Whether you’re training for strength, muscle, speed or endurance, there comes a point where you hit a plateau in your performance.
Your training routine is simply no longer able to challenge your body enough.
The good news is that no matter what type of exercise you’re doing, there’s always a way to increase the intensity. Whether you’re in a CrossFit gym fighting for your life during a Wod, on the stadium doing splits or on the hills during a hike, a weighted vest can be the perfect solution to take your workout to the next level!
With its military feel, the weighted vest can turn any activity into resistance training and is not just for bodybuilders: any athlete can benefit from it.
We’ll look at how wearing a weighted vest is beneficial, how to use it specifically, and most importantly, what to look for when buying one.
What is a weighted vest?
The weighted vest is part of the additional loads, which allow you to train by increasing your body weight in an artificial way. The added weight makes the cardiovascular system and all the muscles work more intensely. By increasing the resistance necessary for the execution of movements, it forces the body to provide a greater effort during each action.
The objective is simple: to increase the difficulty and push one’s limits. If the weighted vest is useful in bodybuilding or street workout (on pull-ups, dips or push-ups, …), it is also widely used in Crossfit and Cross Training to increase the intensity of its workouts (called WOD for Work Of the Day) which link pull-ups, burpees, box jumps, squats, running and many other movements. The weighted vest is also increasingly used for running.
Why train with a weighted vest?
This equipment is relatively expensive, so the first question that comes to mind is: “why a vest rather than regular weights?
Contrary to a kettlebell, a dumbbell or a sand bag, the vest leaves the hands free, which enables a great amplitude of movement (ideal to work in plyometry).
As for its other advantages, we can note that the vest can :
- Be used for a good warm-up and could play favorably on sprint performance
- Increase bone density and help prevent osteoporosis
- Increase metabolic outputs, relative exercise intensity and skeletal system load during walking
- Provide a good training method that can improve sports performance
- Increase the intensity of cardiovascular exercise resulting in more calories burned
Moreover, according to a study conducted in the United States, the weighted vest has the merit of being relatively safe, even for untrained people (study conducted with a maximum overload of 5%). It is indeed unlikely to be injured while wearing a vest, since the overload is placed at the level of the torso, the center of your body, where it is used to store weight.
The advantages of a weighted vest in training
A weighted vest is an efficient way to add weight or resistance during physical exercise. It is widely used by the military for example.
It is one of the main accessories to have if you want to continue to progress and develop your muscle mass with body weight exercises. In fact, when you have been training with bodyweight for a while, bodybuilding exercises become “easy” and this is the best way to increase the difficulty.
1- Increase strength and muscle resistance
This makes the most sense. Using a weighted vest during your bodyweight exercises is going to ask your muscles to mobilize more strength and energy. This is the exact same principle when you increase the weight on the machine.
2- Increase your body’s efficiency
Using a weighted vest during training serves to make your body more efficient, which means that it will require less effort from you to perform physical activities. This is not only because your level of endurance will improve over time but also because your muscles and joints will get stronger.
3- Improve your cardiovascular system
When faced with high energy demand, your muscles will demand more oxygen from your cardiovascular system. Therefore, weighted vest work is good for strengthening your lungs and increasing your body’s ability to consume oxygen.
4- Help you lose weight and tone up faster
If you’re looking to lose weight and improve your cardiovascular capacity, a weighted vest can be an excellent tool for helping you achieve your goals; thanks to the extra resistance provided by the added weight, it’s like having an additional training partner who never gets tired. This type of weight vest is also very effective for toning up your body and improving your muscle definition.
5- Allows you to work out longer, harder and more intensely
Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced athlete, using a weighted vest during training will help increase your workout intensity so that you can keep challenging your body and work it harder. In fact, one of the many benefits of using a weight vest is that it allows you to progressively increase the intensity of certain exercises by adding more weight when needed.
6- Helps your muscles recover faster
A good quality weight vest can also help your muscles recover faster in between training sessions. This is due to the fact that weighted exercises increase blood circulation, which in turn helps muscles recover faster.
7- Helps improve your posture
If you suffer from bad posture, then using a weight vest during your workout can help you counteract the negative effects of sitting down all day. Using a weight vest forces you to activate additional muscle groups which will strengthen them over time. This is especially true when performing exercises that require you to stabilize yourself. For instance, during weighted pull-ups, you will be forced to use your core muscles because triceps alone cannot lift the additional weight.
8- Vary your exercises and gain explosiveness
The sensations with a weighted vest on your usual exercises will be different, the series more difficult, which will allow you to give more variety to your training. For example, you can start on sets of pulling alternating reps with the weighted vest and reps without.
