember: In order to steadily build muscle strength, you need to follow the principle of progressive overload, in which you consistently increase your load, total reps, or time under tension in order to keep upping the stimulus put on your body. Be ready to add some more weights to that vest over time!
2. You’ll Burn More Calories
“Using a weighted vest will increase the intensity of the overall work you’re doing, so by using the properly loaded weight vest you can elicit a higher caloric expenditure from your training,” Feldkamp says. In fact, one study found that participants burned 6.3 calories per minute when training with a weighted vest on compared to 5.7 calories per minute when sweating without one.
Of course, just how much a weighted vest ramps up your calorie burn depends on individual factors like body size, weight, and activity level. One interesting trend to note: “If you have less training experience, you’ll burn more calories because your body is less efficient,” Feldkamp says. “On the flip side, experienced trainers can expect to burn fewer incremental calories than their less-trained counterparts.”
3. You’ll Strenghten Your Bones
Just as a weight vest creates resistance that helps you build strong muscles, it also has the same benefits for your bones. “One study found that older post-menopausal women who trained with a weight vest for five years maintained their bone mineral density and prevented significant bone loss,” Feldkamp says.
How it works: “The added resistance from the weight vest acts similarly to strength training, in which the pull of the skeletal muscle on the bone helps to strengthen the bone over time,” Feldkamp explains. As such, weighted vests can be a great tool for building bone mass to lower the risk of osteoporosis and ward off fractures later in life.
4. You’ll Increase Your Endurance
If worn too often or for an entire workout, a weighted vest can slow you down and ultimately impact your endurance. However, when used as part of an interval within a training session, that same weighted vest can have a major payoff.
“[Wear it] for half of the running volume each session, and use it as a training component, but not the only training modality,” recommends Future performance coach Brandon Sardine, C.S.C.S. “Some form of resistance training or external load is more advantageous for endurance improvements than just running.”
By loading up some of your workouts (twice a week is plenty), you’ll be able to go the distance more easily (or go further) when that load is removed later on.
Tips for Working Out in a Weighted Vest
For Walking And Hiking
If you’re looking to begin walking with a weighted vest, make sure to get the correct size. “Start at around 10 to 15 percent of your body weight (go lighter if you have less experience with strength training) and make sure the vest is comfortable and snug,” Feldkamp suggests.
Start with flat surfaces and progress to inclines over time. “Incline walking is another progression that will increase the intensity of your training session, and by building up some volume with flat walking, you’ll give your aerobic and muscular systems time to adapt and prepare for the more strenuous workouts,” Feldkamp says.
If you want to load up for hikes, there are a couple of other factors to consider. First, how your load is distributed: “A vest that is evenly distributed on the front and back is going to be the best on the more unstable surfaces,” Feldkamp says. Wearing a backpack could cause too much pull in one direction and throw your balance off. Plus, uneven weight distribution can contribute to lower back pain. You’ll also want to wear proper shoes. “The added weight on your body will put extra stress on your lower limbs and feet, so the better your shoes support you, the more comfortable your hike will be,” he explains.
Whether walking around town or hiking a mountain, always start with lower mileage and intensity, and increase over time. “Ideally, increase your distance first to build your lower limb resilience to the training effect,” Feldkamp says.
for Lifting and HIIT
If you’re using a weighted vest for lifting sessions, begin with movements you’ve done with body weight before. “This is a great way to add intensity to your push-ups, pull-ups, inverted rows, and the like,” Feldkamp says. “If you’re looking to progress the weight of your vest, do so every two to four weeks to give your body plenty of time to adapt to the current stimulus.”
When adding a weighted vest to your HIIT routine, avoid anything 10 percent of your body weight or heavier, especially when doing anything high-impact. “The increased intensity can cause stress-related injuries to your lower limbs like shin splints,” Feldkamp warns. “Start with a weight vest around five percent of your body weight or only implement the weighted vest for a few sets instead of all of the sets.”
You may also need to decrease your usual number of reps and sets, as well as increase recovery times. “The elevated heart rate and increased intensity can catch up to you quickly,” Feldkamp says. “Take a few weeks to slowly increase back to your standard body weight sets and reps.”