On certain exercises requiring endurance such as burpees or the box jump, the movements will certainly be more difficult but will make you gain a lot of explosiveness.
9- Increasing bone density
Using an additional load generally helps to stimulate cells called osteoblasts that are responsible for building bone.
10- Keep your hands free
You remain free of all movements, no need to have your hands loaded to weight yourself or to have someone help you arrange the weight on your back for push-ups or sheathing.
11- Distribute the load to be carried
For pull-ups and dips you still have the “antique” version of the belt + hook + disc or kettlebell attached to add weight. But you have to admit that it’s much less practical! With the weighted vest there is less risk for the back and especially the lumbar: The weights on the vest are distributed over the whole trunk. This also allows you to avoid being unbalanced during the exercises.
How to Choose a weighted vests
Here are the criteria that we want to find in a good weighted vest:
- must be well adjustable, so that it is worn neither too tight nor too loose.
- the weights must be evenly distributed and not swing freely
- ideally, the material should be sweat-wicking and breathable
- the weight system should be easily adjustable
- should be compact and not restrict the range of motion
What is your goal?
Not all weighted vests are the same, obviously, they do not all have the same shape, size and weight and there is a good reason for this: each activity is unique!
The first question you should ask yourself is for which sport you will use your vest, in other words what will be the main use of your vest.
Here is a little reminder of what we have seen previously:
- For pure bodybuilding, you can start with something rather massive and heavy, which will not disturb your movements such as strict pull-ups, but will make you benefit from a maximum of resistance
- For running on the other hand, you’re going to want something lighter, more compact and more fitted. You want the vest to fit snugly to avoid any chafing that could lead to burns. The design should allow for an even weight distribution
- The same goes for CrossFit, as you will probably be jumping and bending with your vest, you want something that fits perfectly without moving, but also has a higher maximum load (same if you want to do plyometrics)
Will you use the vest to Walk?
You might want to wear a weighted vest also for your walks or hikes. It’s not a bad idea, the more you weigh, the more calories you burn.
But the investment may not be worth it in this case, you could just as easily walk more to burn the same number of calories, or wear a silly backpack (or even a hydration pack) that would weigh the same as a weighted vest if you put water in it. The problem with the backpack, however, is the weight distribution, which is essentially in the back. The straps can also be uncomfortable.
If you intend to use it mainly for walks, you might want to take a lot at our rucking article instead.
Determine the ideal weight for you
If you want to run with your vest, opt for short, but intense workouts like splits.
That’s why you buy a weighted vest, not just because it gives you a little “badass” side like Rambo!
The weight is the most important criterion, too heavy and you won’t be able to use it efficiently. Too light and you will quickly put your vest in the closet.
The rule of thumb is that the vest should offer you an overload of at least 10% of your body weight. If you weigh 160 lbs, you can go for a 20 pounds vest without too much concern.
If you use your vest regularly, you should normally progress, and want to load more, so you can choose a maximum weight of 20% to be comfortable. Just make sure the weight system is adjustable.
If you are used to resistance training and are considering a weighted vest for bodybuilding, you may want to consider the heavier models that will weigh up to 40-60 lbs, but make sure that the construction of these is the most robust.
Adjustable weights or not?
There are two weight systems: adjustable or fixed. I recommend that you start with an adjustable weight, which allows you to start low and progress in stages.
Adjustable vests are unfortunately more expensive, but also more versatile.
The material responsible for the overload can vary from one model to another, but generally, it is small blocks of sand (about 2-5 lbs) that provide the adjustment on adjustable systems.
All you have to do is slide these retractable weights into the individual pockets provided to achieve the desired load target. When you put your weights on, make sure you do it in a balanced way.
Fixed weight vests are as the name implies: immovable.
They are usually 10-20 pounds vests, mostly for runners or walkers.
If you are training hard, I recommend that you go for the adjustable ones, although they are more expensive. The maximum weight will give you a goal and the vest will last you.
Compact or non-compact models?
The main difference between short and long models is the weight distribution.
Long vests have the weight distributed in the front and back, covering the entire torso, including the abdomen. The downside is that they can tend to prevent you from bending or flexing at the waist (on jumping exercises, for example).
Short vests are designed more to keep the abdominal strap free of weight, focusing the load on the chest and upper back.
The size of the vest you choose will depend, again, on the exercises you do and whether you prefer the weight to be concentrated on your chest or evenly distributed across your torso.